Is Your Dog Happy?

Gypsy-smilingI think my dogs are happy. They are healthy, comfortable and well fed (ok, maybe too well fed) and certainly loved! I’ve always tried to pay attention to their body language for real clues as to how they feel. Clearly they are sometimes stressed if there are guests or workers in the house. And I know they are very happy to play outside with each other and have a treat.

Many times I just know they are happy and content but can’t quite put into words a specific reason or how I know. Conversely, the parent in me also senses when something is not right, even if I can’t write out a checklist to validate my feelings. If you are a mother or father of the two or four-legged variety, I think you know what I mean.

Sometimes, my dogs do display behaviors that are obvious to interpret in humans or animals alike. Other times, I can tell from how they adhere to their normal routines, that allows me to know that they are content or feeling well overall. They don’t even have to give me verbal queues or do anything out of the ordinary. Take for instance, Gypsy – she relishes taking naps on the deck. Meanwhile, Penny, who has an abundant amount of energy, loves to chase rabbits while Ted is more of a low-key fellow and just likes to sit in my lap – that’s his happy place.

Additionally, I believe that it is so important to treat your dog like part of the family. If you have multiple dogs, treat them equally (just like with having several human children). Dogs love a schedule and a change of scenery from time to time. They need a safe, quiet place to rest. They need positive training with love. They need nourishing, healthy meals. These things will surely add to your pet’s sense of well being.

In their book, Making Dogs Happy,  animal behavior experts Dr. Melissa Starling and Dr Paul McGreevy, from the University of Sydney, focus on the pragmatic application of current theory to improve relationships with your dogs and make them happy.

According to their research, hugging your dog can make them feel uncomfortable while an excessively friendly dog may actually feel anxious and distressed. They also discuss several common behavior myths.


 Making Dogs Happy by animal behavior experts Dr. Melissa Starling and Dr Paul McGreevy


  1. Dogs have a human appreciation of sharing
    Humans can rationalize and appreciate the benefits of sharing. In contrast, among dogs, possession is ten-tenths of the law. So we should not take toys, bones and chews away from dogs unless we have trained them to accept this form of intervention.
  2. Dogs always enjoy common human physical displays of affection
    Humans often show their affection for others by hugging and cuddling them. Dogs simply do not have the limbs and joints to achieve this and so have not evolved to give each other a loving squeeze. When embraced by humans, many can find this uncomfortable or threatening. The same goes for patting dogs on the head.
  3. Barking and growling dogs are always threatening or dangerous
    These are distance-increasing behaviours. The dogs using these signals are chiefly trying to buy space so they can feel safer. All dogs, regardless of their temperament or training, can at times want more space. They usually try more subtle signalling first, but many dogs learn that subtle signals don’t work and go straight for shouting.
  4. Dogs will welcome unfamiliar dogs to their home
    Dogs evolved from wolves and are therefore primed to defend what is theirs. They have an attachment to their home territory and the resources within it. Dogs have no way of knowing that the dogs and human we invite around to our home, for example for a play-date, are ever going to leave. They can be forgiven for thinking that this is the way it is going to be from hereon. So it is to be expected that they will often try to lay out the local ground-rules and put the new arrivals in their place.
  5. Dogs like relaxing as much as humans do
    We go to work and go to school, so we greatly value the opportunity to chill out at home and maybe watch TV. In contrast, dogs spend most of their time at home and so value exercise off the property far more than time spent on the sofa. So, for dogs, a change is not just as good as a rest – it’s much better.
  6. An effusive dog is a friendly dog
    “Friendly” for one dog is not friendly for all dogs, and some dogs use excessive friendliness as a way to alleviate anxiety associated with meeting another dog or human. Owners of very friendly dogs may be surprised when every other dog does not cheerfully receive their dog. Some dogs prefer sedate greetings, and lots of personal space.
  7. Dogs approach when they want to engage playfully
    Sometimes owners are confused when a dog approaches a human or another dog in a friendly fashion and then growls or snaps at them. These dogs may be motivated to approach chiefly to gain information, rather than to interact, and some may like strangers in principle, but nevertheless become anxious and overwhelmed all of a sudden. If you are seeing this pattern, call your dog away from new dogs and humans after a couple of seconds.
  8. A big yard can replace walks
    Because dogs spend so much time at home in the yard, they often find the area a little too familiar and sometimes rather dull. The size of a yard is far less important to dogs than what happens in it. Dogs truly thrive on play with each other, with us and with toys. They particularly love to do so in a novel environment, so time spent out of the yard is the very best of fun.
  9. Dogs are willfully defiant when they don’t do as they are told
    Rather than deciding to disobey us, dogs sometimes simply can’t do what we ask them to. Either they don’t actually know what we’re asking them to do, or they have much, much more pressing things to do at the time. Dogs are not great at generalising, so just because they sit nicely when asked to in the kitchen when you have treats in your hand doesn’t mean they automatically know what “sit” means when they are at the off-leash dog park.And while your dogs might know what “sit” means when being trained at home without distractions, asking them to do so when visitors are at the door might be like asking a child to kneel and pray upon arriving at an amusement park.
  10. Barking, snapping, or lunging is the first sign of an unhappy dog
    Dogs often give subtle signs they are becoming anxious, like avoiding eye contact with whatever is worrying them, licking lips, brow furrows, lifting a paw, tightening muscles in their face. If nothing is done to help these dogs move away from whatever is worrying them, these signs can often escalate to more troubling behaviour that is more obvious, such as growling and snapping.




