It may seem like your dog is always happy and for the most part it’s true. Even though most dogs have happiness engrained within them, it’s up to you to provide the building blocks or base for that happiness. How do you do that? We’ll get to that in a minute, first let’s explore the benefits of a happy dog and how you’ll be able to tell how your pup is feeling.
Why do they need to be happy all of the time, you may ask? Well, a happy dog is a non-destructive dog, for one thing. Happy, stimulated dogs are less likely to shred your couch or carpet while you’re away. Happy dogs sleep better, eat better, and are generally healthier than their unhappy counterparts. Plus, this goes without saying, we all would rather be greeted by a happy dog at the end of the day!
How Do You Know Your Dog is Happy?
Since your pup won’t sit down beside you and verbally express their feelings, you’ll have to pay close attention to their body language to know if they’re happy.
- Relaxation: Happy dogs are relaxed, they’re not tense, rigid or wound up. They will look at you with those droopy, puppy dog eyes, floppy lips, and a lolling tongue. A happy dog won’t pin their ears back or tuck their tail. Instead that tail will probably be wagging and their body will be wiggly or at ease.
- Eating and sleeping: A happy dog will have a good appetite without being ravenous. They will sleep well through the night and take several naps throughout the day. Unhappiness or stress may cause a dog to eat more or less than normal and sleep disruptively and whine or cry during the night.
- Dancing or hopping: Every dog has their own special greeting for those they love. They may hop, wiggle, dance, or roll over. If a dog is uneasy or unhappy, they may instead stand tense, pin their ears, bark or even growl when meeting someone. Unhappy dogs will also hesitate to show their belly as that puts them in a very vulnerable position and is usually only reserved for when they’re around people they trust.
- Enjoy themselves: Happy dogs look forward to walks and playtime with you or other animals. They may wait impatiently at the door or elicit happy barks when they see other dogs. Their enjoyment in playtime will be obvious as they’ll keep coming back for more rather than trying to hide in the corner of the yard or park by themselves.
How to Make Your Dog Happy
Now that you’re up on the benefits of a happy dog and you know what to look for to tell how they are feeling, it’s time to find out how to help make your dog be happy. Happiness isn’t something you create, rather it’s something you can provide the tools for. With that in mind, let’s look at some things you can do to help your dog be happy.
1. Provide entertainment when left alone
Dogs live to be near us but that’s just not feasible all of the time. In order to be happy, a dog needs to be mentally stimulated, not bored. Providing them with activities while you’re away will help keep their mind sharp and happy, as well as decrease their separation anxiety and destructive behaviors. These activities may range from providing them with a playmate or with interactive toys. If you don’t have another critter yourself, set up playdates with other dogs that you can trust to be left alone with your dog or take them to a doggie daycare. Interactive toys like food puzzles, durable chew toys, or motorized toys will keep your pup entertained for hours. Just be sure to switch out toys often so that they don’t get bored with the same old thing.
Dogs are naturally pack animals and while you may be all the pack they need most of the time, most dogs still enjoy some furry company. Socialization is best started when a puppy is young, but is something that dogs of all ages can master. When first starting to socialize your dog, never leave them unsupervised in order to prevent fights and other mishaps. Keep them on a leash so that you’re in control and do short sessions so that your dog doesn’t get overwhelmed. Socialize your dog with others that you know are friendly and healthy. Once your dog finds some trusty furry friends, be sure to let them visit often to give them that happiness that you alone can’t provide.
Socialization isn’t confined to other critters. It’s important to socialize your dog with other people as well. This will help decrease that ‘stranger danger’ feeling that some dogs have and will help them be more at ease.
It’s also considered socialization to let your dog sniff around while out and about. Smells say a lot to a dog-who was here before them and how long ago, what they were doing, and so on. Let them catch up on the neighborhood gossip by giving them time to ‘listen’ to the smells around them.
Dogs love to learn, whether that be tricks or just the rules of the household, so teach them. Train them ways to communicate with you, like how to alert you to let them outside or that it’s dinnertime, so that they can more easily have their needs met. Teach them some basic commands like sit, down, or stay to help keep them out of trouble, and teach them some tricks that allow for rewards. Most of all, training gives your dog a chance to spend time with you, something that truly makes them happy.
4. Establish a hierarchy
Dog packs in the wild are very organized when it comes to social ranking. There is an alpha pair that rules and then members with various jobs lined out by their ranking. This organization helps each member to know what their specific duties are so that the pack can exist in harmony. Your dog is no different. They want to know their social standing to better serve the pack leader-you. Establish yourself as pack leader and stand by it. Don’t waiver on your leadership as this will make your dog’s position feel unstable and may be a source of stress or unhappiness.
5. Remain calm and assertive
Dogs, like humans, don’t respond well to yelling. It creates stress and anxiety instead of establishing assertiveness. Being calm, even when your angry, will help keep your pup’s attention so that they better learn from you in all situations. Staying assertive will also instill that trust and respect that a dog needs to have in their leaders and will ensure that they happily take their place in the hierarchy of your household.
6. Stay active
There are some couch potato dogs out there, but for the most part, dogs like to be active. They want to walk, run, or play with you. If you have to be gone for long periods during the day, consider hiring a dog walker for a midday outing to keep your pup from being cooped up for too long. Lots of regular exercise will also help them sleep better, something you may appreciate if you have an early riser or one that wakes you up in the middle of the night.
