My Mum and her partner Gary have a pedigree chocolate Labrador called Alfie, DOB May 2006. He was born in Wolverhampton like James and me. The name put on his birth certificate by the Black Country breeders we bought him from is ‘Alfie Gobletoffirecracker’. Don’t ask me why.

Now Labs are very common I know, but Alfie’s chocolateyness makes him a bit specialer. It has to be said he’s a handsome beast. When Mum and Gary first drove him back to his new home in Gloucester he was so dark and slick he looked like a seal pup. That first night he crept into the corner of the big scary kitchen and curled up by the cupboard. He’s slept in that corner ever since.

He gets called: Alfers, Alfred, (and derivations: Alfredo, Fred, Frederick, Ricardo), Alfy-pegs (Peggers, Peglatron), Snuffles, Puppies, Fatty, Sir Alfsalot, Cocopups, the Beast, Dog-face, Dalfie, Alfi G indahouse, Big Ears, Auf Wiedersehn, Oafie, Dumbo, Chopsy, Big Paws, Alfie Maj, Alfie Moo, Brown Bear and the Bear-Pig.

Our family have never had a dog before, or in fact any pet more charismatic than a guinea pig, so it’s been an interesting experience living with Alf. He’s a very expressive canine. Sometimes I think he thinks he’s a human. He’s definitely a person. That may be old news to long-time dog owners, but a novel concept to me.

In the evening he’ll crash through the door into the living room, heave himself onto the only chair that he’s allowed on and slump down with a very human sigh, as if to announce to the world that it is a dog’s life.

Alf quite often goes to work carpentering with Gary. He doesn’t like being left at home, but when he is he sits upright in the front window surveying the road, waiting for his daddy to appear on the drive. Sometimes he’ll rest one front paw on the armrest like a man.

Like Tigger, he’ll bounce up to anyone, fully confident they’ll adore him. When he sees his nemesis the Great Dane up the hill, he slinks to the side of the path and tucks his head in, trying to melt into the background.

I noticed that when Alfie has come back from a run round the field, finished eating or humped his blanket, he breathes hard- harder than he needs to breathe actually. Do all dogs do this? He lifts up his upper lips and pants. He’s doing more than simply getting rid of his CO2. He is communicating.

One day as I was working from home I could hear Alfie in full-flow breathing mode and it occurred to me that he is sort of laughing! The heavy breathing is to say, ‘I’m pleased. I like this. It’s fun!’

This heavy breathing signal must be where human laughter has evolved from. When you think about it it’s not a great leap from panting to chuckling. I was quite pleased with this dog-laugh hypothesis. It altered my perception of old Alf.

Previously I had just thought he got out of breath a lot. Now I see that he is expressing his excitement, hopefulness or satisfaction in a thoroughly doggy way. I’m sure if we fitted him with one of those talking collars from Up, he’d be yelling, ‘Happy! Let’s do that again. Weeee!’

What’s more, if I reciprocate and pant back, it gets his attention. Yes, you’re imagining me doing this.  He knows what I’m saying, unlike the usual two-legged bibblebabble he has to try and decipher. Maybe I’m speaking Dog with a Human accent, but he understands me. ‘That was good. More!’