How do you know if your dog is happy? 10 tell-tale signs of a happy pup

Have you, like many families in lockdown, welcomed a new dog to your home? Whether you’ve bought or adopted your pooch, here are 10 ways to tell if they’re happy or not.

How can you tell if your family dog is happy? It’s possible it’s how they wag their tail, or how they race around the room when you return home. If you’re like me, you probably just know your dog is ecstatic without being able to explain why.

It’s impossible to live with a dog without some kind of ‘psychic ability’. You could be wondering: What are they attempting to tell me with that bark? Is that tail wagging happy or scared? Are they following me around the house because they love me, or are they simply hungry?

If you want to know for sure, these few characteristics of a happy dog will help you figure out whether your pup is feeling good.

1) They have relaxed body language

Dogs produce a variety of barks that may be used to convey a variety of emotions (such as an alert bark, ecstatic bark, territorial bark, etc). But they mostly rely on body language and positioning to communicate.

A relaxed dog means their ears and tail are at natural positions rather than stiff forward or tucked between their legs respectively. They may be panting, but it shouldn’t look like they’re gasping for air (unless it’s hot out). If all four paws are on the ground and not planted like they’re ready to pounce, the dog is probably calm and content.

Stretching is one of the signals dogs use to let you know they’re feeling good. It means they are feeling relaxed and comfortable with their environment. A happy dog will also display a soft, welcoming expression, with their eyes gently squinting rather than wide open and alert. Often, their mouths will be slightly open, giving the appearance of a doggy smile which is another indicator of contentment.

If you’re considering registering your ESA with Pettable, it’s important to observe these signs to ensure your pet’s emotional well-being aligns with its role as an emotional support animal. In most cases, a happy dog will make a great ESA, providing comfort and support to their owner.

2) They have relaxed eyes and mouth

Dogs communicate with the rest of the world via eye contact, so it’s important to be able to interpret what your dog is thinking when they look at you.

They may be happy when their eyes are squinty and relaxed looking (not wide in fear), but could also mean they’re feeling nervous or defensive. Blink slowly at your dog, if they do the same this means they feel safe around you and are comfortable in that moment.

If your pooch has a relaxed mouth, that means they are probably not stressed out about anything going on right now. Their lips shouldn’t be tense or pulled back revealing teeth, those could be the first subtle signs of stress.

3) They are energetic and excited

Dogs that are happy tend to be energetic, especially when they see their favorite person or when they’re anticipating something good. They might bark and wag their tail rapidly, jump around, spin in circles, or do some other type of behavior that is unique to their personality.

Pay attention to how long this lasts – if it’s just a few seconds when they first see you then it’s probably excitement, but if they’re still doing this after 10 minutes then they might be hyperactive and need more exercise.

4) They come when called

A happy dog will come running when called, even if they’re distracted by something else going on. They know that when they hear you say their name and “come”, good things will happen.

They might not come every time and may take a few minutes, but if it’s been 10 minutes and they’re still preoccupied then that’s probably a sign they don’t care too much about your requests right now.

They’ll come when they want to, which can mean trouble with potty training or simply not listening at times (which is why you should always train your dog anyway).

5) They wag their tail a lot!

An energetic, wagging tail is mostly a sign of a happy dog. The main reason is that the tail is a muscle and when they wag their tail, it automatically sends a message to their brain that they are feeling good.

If your pup’s tail is going back and forth rapidly, then you can almost always assume they’re feeling great! If it’s slow-moving but still wagging from side to side, this could mean they’re curious or even anxious about something nearby.

If either end of the spectrum looks intense (tail stiff and still or moving very quickly), your pup might be feeling defensive or aggressive about something in their environment.

Don’t approach a dog with a stiff/still tail, instead try to figure out what might be causing them stress so you can calm them down.

6) They sleep a lot

Dogs sleep a lot! It’s no surprise that a relaxed dog will usually be found taking a nap. They might be sprawled out on their side or curled up in a ball, but either way, they’ll be completely still.

If the dog is panting or making other restless movements, then they’re probably not sleeping soundly and could use some peace and quiet.

It’s normal for puppies to wake up often and move around a lot as they learn how to sleep through the night.

7) They show affection

A happy dog will show plenty of affection towards its loved ones. This might manifest as licking your face, jumping into your lap, nudging you with their nose, or simply staying close by.

Dogs that are insecure or anxious may not be as demonstrative, but they’ll still appreciate your company.

Pay attention to how often your dog is trying to get your attention – if they’re constantly needing to be close by then they might be in need of more love and attention.

8) Their ears are relaxed

Ears that are slightly tilted forward usually indicate a relaxed dog. If the ears are completely flat against the head, this could mean the dog is feeling scared or aggressive.

If you see your pup’s ears moving around and wiggling, this means they’re probably trying to figure out what’s going on around them. This can be a sign of curiosity or even anxiety.

9) They roll on their back

When a dog rolls over on his back, it’s usually a sign of submission or trust. He’s saying “I’m not a threat, I trust you.” This is often seen with puppies when they meet new people or dogs for the first time.

Some dogs will also do this when they’re feeling playful, wanting you to chase them and give them belly rubs.

10) They kiss your face

A happy dog will express affection in many ways, but kisses are one of the most classic. They might gently press their nose or lips up against your face or they may try to lick you. Either way, it’s a sign that they’re trying to show how much they love you! 

Be careful though, as some dogs may try to nibble on your skin – this is usually a sign of excitement rather than aggression.

What other signs show your dog is happy?

Now that you know the basics of how to tell if your dog is happy – you can start to look for other signals too!

For example, a calm dog might lay their head on your lap as a way of showing trust and love. If your pup is scratching or licking themselves more than normal, it could mean they are feeling itchy or uncomfortable.

Keep an eye out for these things and use them as clues to figure out what might be wrong – dogs can’t tell us in words when they’re not feeling well, so we have to learn how to read their body language instead!

Photo by fatty corgi