2006-08-17 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets

Pets of the Week
...by Joanne Anderson

ALLY, smudge-faced cat ALLY, smudge-faced cat Dogs have been hanging around with us for over 100,000 years. We both can be goofy, but do dogs laugh like us? Recent research says man's best friends do giggle, and that their laugh, a long, loud pant, has a calming effect on other pooches. Since sitcoms have laugh tracks to get viewers to relax and guffaw, why not play canine laugh tracks at animal shelters? This idea, which could alleviate stress and potentially expedite and increase dog adoptions, may not be as farfetched as it sounds.

Dr. Patricia Simonet, an animal behaviorist who began her studies with Asian elephants and the famous Washoe, the first ape to learn American Sign Language, says that during play dogs vocalize using at least 4 different patterns: barks, growls, whines, and the doglaugh, a pronounced breathy exhalationjust like our "Ha, ha, ha" without the vowels. She discovered dog laughter while she watched her Briard play with a friend's Husky. The dogs were lying side by side, pawing at each other while emitting a pant sound, even though they didn't seem to be exerting themselves.(You can hear a sample of the dog-laugh on her website: www.petalk.org.)

JAKE, Shepherd/Chessie pup JAKE, Shepherd/Chessie pup In 2001 Simonet isolated the jolly sound from the normal pant by taping her 2 Briards at play, and then taking a parabolic microphone and recorder to the dog park. She noticed that often the dog-laugh is accompanied by the playface, described as a relaxed open mouth, with the corners slightly pulled back. No upper teeth are visible, except maybe the bottom tips of the upper canines. The dog-laugh was also recorded when dogs were playing. When played back to 15 young dogs in an observation room, tapes of the dog-laugh prompted puppies to grab a toy and approach a canine or human play mate.

When Simonet mimicked the sound herself, she got a similar reaction from the pups, but a broadcasted growl got no play response. Interestingly, in a different scientist's 2001 study, humans who whispered in their dog's ear got a better play response than those that just slapped the ground, imitating the canine bow. This could be because the frequencies of a human whisper are similar to the breathy dog-laugh.

Simonet theorized that the dog-laugh could be used to reduce the stress level of shelter dogs. Shelter dogs express stress via barking, lunging, growling, panting, salivating, pacing, and hiding. Dogs who exhibit behaviors like this do not "show" well. They tend to stay at the shelter longer, and are more apt to be labeled "unadoptable" and euthanized. She tested the effects of dog-laugh with teams of observers watching and analyzing behaviors of over 120 dogs at a Spokane shelter on 6 Sundays (when the shelter was closed) under 2 conditionsfirst, the baseline, with no recording and then, the experimental, with the dog-laugh CD playback.

The results showed that the doglaugh recording was calming. When it was played, more shelter dogs approached the front of the cage with the observer present. More dogs were silent and more exhibited play behaviors: the dog-laugh, play-face, and the play-bow. Certain patterns of response related to the dog's age. The puppies (4 to 12 months) offered play-bows and doglaughs. Adult dogs were more likely to respond with a bark or dog-laugh. Dogs between 1 & 2 years old oriented towards the sound in silence, wagging their tails in a medium pace back and forth at mid height. Dogs over 2 pointed themselves toward the sound or the experimenter and assumed the down or sit position.

Many shelters already pipe in music to calm the kennels. Simonet's findings are quite promising. Tapes of the natural dog-laugh may have a greater power to diffuse stress and promote positive social behaviors in shelters. More study is needed. After all, laughter is the best medicine. Maybe it's time to fine tune this prescription for our shelter dogs too, and turn up that "Chuckling Chihuahuas" or "Cackling Collies" CD.

For Adoption: "Jake" the handsome, 10 month Shepherd with Chesapeake Bay retriever overtones #060731 at Oyster Bay Town Shelter (677-5784) Miller Pl., Syosset is a fun loving fellow. He'd love to share some dog-laughs and play-faces with you. He just needs some obedience training. Meanwhile, "Ally", with her paint smudged face, is one of the sweet cats still waiting for a home. She's from the neglected group taken from a collector in Hicksville. See more photos on the Oyster Bay Petfinder site.

More cats from this seizure: "Argo" a black male and "Aspen" a gray male tabbyboth in the lobby cages.

Dogs: "Bell"-#060678a brindle Pit/ Lab mix and "Sheba"# 060735a white Shepherd mix.

 Celebrate "National Homeless Animals' Day" by visiting the "Last Hope Cat Center" Open House at 581 W. Jericho Tpke. Huntington on Sat. 8/19 from 12 to 4. Call 631-425-1884. Come find the purrfect cat or kitten. All of the fabulous felines at Last Hope are already spayed/neutered, inoculated, and FeLV/ FIV tested. You might see "Mikey", a former Post poster pet. Last Hope just signed out this gorgeous, declawed, longhaired cream and white kitten from Oyster Bay Shelter to give him a change of venue, and, hopefully, a new home.

Return to top

Poll

Do you expect to spend more this holiday season than you did last year?