Does your dog smile at you? Do you see the joy in your dog’s face? Pet parents often wonder if their dogs are happy and whether they can feel emotions like people do. Yes, it would be great if we could speak dog or read their minds to learn how their day is going. However, an easier, more realistic approach to gauging a dog’s happiness is to watch their body language. Here are five signs of happiness in dogs.
6 Signs of a Happy Dog
Not sure if your dog is happy with his life? A few clear signs can show your dog’s contentment. As you get to know your dog, you’ll recognize his or her own unique personality and signs of happiness in your dog. These, in general, are how dogs express their happiness:
- A wagging tail: This is the most apparent sign of happiness in a dog. If the tail is high and wagging, your pet is overjoyed. Tail wagging is often occupied by a butt wiggle. These moves let you know your pet is very excited about something.
- Floppy ears: Relaxed ears indicate a happy dog. We don’t mean Bassett hound floppy, but ears that fall naturally against the sides of a dog’s head. Ears pinned back or straight up show your dog is on alert.
- Cuddles: When your dog cuddles up with you, your pet is pretty happy with you and your life.
- Leans on you: Your dog may lean against to show he trusts you, loves being with you, and he’s happy.
- A play “bow”: A good sign your dog is feeling happy and playful is a play “bow” (upper body on the ground with backside in the air, maybe tail wagging, eyes on you).
- Smiles: Happy dogs often appear to smile with their mouths open and corners turned up (teeth may be showing).
What’s the best way to ensure your dog is happy? Provide proper care, a peaceful home environment, and love. Praise and positive reinforcement using healthy dog treats for good behavior will go a long way too.
Ok, But Do Dogs Really Smile?
Yes and no, according to the experts. Researchers suggest that a dog’s smile is really an evolutionary development that has to do with domesticated dogs’ relationships with humans. Dogs might not necessarily express happiness by smiling, but they instinctively know that upturned corners of their mouths will elicit certain responses in their human friends.
When your dog smiles, it isn’t necessarily only because he’s happy. He could be mirroring you. Dogs know that when humans smile, they give rewards, like belly scratches, hugs, playtime and food.
Signs Your Dog is Unhappy
As much as we would like to believe our dogs are happy 24/7, like humans, they, too, have off days. Your dog’s body language can indicate he’s unhappy. Here are some signs:
- Tense body position: A worried dog may become tense, avoid eye contact with you, hold its head low, and become very still.
- Ears are back: If your dog is stressed or anxious, his ears may appear pinned back or flat against his head.
- Low or tucked tail: A dog may hold its tail low, wag it slowly, or tuck its tail between its legs when stressed, unhappy, or anxious.
- Looks away: If your pet is displeased with you or something you did, he may turn his head away from you. Your dog may quickly lick your hand or face to signal he’s done with you for the moment.
- Hides or walks away: When your dog wants or needs a time out from someone or something that’s stressing him, your pet may hide behind you or an object (like a couch or table). Your pet may even go into another room away from whatever is bothering him.
Signs of Dog Aggression
As quickly as you recognize signs of dog happiness, you can tell aggression in a dog. Here are a few signs a dog may exhibit:
- Destructive behavior: Anytime your pet shreds your couch pillows, table legs, or your favorite shoes, it usually indicates your dog is stressed, anxious, or bored.
- Bares teeth, growls, and barks: An aggressive dog may bare their teeth and growl at whoever or whatever is bothering him. He may bark as well. Never ignore these signs. If a dog feels threatened, he may bite in reaction, escalating the situation.
- Stiff tail: When aggressive, some dogs stop wagging their tails and hold them rigid/straight while others tuck their tails behind them.
- Makes eye contact: Aggressive dogs make direct eye contact with humans or other animals. If a strange dog becomes still and stares you down, back away without making eye contact.
- Stands alert or lowers their body: Some aggressive dogs may stand in a stiff, tall body position and have their head pointed toward you; some prepare to spring by shifting their weight toward the back of their body. Still, other aggressive dogs lower their body to the ground.
- Hair standing on end: Some dog breeds show agitation, fear, and aggression (especially toward other animals) when their hair stands on end, especially along their spines. This involuntary reflex is called piloerection and could also mean the dog is cold.
We don’t recommend confronting or addressing an aggressive dog. However, using an ultrasonic hand-held training device when faced with an aggressive dog may distract the animal long enough for you to leave the area. Remember, each dog is unique, which means not all dogs display the same signs of happiness, displeasure, or aggression.
Cheers to the happy dog in your life!