Dogs are beloved family members, and pet parents want them to be their happiest selves. But how can you tell if your dog is happy or sad? Unfortunately, there’s no straightforward way to ask them; instead, we have to look at body language and behavior. Some signs your dog is happy include tail wagging, zoomies, rolling over, and wanting to be around you.
Below, discover the physical and emotional signs of a happy dog and surefire ways to make them even happier.
How Dogs Show & Feel Emotions
Although not *quite* at the same level as a human adult, dogs can experience emotions in a similar way to us. They can feel happiness, anger, and fear.
Studies have even found that, when petted, dogs’ levels of oxytocin (the “feel-good hormone”) rise – just like humans’ levels rise when petting their pup.
However, while you might be able to say “I love you” or “You’re my favorite”, your dog isn’t as blessed with verbal skills. Instead, they tell you they love you through body language. These cues are usually pretty easy to read!
8 Signs of a Happy Dog
All dogs are different, so behaviors that indicate happiness (or other emotions) can vary. However, a happy dog’s body language is generally relaxed and includes behaviors such as:
- A soft, partially open mouth
- Relaxed ears, not pulled back or taut with alertness
- Overall “loose” posture, with a raised head
- A tail wag
- Rolling over and showing their belly
- Making a “play bow,” with their rear in the air and chest lowered to the ground
- Sleeping on or around you
Do these signs always mean your dog is happy?
While these signs, including a wagged tail, zoomies, and sleeping, mostly indicate dog happiness, sometimes they can reveal something deeper.
“Happy dogs tend to wag with the tail in a neutral position, which can vary by breed,” she says. Look for “wide, loose swings and very little muscle tension,” explains Jennifer Malawey, certified dog trainer and behavior consultant.
Meanwhile, zoomies might signal your dog is stressed or anxious. Unfortunately, it can be tricky to tell the difference between a happy zoomie and a stressed zoomie. To help figure things out, Malawey recommends looking at other elements of your dog’s body language, including facial expression, muscle tension, and interaction with you.
Lastly, if your dog sleeps too much (outside the normal 12-14 hour range), Malawey says it might indicate an underlying health condition, stress, or anxiety.
Is “Bad Behavior” a Sign of an Unhappy Dog?
Destructive behaviors — such as excessive barking, destroying toys, and digging — all indicate your dog is unhappy… right? Malawey says not so fast. While these behaviors sometimes signal dog discomfort or unhappiness, she explains that they encompass normal, happy dog behaviors.
Once again, differentiating comes down to analyzing the context and broader situation. Malaway suggests asking yourself questions like: “Are they in a situation that’s causing them discomfort?” and “What is the rest of their body saying?”
8 Signs Your Dog May Be Stressed or Unhappy
While we all want our pups to be happy, sometimes that isn’t the case. Here are some telltale signs of an unhappy dog to be on the lookout for.
- Excessive barking, howling, or growling
- Pacing up and down
- Destroying furniture
- Peeing and pooping inside the house
- Cowering or hiding
- Not eating or eating too much
- Loss of interest in exercise or playtime
- Excessive licking or chewing of their paws
How To Make Your Dog Even Happier
Pet parents want nothing more than to make their dogs happy. It’s the best way to give your pup a great life! Here’s a quick checklist for how to make your pup feel great!
- Make sure they’re fully provided for. This means caring for all aspects of their well-being. Feed your dog a healthy and well-rounded diet, provide plenty of physical and mental stimulation, and shower them with lots of hugs and affection (if they want it!)
- Look after yourself, too. A happy pet parent = a happy dog! While you can’t “pass” feelings to your pup, studies show dogs can recognize and react to human emotions of all kinds.
- Offer lots of praise and positive reinforcement. Sure, giving your dog rewards following good behavior encourages them to repeat the action in the future. But praising and rewarding your pup also encourages their brain to release feel-good oxytocin — and who would say no to that?
- Remember that moods can vary. Human moods and emotions can quickly shift — the same goes for our dogs. It would be unreasonable to expect your canine pal to be happy all of the time! The best thing you can do is watch for body language cues or changes in behavior that might indicate something’s up.