Tag Archives: dog body language

Picture of a brown and white dog smiling to illustrate happy dog

Signs of a happy dog

Dogs speak volumes with their body language. Last week we talked about some of the signs of stress in dogs. This week we’re highlighting the signs of a happy dog.

If you were to ask a non-dog person how to tell if a dog is happy, the first thing most people would mention is a wagging tail. And they’d be wrong. The faster a dog’s tail is wagging the more aroused the dog is. And that’s not necessarily a good thing. Dogs on guard, or extremely agitated may have very active tails. They’re not telling the world how happy they are. They’re upset, alert, and not going to back down. 

And, as we well know, there are lots of dogs who don’t have much of a tail at all. If we relied on tail motion to judge our dog’s mood, we’d be out of luck. Our tailless Bostons and Frenchie were born that way. To make up for it, they wiggle their entire back ends when they’re happy. Sometimes they wiggle right off the balance disc.

Speaking of wiggling

Picture of a brown and white dog smiling to illustrate happy dog

Wiggly is often used to describe a happy dog’s body language. Every bit of a happy, relaxed dog is wiggly, from a slowly-moving tail to relaxed ears, to the puppy-dog smile you love.

And dogs do, in fact, smile when they’re happy. The mouth is slightly open, with lips a bit pulled back. The eyes are slightly squinty, and the eyebrows go up. Studies have shown that dogs have developed these traits to mimic human behavior. Or, over time, people probably preferred dogs exhibiting these characteristics, allowing them to thrive in society. That’s probably circular reasoning. We’ll never really know which came first, the chicken or the egg.

Soft ears, soft eyes

The overall impression of a happy dog is one of relaxation. Their ears are relaxed, their eyelids soft, their tongues may even loll out the side of their mouths. There’s nothing tense or nervous when a dog is truly happy. 

Of course the epitome of a happy dog’s posture is the play bow – front end on the ground, butt in the air, wiggling for all they’re worth and completely joyous. If your dog is anything like ours, it can also be pretty noisy while this is happening. But there’s even a difference between the barking of a happy dog and one that’s anxious or fearful. Happy barks tend to be shorter and higher in pitch than a bark of distress.

You know a happy dog

People who really know dogs recognize the signs of a happy dog when they see it. Whether consciously or not, we’ve absorbed the body language signals our dogs show. With your own dog, you can tell their mood from a distance, just by seeing their posture. If you’re just arriving home, you know your dog will show you every possible expression of joy.

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Dogs signal emotion with body language

Dogs almost always signal their intentions. While they may not speak the same language people do, they do have an extensive body language. If you pay attention, you know exactly how your dog is feeling. 

Their emotions are right there to see. Through their body posture and attitude, dogs let us know when they’re happy, sad, worried, afraid, unsure, apprehensive, delighted, bored, tired, silly. Dogs aren’t deceptive beings – they don’t lie and they can’t hide how they feel. 

How do you know?

Dogs are social animals and use body language to communicate with each other and with humans. Their body language can be very subtle, so pay attention to all of the signs, not just one or two.

Some of the most common dog body language cues:

  • Ears: Ear position can indicate a dog’s mood. A dog with ears held high is usually alert and interested, while a dog with ears held low may be feeling fearful.
  • Tail: The position and movement of a dog’s tail can also indicate its mood. A dog with a wagging tail is usually happy or excited. While a dog with a tail held between its legs is usually feeling fearful. Dogs without tails (like all of ours!) wiggle their whole back ends to show when they’re happy. 
  • Eyes: A dog’s eyes can also give clues to its mood. If you can see the whites of a dog’s eyes, it generally means that they’re uncomfortable, or frightened.
  • Mouth: A dog’s mouth can also be a source of information about its mood. A dog that is licking its lips or yawning may be feeling anxious or stressed, while a dog that is baring its teeth is giving a very clear warning to stop and back off.
  • Body posture: A dog’s body posture can also be a clue to its mood. A dog that is standing tall with its tail held high is usually feeling confident and assertive, while a dog that is crouching down with its tail between its legs is usually feeling submissive or fearful.

If you know there are certain situations that stress out your dog, you can help them by teaching them some training games that will help distract them. Getting them to focus on you, and a game they enjoy, will provide stress relief and let them “default” to something they like.

Not every dog’s the same

Picture of a happy dog to illustrate Dogs Signal Emotion with Body Language

It is important to remember that dog body language can vary depending on the individual dog and the situation. However, by paying attention to all of the signs, you can get a good idea of how a dog is feeling and how to best interact with it.

Here are some additional tips for interpreting dog body language:

  • Consider the context: When interpreting a dog’s body language, it is important to consider the context of the situation. For example, a dog that is wagging its tail may be happy or excited, but it could also be feeling threatened or aggressive.
  • Pay attention to the dog’s overall demeanor. In addition to looking at individual body language cues, it is also important to pay attention to the dog’s overall demeanor. A dog that is relaxed and playful is likely feeling happy. While a dog that is tense and stiff may be feeling stressed or fearful.
  • Trust your gut. If you are ever unsure about how a dog is feeling, give the dog some space. It is better to be safe than sorry.

