How to Tell if Your Dog is Happy

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We have had five dogs over the course of the 20+ years we’ve lived in California. We started with Sally, who we got as a sweet little 8 week old pup. Then we added Tino about 2 years later. When Sally passed away we adopted Becca, when Tino passed away we adopted Jack and then when Becca passed, we adopted Maggie and here we are with Jack & Maggie, our eleven year old seniors.

Each of our dogs has had a distinct personality and way of being in the world. Sally was our most playful dog, probably since we had her since she was a little pup and that’s what life was – fun & games. She would play every single day and if we forgot to give her playtime, she would insist upon it, going and getting a toy and dropping it at our feet or pushing it into our hands. It was easy to tell when she was happiest because she would climb in our lap, plop down facing us and hug and kiss us like crazy. We were treated to that loving up almost every single day.

Sally playing with her friend Lucy.

Sally playing with her friend Lucy.

Tino was a much more serious boy. He had such a hard life before we rescued him so he never took his life for granted and lived to the fullest everyday, but in a very solemn manner. We could get him riled up a bit sometimes and he would spaz out a little – he wasn’t a very graceful romper. He would race around with Sally and their playmate Lucy, but mostly Tino was a thinker and would guard his yard and his family with somber diligence. I could tell when he was particularly happy as he would also come to us for some loving – he wasn’t quite as aggressive about it as Sally, but he would bow his head and lean into us for some pets.

Becca in the water therapy tank...with ball.

Becca in the water therapy tank…with ball.

Becca was a working dog before we adopted her, carrying a pack for her owner, so if it was possible, she was even more serious than Tino. She would stand next to me at attention until I released her…even though she wasn’t “working” for us, it was ingrained in her. If I told her to “go lie down”, she would break her stance and lie down and relax. It took probably 6-8 months for her to realize she was retired and no longer on duty. Eventually, we learned she loved to play fetch, so that became her happy place. If she hadn’t had so many orthopedic issues, she would have willingly fetched for hours with a big smile on her face.

Jack & Maggie are pretty laid back dogs and not very playful, probably due to their difficult history. We can get Jack riled up and he’ll grab a toy and race around for a few minutes. Not so easy with Maggie. She will never puts anything in her mouth (except food of course) so she won’t pick up toys or Kongs or anything like that. If we’re playing with Jack, she’ll join in on the sidelines, running along with us, but she quickly gets overwhelmed and steps back into observer mode.
It’s easy to tell when Jack is his happiest – we get treated to this little dance:

Maggie, I’m not so sure how to tell when she’s “happy”, she’s so somber all the time. I think her happiest is when we open that door to let her out to play “find the food”. I mean, look at that smile.
happy maggie

How about your dog – how to do you tell when they are really happy?


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  1. Every dog is different, and we love Jack’s bed and dance! Mom’s first dog Trine was happy. She was a big tale wagger and always showed her appreciation for being rescued by Mom from what I hear. Katie is the only dog Mom has had who is happy, but she has her moods and she is not afraid to look mad or depressed, but overall, she is a happy girl which we can see in her face, and her leaning on people. Bailie and I are always pretty happy, and love huggles and snuggling. It is pretty rare that we aren’t putting on some kind of happiness display.
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  2. Hi Y’all!

    Oh I think anybody can tell when I’m happy! It’s pretty much all the time. I do go and lean against my Humans when I want extra lovin’.

    Y’all come on by,
    Hawk aka BrownDog
    Hawk aka BrownDog recently posted…Byte Mischief!My Profile

  3. I think you make a great point in that happiness doesn’t have a single look or cue. With Eko and Penny though, I know they’re having a great time when they do a big play bow.

  4. Jack that was a happy rock and roll! It’s not easy to find out when Easy is happy he is a non-smiling breed and he can look like grumpy cat even when he gets ice cream… his dad said, as long as he can wreck something he is happy, probably the ripping noise is his “don’t worry, be happy” -song :o)
    easy rider recently posted…easyblog MISCHIEF MOANDAYMy Profile

    • Ha! My sister’s dog, Taj also a Weimie isn’t a big smiler – I think she’s happiest when she was hunting.
      mkob recently posted…How to Tell if Your Dog is HappyMy Profile

  5. Happiness in a dog can be internal or externally displayed. Some breeds show it more than others. For Sam, I think he’s pretty much happy 24/7 (except when there’s a bath during that time period) and even then once it’s over, he’s back to being happy. I just love it when he comes to me with his tail furiously wagging trying to engage in some mom/pup time. Warms my heart every. single. time. 🙂
    Monika recently posted…Let’s Go, Already!!My Profile

  6. Bentley and Pierre are happy boys. Pierre is actually the happiest dog that I know. He wakes up smiling, tail wagging, and kissing. Bentley is happy any time that he is with us. ♥
    M. K. Clinton recently posted…BFTB NETWoof #News for July 20, 2015My Profile

  7. Aw there are just so many different ways to tell if a pup is happy. I love seeing huge smiles on my huskies faces. Siberian’s tend to have extreme facial expressions, and its their smiles that give away their happiness!
    ღ husky hugz ღ frum our pack at Love is being owned by a husky!
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  8. So fun to learn a little more about all your dogs. Haley sounds a lot like how Sally was, very playful and lots of energy. She’s the happiest when playing or when we’re going for a walk (especially an off-leash walk). Very cute video of Jack! 🙂
    Elaine recently posted…Why Does My Dog Greet Me With a Toy?My Profile

  9. Our boy Buzz is happiest when he gets to play fetch with his favorite chuck-it ball or frisbee. When we decide that it’s time for him to take a break, he will look at us with a head tilt and his very own “appalled” Buzz-look 😉 His sister Missy is happy when she gets to a) play in the water, b) race after her remote-controlled car, and c) enjoy belly rubs.
    The pups also share happiness together every morning when they race around the yard and our house in pursuit of each other after our morning walk. It’s one of their rituals which always puts a big smile on my face, making me happy 🙂
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  10. Harley is happiest when he’s with me (so says the family). We’ve spend an enormous degree of time together (I work from home), so he is pretty happy “all the time.” I like to think that his calmness, his rhythmic breathing is an indicator that all is right in his world at that exact moment. Even as I type this comment, he is less than 5 feet from me, curled up and dreaming about something wonderful because he has a smile on his face. Ahhhh, to be Harley 🙂

  11. Jack was enjoying that!
    My tail is often swishing gently and I wear a big grin on my face! I do a hop and a skip to the back door when the bipeds respond to my play bow and say “yes” to a game in the garden.
    Clowie recently posted…Incredulity OverloadMy Profile

  12. Jack that is a cute happy dance. Gambler is always happy he just has that look on his face.
    Sand Spring Chesapeakes recently posted…8 Photos of #Happiness Chesapeake Style on a Wordless WednesdayMy Profile

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