Can animals laugh? 0

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For years and years, my beloved and I have wanted to hear the patter of little feet around the house. And a year ago we were blessed with the patter of four little feet — no, not twins, but Daisy.

Daisy is a dachshund.

She is a scion an aristocratic German family and she could give lessons to the 19th century German Chancellor — the so-called ‘Iron Chancellor’ — Otto von Bismarck on how to run the show. Otto had only an unyielding, rigid and relentless determination to get his own way while Daisy has the added weapons in her armoury of feminine wiles and an almost impossible cuteness. Even Mrs von Bismarck wouldn’t have called Otto cute.

Like all females in my experience, Daisy is only truly happy when she gets her own way and so she has. She has effortlessly taken control of our household and far from showing even the smallest gratitude, she regards it as her perfect right.

Daisy is capable of showing snobbish dismissive disdain for our wishes and answers a call only if she is in the mood to do so. She has elevated to an art form the perfect looking-down-her-nose look at us and it is a rather elongated nose and therefore a supremely superior look. In fact, she can be an arrogant b***h, which rather reminds me of a former colleague when I was a wage slave.

I swear that sometimes her barking sounds like hysterical laughter, especially when we vainly try to shut her up.

Now I am a big picture sort of chap so her various attitudes and emotions got me wondering if animals can actually laugh.

Needless to say, more than a few academics around the world are doing research into this very subject. I suppose they, at least, consider it more important that discovering a cure for cancer.
It seems that chimps and bonobos, our closest relatives, boast the most laughter-like sound of panting while the noises of gorillas which are further down the family tree sound less than laughing. Our very distant cousins, the orang-utans pant in a most primitive way.

Non-humans don’t just laugh — there is evidence that they can crack their own jokes. Koko, a gorilla in a California zoo has learned more than two thousand words and one thousand sign language signs which, in my view, makes her a good candidate for President, particularly when you consider Hillary and Donald.

She was once asked “What can you think of that is hard?” and she replied both “rock” and “work”, which I suspect neither President Bush could do.

One American boffin believes that he has discovered that dogs understand unfairness, spiders display different temperaments and that bees can be trained to be pessimistic. I think that training a bee to be pessimistic would not be all that hard given that its wretched short life is entirely devoted to pandering to a bloated fat queen. I actually used to know a bloated fat queen and he wanted to be indulged 24/7, not that that happened much to his chagrin.

Our Daisy certainly understands unfairness. By her definition, unfairness means anything that denies her what she wants.

My research uncovered a slightly scary video of a zoo keeper rolling about an enclosure tickling a bloody big gorilla and the gorilla is having a whale of a time giggling uncontrollably. Just what happened when the zookeeper stopped is unknown — the video didn’t last that long. I do hope both are still okay.

But if that is weird consider what an American University team is doing — they tickle rats. It seems that these seekers of truth started tickling the tummies of rats and they were gratified to get unique ultrasonic chirps in the same range as when the rats were engaged in play fighting. Just why you would get up one morning and decide to tickle rats has never been really explained but, hey, whatever floats your boat, right?

That caused me to remember the song, Ben, warbled by a 13-year-old Michael Jackson in the 1972 movie of the same name. It was about the friendship between a boy and his pet rat that goes dangerously feral. It’s hardly any wonder really that Michael became progressively odder throughout his life.

One really worthwhile research finding is that dogs pant in a manner that resembles a human laugh. Dog scientists discovered when they played this doggy panting noise to dogs in a shelter, it initiated play, encouraged tail wagging, promoted pro-social behaviour and decreased stress levels.

I swear that once when we took our Daisy to the off-leash park and encouraged her to interact with the only other dog there, she not only flatly refused to be sociable but she gave vent to the most derisory laugh you could imagine.

She knew the other dog was just a mongrel, a member of the lower orders of the canine world, and just not worth the bother of trying to get to know.

Actually, we were very quietly pleased. Like us, she has standards.

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Russell Grenning

Russell Grenning is a Brisbane-based former journalist and retired political adviser who began his career with the ABC in 1968 in Brisbane and subsequently worked on the Brisbane afternoon daily, "The Telegraph" and later as a columnist for "The Courier Mail" and "The Australian". He worked for a string of senior Ministers in the Federal, Victorian and Queensland Governments as well as in senior executive public relations positions, including Assistant Federal Director, Public Relations, for Australia Post, Public Relations Manager for the Queensland Department of Main Roads and Principal Adviser, Corporate Relations, for the Queensland Law Society.