Dogs have the emotional capacity of a 2- to 2.5-year-old child, so they can experience emotions like joy, fear, and anger. But, like many toddlers, your dog lacks the vocabulary to tell you how they feel, so it’s up to you to learn how your dog expresses emotions.
For example, most of us know what it looks like when our dog is frustrated or wants something. Your dog may bark, hop up and down, stare intently at whatever they want, whine, tremble, or show some other sign.
Dogs can also show love, affection, playfulness, and happiness through their body language and behaviors. You may be familiar with the signs that your dog is happy in the moment—soft, relaxed ears and eyes, a wagging tail, puppy kisses, and a broad smile. However, dogs are individuals, and their activity levels and desire to be social vary as they grow and age.
So how can you tell if your dog is happy in general? What are some other signs of dog happiness?
13 Signs of a Happy Dog
Here are some tips on how to read your dog’s body language and behaviors to help you know when they are relaxed and happy, and most likely healthy. When these clues are missing, it could mean your dog is ill or feeling out-of-sorts.
While ear shapes vary depending on the breed, a happy dog’s ears are relaxed and rest naturally against their head. Some dogs will have one ear cocked up, or both may be loose and floppy.
Ears pricked forward often indicate that a dog is interested in something. If their ears are pulled back or stiff with hyper-alertness, this is usually a sign of a stressed or fearful pooch.
When a dog is happy, their eyes and eyelids will be open and relaxed, their gaze will be soft, and they will blink often. Narrowed eyes and a hard gaze can indicate aggression, while wide eyes, particularly if they whites are showing, could mean your dog is frightened.
Relaxed or Wiggly Body and Tail
When a dog is happy, their whole body and tail will look relaxed, and they quite often wiggle! A happy dog’s whole body can wag along with their tail. A wriggling dog showing you their belly is likely to be a very happy and comfortable dog.
Each dog breed has a different relaxed tail position, but a happy dog will generally raise it slightly. If the tail seems to be raised pretty high, this could indicate agitation or over-stimulation.
On the other hand, if a dog seems tense or their body is stiff, these are signs of discomfort. A tail pinned under the body is a strong sign of fear. If your dog is standing stiffly with a tightly waving tail, they may be alert or nervous.
Happy Facial Expression
Happy dogs often appear to smile. The mouth is soft and open, the corners of the mouth are turned up, and while some teeth may be visible, it’s not in an aggressive manner. A lolling tongue can also mean your dog is relaxed.
Be sure not to confuse open-mouth panting with smiling, as this could mean your pet is stressed or overheated.
Like people, a furrowed brow can express worry in dogs (except for Shar-Peis with their permanently furrowing brows!). If a dog is baring their teeth or curling their lips back, this can indicate aggression.
When dogs bounce from side to side or hop and dance, they may be happy to see their canine friends or their favorite people. The quick movements usually indicate the dog is happy and ready to play. They are excited when you come home and want to show it!
Bottom Up and Head/Chest Low
A dog is telling you they are up for fun or want to play when they do a play bow. In a play bow, a dog lowers their chest to the ground but keeps their rear in the air. They are inviting play and want to interact.
Happy dogs generally have higher pitched barks and bark for a shorter period of time than dogs that are agitated. But don’t judge your dog by their bark alone. It’s important to consider the other signs your dog is giving you, especially their overall body language, before assuming all is well.
Enjoyment of Playtime and Walks
Happy dogs enjoy playtime and walks, and most even love rides in cars. While all dogs slow down with age, if your dog seems abnormally quiet, uninterested in favorite activities, or is less social, this may be a sign they’re not feeling well.
Dogs that are content and feeling well have good appetites. A change in your dog’s appetite is one of the first signs of potential illness or unhappiness.
Getting Lots of Sleep
Healthy, happy adult dogs usually sleep for up to 16 hours a day. If your dog isn’t sleeping that much, it could be a sign of stress or illness.
Happy dogs are unlikely to destroy your home or act “naughty.” Chewing is a natural behavior for dogs, as they use their mouths to explore their environments. But excessive chewing or destructive behavior, particularly in an adult dog, could also be a sign of stress or boredom. Separation anxiety is another common cause of destructive behavior in dogs.
Like people, every dog's preference for company is different. But if your pup is social at the dog park, friendly with other family pets, and not overly aggressive to new animals, these are all signs they’re in a good mood.
Happy dogs make a lot of body contact. If your dog reacts, stays close, or even leans in toward your hand during petting, they’re enjoying the contact. Staying just out of reach or walking away could be a sign they need more space.
How to Make Your Dog Happier
Making your dog happy means providing for their physical and emotional needs and understanding what those needs are in the canine world. Here are some tips to make sure you keep your dog happy and content:
Make sure they eat a healthy, balanced diet appropriate for their life stage and specific needs.
Provide adequate mental stimulation with food puzzle toys, chew toys, and playtime.
Engage them in an appropriate amount of physical exercise for their abilities and life stage.
Give your pet loads of love and affection.
Featured Image: iStock.com/Orbon Alija
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