- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 7, 2001

Amid the dog days of summer, an animal researcher has revealed that dogs laugh, chuckle, guffaw, giggle and perhaps even titter upon engaging in those activities dear to the dog heart.
Dog owners won't hear a real ha-ha when their dogs are, say, turning over the garbage can. It is the "laugh pant" that matters a kind of breathy exhalation that may reek of kibbles but speaks volumes nonetheless.
"To the untrained human ear, it sounds like a pant, a 'huh, huh,'" Patricia Simonet, a psychology professor at Sierra Nevada College, told the Animal Behavior Society last week.
To offer proof of dog merriment, she was armed with recordings of amused dogs. After analyzing the frequency of all this laugh panting, Miss Simonet said, she found a huge range of nuance and coloration.
It was no mere slobbering-out-the-car-window kind of thing.
Dog laughter apparently goes beyond the human ear, like chimp chatter, dolphin chitter, bat squealing and rat chirping, which have been studied by scientists bent on understanding the world's fauna.
The obliging rats, in fact, have been tickled by researchers at Bowling Green University and recorded at the National Institutes of Health, where they were found to "chirp" with delight in anticipation of "receiving morphine or having sex," among other things.
But back to the dogs.
Miss Simonet also reported that 15 puppies had tossed chew toys and romped for joy simply upon hearing the recorded canine laugh. For good measure, the researcher even tried a few live laugh pants of her own, to find that her subjects became amenable indeed, a fact that may revolutionize dog obedience classes.
Dr. Michael Fox, a veterinarian and behavior specialist, agrees.
Dogs have a "bright-eyed, open-mouthed play face," he says, along with a play bark, a play curtsy and a play stare. And yes, they do have a play pant.
"I advise adults and children to mimic this signal when they want their dogs to play, and by so doing, learn how to use their body language to communicate like a dog," he notes.
Of course, the dogs have a lot to be happy about.
A new poll released from Euro RSCG Worldwide, a marketing company, found that dogs and cats alike have become "surrogate children" among their human counterparts, who spend about $33 billion feeding them each year.
Global sales of pet food, in fact, are growing at twice the rate of "people food," the report stated.
The American Animal Hospital Association, in the meantime, has found that 84 percent of all pet owners dogs, cats, et al. consider their furry charges to be "their children." Seventy-five percent feel guilty leaving their pets alone, and 74 percent said they would "go into debt" to care for their pets.
More than three-quarters also said they wanted luxury items for their pets, rather than plain old practical stuff, a fact confirmed by Pet Supplies Plus, which found that half of all of pet owners spent more on their animals than on their in-laws at Christmas time.
Needless to say, the $500 million American "pet fashion industry" includes Burberry doggie rain coats and cashmere sweaters, among other things, and there are at least 35 "pet vacation resorts" across the country, according to the Animal Legal Defense Fund.
"As owners increasingly consider themselves pet 'parents,' we've found that key purchasing drives are similar to those in the children's market: love, guilt, pleasure and a sense of responsibility," said Ann O'Reilly, who directed the Euro survey.
And more, perhaps. Last but certainly not least, a survey released Friday by Beliefnet and ABC News found that a fair amount of folks think pets "go to heaven."
Over 43 percent of more than 1,000 respondents think their dog or cat will be welcomed into the hereafter; 40 percent felt it was a people-only affair.
"The rest," the poll stated, "are withholding judgment, possibly until Judgment Day."

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