Thursday, October 18, 2007

Heard The One About The Dog Who Tells Jokes?

Do dogs have a sense of humour? Can they crack jokes? The Daily Telegraph's Washington correspondent, Toby Harnden reckons they can. In fact he thinks his dog Finn is a real practical joker. When Toby tries to put his baby daughter in her car seat, Finn jumps in to block him, flashing a playful smile as he does so. Is he joking? Well, dogs definitely have a sense of humour. They must do, because some things make them laugh. A scientist named Patricia Simonet was the first to notice dogs make “a breathy, pronounced, forced exhalation” that happens exclusively during playtime. She concluded that it’s the canine equivalent of a chuckle. Subsequent tests proved that dogs really like the sound of laughter. One study found that dogs who were played the sound of canine laughter became significantly less stressed and more sociable. The question of what makes a dog laugh though remains unanswered. Darwin’s friend George Romanes reckoned it was a “good joke”. Maybe Finn is proof he was right. Cats, on the other hand, don't laugh. The strange, curling of the top lip they frequently perform may look like an expression of amusement but in fact this is a method of heightening their sense of smell during the mating season. The technique, known as the Flehmen Response, is common in horses, zebras and donkeys too. Cats do signal happiness in different ways, however. They perform a kneading action with their paws. The action is known by various names, from skronking and paddy pawing to making muffins.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Play It Again, Tom

Dogs can smell electricity, cats can sense epileptic fits. Dogs prefer Bach to Britney Spears, while cats would rather take drugs than eat chocolate. Strange new facts about man's favourite animals - cats and dogs - are being unearthed on a daily basis, it seems. The most curious of these - a dog's bark last on average 0.2 seconds, cats have a secret ultrasonic language - are the subject of my new book, Play It Again, Tom, and an accompanying new blog. If you're not scientifically inclined, don't worry. There are lots of crazy Youtube clips of skateboarding pugs and piano-playing pussycats too!