7. A proper diet
It’s hard to be happy if you’re lacking something, especially a healthy, nutritious diet. A quality diet is important for more than just your dog’s happiness as well. It’s important to maintain overall health and functionality so that your dog has a chance to experience that happy feeling. If you’re unsure about what diet to feed your dog, and who isn’t with all of the products out there, speak with your veterinarian. They can recommend quality brands that will fit any budget.
8. Regular healthcare
A great time to ask your veterinarian about the right diet is during your dog’s wellness exam. That’s right, your dog should see the vet even when they’re not sick. Wellness visits are especially important in preventing illness so that your pup never has to feel unhappy because they’re sick. Your dog should see your vet at least once a year, preferably twice, for a wellness exam and to discuss any possible changes in behavior or activity that you’re noticing.
Along with wellness exams, be sure to bring your dog to the vet anytime there’s something not right. It may be something as simple as an intermittent cough or as serious as vomiting and diarrhea, whatever the case, your vet will want to see it before it has a chance to blow up.
9. Ensure their safety
It will be hard for your dog to feel happy if they feel unsafe. Rather dogs that feel unsafe are more likely to feel scared, anxious or insecure. These feelings of insecurity or that they not safe may come from a neighborhood dog that’s bullying them, thunderstorms or other loud noises, cars, or from pets or people within your household. If you know what is making your dog feel unsafe, try to negate it. If you’re unsure, provide them with a safe spot that is just their own. A quiet, dark room or spot behind the couch works well. Don’t force them to do something that scares them, instead try to gently coax them and reward them for any forward progress that they make toward facing their fears. Never doing anything to make your dog lose trust in you will go a long way in helping your dog to feel safe and happy.
- Keep up on grooming
Dogs love to look their best. Similar to people, looking their best gives them confidence. Regular grooming, whether at home or by a professional, will help your dog to always look their best and will go a long way in making them happy. Regular brushing, combing and trimming will also keep your dog’s haircoat from getting matted, dirty, and uncomfortable. Obviously, dogs with long, thick haircoats are going to need lots of grooming, but that doesn’t mean that short-haired breeds won’t appreciate and need it as well. On top of all that, grooming provides some great one-on-one time with your dog that is sure to make them happy.
- Temperature regulation
It’s hard to beat the happy feeling we all get when snuggled deep in a cozy blanket on a cold winter day. Dogs feel the same way. You’ve probably noticed that some dogs will snuggle under their blankets or bed, or try to get into your bed to snuggle. This is partially to keep warm and partially to revive that warm and snuggly feeling they remember from when they were with their mother and siblings. Keep them happy with some cozy blankets and beds inside and get them a coat, if needed, for going outside.
On the flip side, dogs don’t like to be too hot either. In fact, it can be quite dangerous. Schedule your exercise and playtimes for the cooler hours of the morning and evening during hot days. Make sure your pup has a cool place to go with lots of shade or an air conditioner or fan. Always have plenty of fresh, clean water available as well. Some dogs may enjoy swimming both as an exercise and a way to cool down. If swimming isn’t available to you, look into getting a kiddie pool for your yard. It may provide endless hours of cooling, happy play.
There’s nothing more relaxing than a good massage, for dogs as well. Massage has more benefits than just relaxation and creating happiness, it also stimulates blood flow and soothes aches and pains. Older dogs suffering from arthritis may be able to move more comfortably with regular massage, and athletic dogs may require it to help health injuries. Dogs of all ages will appreciate the feeling of a massage and also the time spent with you while you do it.
- Shower with affection
Dogs love gifts and treats, but more than anything they want your attention. Setting aside a couple hours a day will go a long way in keeping your dog happy. It’s better to break up this time into smaller chunks so that your pup gets interaction throughout the day rather than one long session, so do the best you can with your schedule. Play with them, pet them, groom them, or just sit with them. Whatever it is, as long as it’s positive, your dog will be happy.
- Stay in tune
Since dogs aren’t able to verbally communicate their feelings, it’s up to you to know your dog in such a way that you’ll be able to recognize when anything is even a little bit off. Discovering illnesses or injuries early on is key to a speedy recovery and happier dog. Becoming in tune with your pup is as easy as spending time with them. You will soon be able to recognize the slightest limp or the smallest lump on their side and be able to alert your veterinarian more quickly.
- Mix it up
While dogs thrive on a schedule, they also appreciate a little variety. Remember that mental stimulation we talked about earlier? Rotate toys, switch up your walking route, invent new games, and teach different tricks. Your dog will happily respond to this variety because it will get their mind working in new and different ways and give them a chance to discover new territory. Just don’t mess with their meal schedule and you’ll be fine!
- Give them a job
Everyone loves to have a purpose. Even though your dog’s main purpose may be as a companion to you, giving them something to do on the side may increase their happiness. Depending on your dog’s skills and personality, this job may vary. For some dogs it may be as simple as retrieving the morning paper, for others it may be search and rescue. Try something that’s challenging and fun for them to keep them stimulating, active, and happy.
While most of the time achieving happiness in your dog is as easy as a pat on the head, sometimes it may take a little more effort from you. Understanding that a happy dog equals a happy dog parent may further entice you to help ensure your dog’s happiness so that you don’t get undesirable behaviors from them. It’s also important to remember that every dog is different and, therefore, the approach that you take should be different. Some dogs may not appreciate a having a job and would rather spend time with you on the couch, great! Other dogs may not want any down time at all and would prefer to go and go and go. Hopefully this list provided you with an arsenal of activities in order to help keep any dog happy, whatever their preference may be.