Why Do People Laugh during Dog–Human Play Interactions?

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Given that human laughter has been posited to signal playfulness to dogs, nonserious social incongruity, and positive affect, laughter should occur during incongruous contexts in an affectively positive, nonserious social activity such as dog–human play. A total of 116 laughs in relation to dogs were discerned on videotapes of 46 dog–human play interactions in the US, 23 with familiar and 23 with unfamiliar pairs. Laughter occurred during 61% of interactions, and always expressed positive affect. Contexts in which laughter occurred (in decreasing frequency) were failure of the dog during play, or to play at all or as the person wanted; exaggerated or unexpected engagement by the dog; excretion; unexpected success by the dog in obtaining an object; and, once, threat from the dog. Laughter never induced play, and usually occurred when a dog was not playing. Women laughed more than men, especially for a male audience when playing with their own dog. In all contexts, participants experienced incongruous events; contexts were nonserious, except for the dog's threat, where laughter signaled friendliness. These data are largely consistent with laughter signaling positive affect and awareness of (usually nonserious) social incongruity, and inconsistent with laughter signaling playfulness to dogs.