How to tell if your dog is happy or sad & ways of bringing joy into their lives

When we know that our dogs are happy, we feel happier too. Even though we don’t speak the same language, dogs have plenty of signs and ways to express their feelings to us. We just need to read them.

A happy dog has a soft dreamy gaze and relaxed eyelids, his lips are loose, the forehead is wrinkle-free, his body is completely relaxed, the ears are floppy and the tail is raised to the mid-level and wagging, often so much that their entire behind seems to be wiggling and dancing.

A happy dog will seek engagement with you by greeting you with great enthusiasm, initiating fun time, play bowing or bringing a toy.

They will also enjoy their walks and meal times. And blissfully snooze for hours often stretching out on their backs to take most of your sofa.

And what about a stressed dog? Surprisingly, one of the first signs is an exaggerated yawn. A stressed pooch will have tension in his body, try to avoid eye contact, have enlarged pupils, raised eyebrows or tension in his forehead and ears, which he is likely to keep pulled back or erected and pointy (depending on a breed and situation).

The tail of a stressed dog may look limp and low.

Other signs include lip licking (especially if the stress is caused by fear), drooling, tight mouth, tensed body that may start trembling (some dogs also like to “shake it off” to release any tension), inability to settle, scratching, panting, vocalisation and reactivity to any sign of movement or any sound however minor.

They may struggle to relax or fall asleep. The changes in stress hormone levels can alter dogs’ appetite and ability to digest and utilise nutrients – some dogs refuse their food completely, others may develop odd eating habits.

Stressed dogs may start to destroy the furniture or rip out carpets as their way to relieve stress through chewing, others may suddenly forget their house training habits and urinate or defecate at home instead.

How to keep your pooch happy?

Feed your dog a complete balanced diet, so his body gets all the nutrients it needs for the happy brain.

Stick to a schedule, especially if your dog is prone to anxiety.

Choose activities that suit your dog’s age to avoid overstimulation.

Have at least one walk a day and allow your pooch to run and exercise depending on his age and physical abilities.

Visit new places, especially if your dog is an adventurer and enjoys these activities.

Move to the country. According to the 2020 study published in Scientific Reports, urban dogs were more fearful and stressed than the dogs living in more natural areas

Let your dog sniff! Sniffing is such a wonderful stress relief for all dogs. It helps them to relax yet keeps the brain happily stimulated.

Use mental stimulation games – anything from sprinkling a handful of kibble in the grass for the dog to find to using puzzle toys to taking a few agility lessons. Dogs love to learn, so let them do it! Learning and exploring in a safe environment plus plenty of praise helps a dog to build his confidence and feel positive towards changing environments and situations. Remember to use positive reward-based methods of training – not punishment of any kind.

Let your pooch enjoy a safe chew or a stuffed toy – licking and chewing are really relaxing.

Don’t skip on annual vet checks and preventative treatments. A healthy pooch is a happy pooch!

Spent some quality time with your dog every day – playing, cuddling, walking – anything that makes both of you happy.

Give your dog a massage. Many canines enjoy these touches and find them extremely relaxing.

Play a few tunes that dogs find relaxing. A study published in January 2020 showed that classical music has a calming effect on dogs, particularly those in stressful environments

Learn your dog’s habits – not every dog likes to be touched by strangers, some would rather share their time with people than dogs, others would prefer to avoid certain pooches or places.

Stay happy. Several studies pointed out that dogs synchronise their stress hormone levels with the ones of their owners (also known as emotional contagion), especially if you suffer from the long-term stress.

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