Is my Dog happy?
Is my Dog happy?
I have often wondered this myself when I observe my many dogs over the years. I am just as concerned about all my other animal friends, from my horses to my chickens. As a wife and a mother and also grandmother, I also want my family to be happy. What I have learned over the years, is that the question of ‘is my dog happy’, is closely tied to ‘is my dog healthy’.
A trully happy person is not in constant pain and discomfort and the same goes for all creatures, great and small. Health is closely tied to happiness. Yet, just because you are physically healthy, does not mean you are totally happy either. Happiness is close cousins to mental health as well as physical health.
Many dog owners think that all a dog needs is for his or her physical needs to be met, like enough food, water, shelter and the occasional pat on the head. That belief is entirely wrong. Dogs are emotional creatures, and have emotional needs as well as physical needs. Their mental state is just as important as their physical state, as they are closely tied together.
Any dog rescue can show you or tell you
of severely depressed dogs in their care that lose the will to live. Dogs that do not have their other needs met, (like having some fun in exercise and play on a daily basis, or are not allowed to have emotional connections to other living beings), will develop many of the same mental based problems that humans do.
I have written about what it takes to create a Healthy Dog and have briefly touched on What does a Dog need but this post is about contentment.
A happy dog is a healthy dog first, and a mentally contented dog second. My dogs are fed very nutritious meals, twice a day. I use top quality dog foods, to which I add a variety of other foods like egg, Kefir, soup stock, leftovers etc. Putting those extra goodies in are not just for extra nutrition, but I see how much happiness it gives my dogs to receive them.
Getting the same boring food over and over, is not really a source of happiness. My dogs eyes light up and their jowls begin to drool with anticipation, when they smell that I’ve put something extra in their meals.
I make sure to reward them often with treats
like cheese, cold meats or a top quality dog cookie. A great time to give these rewards are right after you’ve called them back into the house, or just called them from wherever and they came running.
My dogs get a bedtime snack every day, sitting quietly to receive their snack, and then are taken to their kennel for night. Lots of hugs, snuggles and soft words from me, complete their time of contentment for the day. My dogs that I have right now, are supposed to be outdoor ranch dogs and have a large fenced dog park area, with doggie doors going into a heated kennel building. In the kennel, they have huge soft dog beds.
They spend every night there, from our bedtime to our breakfast time. This set up is actually my retired Pet Hotel facilities, so they have large areas to play in. We also place them in there when we plan on being away from home for awhile. The rest of the time, our two large hairy dogs spend their time lounging in part of our home or on our large shaded deck (in the summer).
Our previous house dogs, who passed away almost 3 years ago, were 100% house dogs but were also required to sleep in kennels, which were wire crates in our living room. On nice days, they also spent time on our lovely deck.
Dogs love routine, to make them feel secure
but they also love to have the routine broken up for fun times, a new location, new friends etc. not that unlike humans in that way. All dogs whether they are young or old, need regular daily walks or periods during the day where they can run like crazy if they want to.
Our previous house dogs, Joey and Bobo, use to love retrieving toys in the house and outside in the yard on a daily basis. I would get down on my hands and knees and play with them like a dog myself (they were smaller dogs). Things got very lively at times with both dogs barking and chasing toys around. I sure do miss those times still.
Dogs need emotional connections
to either other animals or to the humans that feed them. I believe dogs are happiest when they are not the only dog in the household. Cats can often be a dog’s best friend too, if you don’t have room or finances to care for another dog. A single dog as the only pet in the house or yard, is a lonely dog. They are social animals.
I often see my older dog Sirius, lovingly lick my younger dog Ciro’s head or face, like a human mother might stroke or clean her child’s face (with hands or wash cloth). My dogs are raised with cats too, and have developed strong attachments to their favorite cats. There is a lot of affection and contentment in my barnyard collection. My cats have their favorite dogs too!
My oldest cat Xena, prefers Sirius, and will sit on top of him kneading him with her paws. Next in line is Gabby, a younger version of Xena, who also prefers Sirius to sit on. A newer cat, Jessie absolutely adores my younger dog Ciro. He is remarkably patient with her antics. Jessie likes to sit on his head or rubs her body all over his nose while he’s trying to sleep on the deck.
I have other cats who prefer to stay around the barn, but are friendly with both dogs as well. Only one cat, we call her Junior, has a hostile bossy attitude towards all dogs and other cats.
