Do dogs have a sense of humor? Can they play a funny trick on their human?
Sincerely, Funny Bones
Oh yeah. For sure. Mine are a regular Burns and Allen.
Admittedly their schtick is a little juvenile. A lot of their punchlines — throwing up on the rug in the middle of the night, digging holes in the yard for me to trip in, eating a whole plate of cupcakes from the kitchen counter — lack nuance. But comedy is all about timing and delivery. Douglas-fur and Barkley have those qualities in spades.
I know it sounds like I’m being flip, and I kind of am. But your question is complicated. The answer relies on how you define “sense of humor.” If you’re talking about the broadest definition, with the lowest barrier for entry — basically, just having the capacity for enjoying the unexpected — then yes, dogs have a sense of humor.
None other than ol’ Charles Darwin’s addressed the question of dog humor in the 1872 edition of “The Descent of Man”: “Dogs show what may be fairly called a sense of humor, as distinct from mere play; if a bit of stick or other such object be thrown to one, he will often carry it away for a short distance; and then squatting down with it on the ground close before him, will wait until his master comes quite close to take it away. The dog will then seize it and rush away in triumph, repeating the same maneuver, and evidently enjoying the practical joke.”
His conclusion makes sense. I mean, it’s not exactly Dorothy Parker at the Algonquin Roundtable, but that sort of playful mischief definitely evinces some basic sense of humor.
Now if you’re talking about whether dogs have the capacity to enjoy our society’s more sophisticated wits — your Coen brothers and Sedarises and such — well that’s a different story. Dogs are just not intellectually or emotionally mature enough to have THAT kind of sense of humor.
I’ve sat Douglas-fur and Barkley down and read them entire Vonnegut books without so much as a chuckle from either of them. And the finer points of outstanding dark comedy — whether it’s broad satire or a precisely observed relationship deconstruction — seem entirely lost on them. We watched “Dr. Strangelove” and “Lost in America” together. No reaction whatsoever. I asked Barkley who his favorite standup comic is; he said Jeff Dunham. Douglas said Dane Cook.
So, yeah, their sense of humor is pretty one-dimensional. They still crack me up, though. That plate of cupcakes I mentioned earlier? It was actually three plates of cupcakes. My wife had stayed up making them for a family birthday party and Douglas ate them while we were asleep. Again: Timing and delivery are everything.
Hope that helps.