SPOKANE, Wash. Dec 12, 2005 — An animal behaviorist says she's figured out what dogs are doing when they make that excited panting noise while playing or anticipating a much desired walk. They're laughing.
Patricia Simonet, development and program coordinator for Spokane County Regional Animal Protection Service, also found that the sound of dog laughter comforts other dogs. When she played a recording of "play panting" through the speaker system at a shelter in Spokane Valley, all the barking dogs quieted within a minute.
"I wanted to see if I could reduce (the dogs') stress by playing the sound in the shelter," Simonet said. "I was surprised when they were calm and quiet."
Simonet, who will soon complete a doctorate in animal behavior from Northcentral University in Prescott, Ariz., presented her study on reducing shelter dogs' stress at the International Conference on Environmental Enrichment last summer at Columbia University in New York.
She started researching dog sounds in 2001 at Sierra Nevada College in Lake Tahoe, where she was a professor of animal behavior. After coming to Spokane, she began studying how to make shelter dogs feel more at ease.
Simonet and her students started by recording dogs at play. They eventually isolated the growling, whining, barking and the sound she now calls laughter.
About a year ago, she asked Nancy Hill, director of the Spokane County Regional Animal Protection Service (SCRAPS) if she could use the shelter dogs to determine the impact of dog sounds.
When SCRAPS was closed on Sundays, she would play the tapes for the typically stressed animals.
"This is not home for the dogs," Hill said. "She saw that and wanted to help."
Hill said she was pleasantly surprised with the results. "I've been here for 20 years, and this is the most significant thing I've seen," she said.
Hill is getting estimates to install a sound system that would carry the laughter throughout the SCRAPS kennels. Calming the dogs this way may even make them more presentable for adoption.