Play time, being able to run around like a puppy, is so important to all dogs
Dogs love to play in their own way, either with other animals or with their human friends. This emotional attachment of sharing fun, is crucial to their mental health.
Excess energy, that is not allowed to be regularily ‘burned up’, in fun exercise and play, becomes negative energy. Negative energy results in excessive barking, chewing, digging, aggression and general unhappiness over all.
Play time can be as simple as throwing a toy or ball for a dog that loves this, or just being goofy with your dog. A favorite game of my dogs Joey and Bobo was when I would sneak up the basement stairs in a crouched creeping position like a cat. By the time I got to the top of the stairs, Bobo would be running back and forth barking and Joey would be play growling with a toy in his mouth. I would play growl too and pretend to be a dog. They absolutely loved this! It was our special goofy game. Once I got to the top, I’d grab the toy, toss it and another game was on!
Tug of war can be a great game for certain dogs that are not aggressive or too dominant. My little Pom, Joey and my Corgi X, Bobo, loved this game, with each other and with humans. Some of their stuffed toys really took a hit with these games but it was worth it to have so much fun.
Getting involved in Dog sports
is a great way of both exercising, and having fun for both dog and human. I’ve got some pages above that go into Dog Agility, Dog Joring, Dog Backpacking, Dog Frisbees, Dog sledding and others.
There are so many ways to have fun with your dog that I simply can’t cover them all here! Depending on your seasons and where you live, you could also go swimming or surfing with your dog. Regular hikes through a park could add much to your dog’s quality of life and to yours too!
What are the physical signs that a dog is happy?
Some people think it’s a wagging tail, or a panting expression. Yes and No. Even miserably unhappy abused dogs will wag their tails in an effort to stop the aggression towards them. Dogs in pain or dogs that are feeling nervous will pant, and so will a happy excited dog. Now that’s confusing right?
You have to look deeper to see a happy dog. I see what a happy dog looks like every day, when I look at my dogs. This is what I see. I see healthy glowing coats, bright eyes, clean white teeth. I see dogs that enjoy life to the fullest when they are outside. Running around, playing with each other or with me. After they’ve had some play time or just running around, my dogs are equally happy to flop down and snooze in utter contentment. My dogs do not destroy anything they should not, do not bark excessively and are able to sleep for long periods at a time.
A dog that has had his or her energy levels dissipated through play or exercise, will be able relax faster and will sleep deeper. This is a good thing. With healthy meals and healthy snacks throughout the day, their bodies feel good. My dogs know that good things happen every day, that they are safe, and they know that I love them.
How do my dogs know that I love them?
Do dogs know what love is? A puppies first experience with love is with his or her own mother. Her care of them (feeding, cleaning and protecting) lets her puppies know that they are safe. Her gentleness and attention is love.
Humans come along a little later in the dogs life and (hopefully) do the same in terms of giving good food, caring for their physical bodies and giving them affection for their emotional and mental happiness.
Humans further teach a dog that gentle touches (petting, stroking and even hugs/kisses) are expressions of the same love they experienced with their mother. Food is love, attention is love. Gentle discipline and training is love.
A note of caution here regarding hugs and kisses
Dogs don’t naturally associate this human behaviour with your affection for them. This is a learned association. Just like they learned that their mother’s licking, and nuzzling were affection. For a dog that does not associate hugs and kisses as affection, many will interpret this as an invasion of their space. Many children are bitten, adults too, when they use this human expression of love on dogs that don’t know what this means.
In summary, a happy dog, is one who feels good physically.
A happy dog is one who has fun every day. A happy dog has emotional attachments to other living beings. So If you ever wonder, is my dog happy? Go over the guidelines that I’ve just written about and you’ll soon have your answer. All living creatures like to be healthy and happy.
P.S.- Click on the image below to a company that makes stuffies that look just like your pet!
Great article. I have two rescues who were abused and abandoned. Now surprisingly, they get on great together but do not do well with other dogs. So I worry whether they are happy all the time. Someone once told me that dogs are unconditional love and if show them the same, they are always happy. Hope that is true
Great article. I have two rescues who were abused and abandoned. Now surprisingly, they get on great together but do not do well with other dogs
Thank you, yes that often happens too. Your dogs are family and they may see others as the usurpers. By introducing your dogs to other well behaved dogs on a regular basis, in a safe and relaxed environment, your dogs anxiety could be greatly lessened regarding other dogs. Let me know if I can help with any other dog matters.