Family & Pets

Canine comedians: can dogs play practical jokes on their owners?

Canine comedians: can dogs play practical jokes on their owners?

If you’ve ever thought your dog might be playing a joke on you, science is here to let you know that you’re not paranoid – dogs might know more about humour than we think (they still get tripped up by wordplay, unfortunately).

Dog expert and psychology professor Stanley Coren told ABC Adelaide that certain breeds of dog do have a sense of humour, and their jokes are often at their owner’s expense. "This was suggested way back in 1872 by none other than Charles Darwin, who wrote a book on the emotions of animals and man.

“He suggested there are things that dogs add to their play that seem to be the doggy equivalent of practical jokes. The most typical one is their game of keep away, where if you toss something to a dog, he'll grab it, run a distance away, then drop it on the ground and wait there until you come close, then grab it and run away."

According to a study done by Benjamin Hart and Lynette Hart at the University of California, Davis, the most playful breeds of dog include Irish setters, English springer spaniels, cairn and Airedale terriers, golden retrievers and standard poodles. Tragically, chihuahuas, rottweilers, bulldogs and bloodhounds were the least playful. Their playfulness was assessed by studying their willingness to chase balls or frisbees, and to play games like hide-and-seek.

Professor Coren said the key to understanding dog behaviour was to remember that their minds are equivalent to those of two to three-year-old children, meaning dogs have the same sense of humour you would find in a toddler. 

Professor Coren shared a story of an ongoing ‘war’ between his terrier, Flint, and his wife, Joan; Flint was incredibly playful, while Joan prized “order, quiet, and predictability”. "One day she had a group of her friends over for an afternoon coffee and Flint was doing his usual thing by hovering under the table hoping that somebody would bend down and pat him or something edible would fall on the floor. My wife thought he was going to bother people so she shooed him out of the room and basically said something in the vicinity of: 'Go find something interesting to do'.

"He dashed out of the room with a definite sense of purpose and a few minutes later reappeared carrying one of Joan's undergarments, which he blatantly snapped from side to side with a lot of joy, to the amusement of her company."

"Certain clusters of dogs have an incredible sense of humour and, for them, their motto is 'Nothing is worth doing unless it creates a furore.” That sounds like more than a few children, and even adults, we know!

Image: Mario Forcherio/EyeEm/Getty Images

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