Believe the owner and the dog

You know your own dog best. If your dog is uncomfortable in a situation, speak up. If there’s another person involved. Get some distance from whatever person, dog, or thing is making them wary. As people with little dogs, we’ve all been in positions where other people want to interact with our cute pups. Check with your dog before you ever agree. If the dog is relaxed, happy, and comfortable, go ahead. If not, just make an excuse (sorry, she’s not feeling well today) and walk away. In a situation (like a vet exam) that has to happen, be prepared with some favorite treats to distract your dog.

Dogs almost always signal how they’re feeling. Just by paying attention to your dog’s body language, from eyes to tail, you’ll get better at knowing how they’re feeling. Not only will it strengthen your bond with your dog, but they’ll be more confident knowing you always have their back.

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5 ways to tell if have a happy dog

We all want a happy dog. More than ever before, we rely on them for companionship and their ability to make us smile every day. They certainly make us happy. But how do you tell if they’re happy to be with us? Can you read your dog’s body language?

Every dog is a little different, and the cues may vary from dog to dog. But generally speaking there are indicators that are species-wide for dogs. There is dog body language, if you know how to translate it. 

Happy indicator #1: Relaxation

A happy dog is a relaxed dog. From the posture of his/her ears, mouth, muscles, even tail. 

Dogs’ ears are a marvel of construction. Watching them swivel to find a sound, flop when they run, disappear when they’re afraid. A happy dog’s ears are relaxed and carried without tension in the muscles. We see this most often with Tango, Fran’s Brussels Griffon. He has ears that are called “semi-prick” – they fold about in half and flop merrily when he runs. Some of Fran’s favorite pictures of Tango competing in agility show his ears flying in glee. 

Other dogs’ ears don’t show the relaxation as much. Dogs like French Bulldogs, Papillons, and Chihuahuas carry their ears upright all the time. Hope’s French Bulldog Torque’s ears never fold down – they’re just not designed that way. It doesn’t mean he isn’t happy, he just doesn’t work that way. 

A happy dog’s relaxed mouth is either closed or slightly open – showing a typical doggy smile. When you think a dog is showing a smile – they really are. That’s a happy dog. No teeth showing, no tensing of the lips or muzzle. Just a happy doggy smile.

Photo of a happy dog, a Cocker Spaniel.

Relaxation extends to the dog’s muscles as well. When you pet a happy, relaxed dog, there’s no tension, flinching, or hardness to the muscles. Perfect for cuddling. 

A happy, relaxed dog’s tail would be wagging gently, or still. Especially if it’s just hanging out. Of course the pace and force of the tail-wagging increase if there’s a game afoot. Especially if it’s a game with you.

#2: Eating normally

A dog who’s stressed out may reject food and even treats from your hand. It’s a good signal that something’s not quite right in your dog’s world.

If your dog is eating normally, looking forward to meal time and polishing his/her bowl, chances are it’s a happy dog. Of course normal does look different for different dogs. Some, we’ve heard, are leisurely eaters, consuming every bite with deliberation and intent. We’ve never had one of those. Our dogs’ bowls are usually empty by the time we stand up after putting the bowl down. 

Clue to dog happiness #3: 

A happy dog will play with you. When you reach for a toy, or say “do you wanna play?,” your dog is right there, smiling, ready to start the game. And it doesn’t matter what game it is. If your dog can focus on you and your playtime, chances are it’s a happy dog. 

Dogs that lose interest, or are easily distracted from play may be stressed. A happy dog will be single-minded while you’re in the game. If you think your dog is just bored with the toys he/she has, either try with a new toy, or limit the number of toys available. A toy your dog hasn’t seen in a few weeks may be as good as a new toy. We have a bin of toys in a closet and periodically switch out the ones available. Everything old can be new again.

#4 indicator of dog happiness

Sleeping. A dog that sleeps deeply and doesn’t rouse at every sound is a happy dog. It’s another relaxation indicator. If you can touch your sleeping dog without him waking up, he’s a happy guy. He knows he’s safe and secure, relaxed and happy.

Happiness indicator #5

Wiggling! A wiggly dog is a happy dog. That delight that shows with every uncontrollable spin is genuine. If your dog greets you when you come home with his/her own signature “happy dance,” you’re doing something right. Your companion is a happy dog. 

Not every dog shows wiggling with the full-body display. We’ve all seen the feel-good stories on the news of military personnel coming home from deployment and their dogs bowl them over with their joyful wiggles. Some dogs just don’t do that. Instead, they may get up on their tip-toes and just wiggle their butts. Or flirtatiously bend from side to side, looking up at you. Whatever your dog’s unique happy dance is, it’s precious.