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.
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.