Sometimes we dog owners can go overboard when it comes to ensuring the happiness of our pooches—from throwing them a choice cut of meat when they’re begging at the table to dishing out the big bucks for the cushiest dog bed in the pet shop. But are our efforts raising their happiness quotient as much as we hope? Too bad they can’t tell us for certain…or can they?
Turns out that although dogs may not have the words to express their joy and contentment, they can communicate their happiness to us in other ways—if you know the signs to look for. Read on to find out what they are.
Three Words: Full Body Wags
When Buster greets you at the door when you come home from work, does he trot up to you with just his tail wagging or does he run to meet you with his entire body waggling from side to side? If his whole lower body appears to be in on the action, accompanied by panting and jumping up on you (which, incidentally, you can correct with proper training), then you’ve got one ecstatic pup in your midst.
Many animals, including dogs, will do whatever it takes to protect their vulnerable undersides (i.e., vital organs) from danger. That said, if your pup flops over on his back and extends his paws up in the air, this means that he completely trusts you and feels safe and happy in your presence. Of course, it also means that he’d like for you to give him a belly rub. We recommend you comply if you’d like to give him a double measure of delight.
Does your dog often present you with the “play stance?” That is—does he lower the front half of his body (as if taking a bow), raise his rump is up in the air, and wag his tail? He might also bark and squeal while pacing and/or bouncing around you as if on springs. This could only mean one thing: he’s inviting you to a play date because you’re his favorite human and nothing would make him happier than a game of tug of war or fetch!
Let’s Get Cuddly
If a dog is happy in your presence, he may show it by initiating physical contact with you. This could come in the form of nuzzling you, licking you, reaching out to you with his paw, curling up next to you, resting his head on your lap, etc. Make him feel loved by returning the affection.
Look for a Relaxed, Peaceful Pooch
Happiness also manifests in dogs in the form of relaxation. For physical signs of a relaxed pooch, look at his eyes, ears, and mouth. His eyes should be their normal shape, not wide open nor squinting tensely (though lids that are drooping from sleepiness is perfectly fine!). His mouth should be closed or hanging slightly open, and his ears should be held naturally, not pulled back (in anxiety) or constantly perked in high-alert mode.
Quality Quiet Time
Dogs don’t always show their joy through energetic movement and/or physical touch. If your dog is perfectly at peace just sitting beside you doing absolutely nothing at all, you’ve most likely got a very content canine that’s happy just being in your presence. You get extra points if your dog’s got run of the house and chooses to rest in the same place as you!
If your dog doesn’t exhibit any destructive, obsessive, or aggressive behaviors, he’s most likely one happy pooch. However, if he can’t be trusted alone (or even supervised!) without tearing something to shreds—you might have an anxious or bored dog on your hands. The same goes for obsessive and/or compulsive behavior like licking or chewing on himself and compulsively eating non-food items. Unhappy dogs also have the tendency to become aggressive with people or other animals. Aggression is usually the result of fear (from lack of proper socialization) or physical pain.
If you notice any of these behaviors, we strongly advise that you take corrective action immediately! Visit the vet to rule out any health issues first, and then make sure your pet regularly receives the proper care, nutrition, and physical and mental stimulation (through play, walks, training, and other forms of exercise)—all of which, put together, is a surefire recipe for canine contentment.
By Michelle Martin
About the Author
Michelle Martin is a freelance writer specializing in animal welfare, pet advice, and DIY craft tutorials. She resides in Los Angeles with her four very spoiled rescue animals — an affable but mischievous retriever-poodle mix and three extremely patient cats.