Dr. Karen Becker from Healthy Pets, offers these ten points to consider in determining if your dog is indeed happy:


  1. His eyes and eyelids are relaxed, he blinks a lot, his gaze is soft and his brow is smooth. His ears are also relaxed, not cocked or pointing. His mouth is open a bit with a few teeth visible (but not bared), his tongue may be lolling and he may even appear to be smiling.
  2. She’s holding her body in a relaxed posture versus a tense or stiff stance. She’s holding her tail high and wagging it with such gusto her whole body is wiggling. Alternatively, her tail may be in a more neutral position, with a softer, slower wag.
  3. He has no destructive behaviors, even when he’s home alone. Happy dogs generally get plenty of physical and mental stimulation. Bored, under-exercised, under-stimulated dogs are more likely to become destructive, along with dogs who suffer from separation anxiety.
  4. She loves to play. Happy dogs are always up for a game or a walk or a ride in the car. Since exercise and play are so natural for dogs, if your canine companion doesn’t seem interested, she may be dealing with some pain or an illness, and it’s time to make an appointment with your veterinarian.
  5. He’s belly-up and tongue out. Happy dogs tend to show their bellies and tongues as they wriggle around on their backs. Happy belly displays are different from submissive belly rolls in which the dog’s mouth is usually closed and his body is stiff.
  6. Her appetite is good, which indicates she’s both happy and feeling physically well. A noticeable decrease (or increase) in your pet’s appetite can be a symptom of an underlying condition.
  7. He’s happy barking. Some dogs rarely bark, but those who do tend to have a higher-pitched bark when they’re happy that usually doesn’t last long.
  8. She play bows. Many happy dogs raise their backsides in the air and lower their chests to the ground as an invitation to play with either their favorite human or a doggy friend.
  9. He leans into you. A happy dog will often lean into your hand when you pet him, and lean into or keep contact with your body whenever the opportunity presents itself.
  10. She’s thrilled to see you. Happy dogs are without fail excited to see their human come through the door, even if said human has only stepped outside for a minute to check the weather!

And in conclusion, I offer this video that will surely make your day. I think these puppies are happy, don’t you?



Scientists reveal the 10 common misconceptions about canine behaviour that may be making your pet miserable [daily mail]

Ten common misconceptions about dog behaviour [theconversation]

The science behind why some people love animals and others couldn’t care less [theconversation]

The Animals Among Us [penguin books]

10 Ways to Tell If Your Dog Is Happy [healthypets]

Is My Dog Happy? [rover]

Do Dogs Grieve When They Lose A Companion?
Dogs and their Powerful Sense of Smell