New Zealanders spend a small fortune in the quest to ensure their dogs and cats are happy. This is a wonderful, caring and appropriate endeavour when we choose to keep animals in our homes. But with all our effort, how do we know if our pet is indeed happy?
Much research and study has gone into dog body language, for most way too much detail for the average suburban pooch. Here are some helpful pointers to assist you “reading” and promoting your pet’s happiness levels.
Calm and relaxed = happy
In very simplistic terms, anytime you achieve calm and relaxed with your dog you achieve happy dog. In fact the basis of many dog training programmes is exactly this. A calm dog will have an overall “soft body stature, if wagging, their whole body will wag and the tail will be in a neutral position. If they are panting, they will have an open mouth and soft pant. Yes, they may have their lips pulled back and be exposing teeth but the general impression is of relaxation, a smile even!
A dog or cat asleep in-front of the fire is most definitely a happy pet!
Active task = happy
Dogs are doers and love having a job to do especially when they are young. When they are engage in a suitable physical outlet, you can be certain they are happy. It will be written all over them and you will have a big smile on your own face just watching. An animal’s joy is very contagious.
A dog that’s doing what his genes tell him to is a happy dog. When a retriever is fetching, her body language screams, “I’m totally into this!” Same thing goes for a terrier who gets a chance to sniff out a mouse or whip a new toy back and forth, and a border collie that’s being directed through an obstacle course. Presented with a mere hint of these activities, the dog may run out of pure joy, wag its tail, bark, grin, and spin in circles. Once you find out what makes your dog happy in this way, offer him this activity as often as you can.
Just a large open space to run in, like the beach is enough to make any dog grin from ear to tail.
Healthy = happy
Whilst healthy on its own does not mean happy, bad health definitely impacts on your animals happiness. Pain in particular can go unnoticed for some time and reactions to pain can be wrongly associated with behaviour issues instead. Particularly if your pet is aging, if their behaviour changes you would be advised to consider health issues such as arthritis which can easily be treated to return your pet to happy again. If in any doubt, always have a chat with your vet to explore your situation.
Companion = happy
Dogs are highly social creatures that love the company of other dogs and humans alike. Dogs can create strong bonds with a large range of species. So it stands to reason that not much happiness will come from very long periods of being alone.
Leadership = happy
It is well documented that when dogs (and other animals) are given clear leadership, they are more content than those that are not. So obedience training for the dog is actually another way you can help increase the happiness factor. When your dog is looking to you for direction and be rewarded for his efforts, he will be much happier than when he’s trying to solve the problems of the world for himself. Sound obedience training may also save your dog’s life which certainly counts in the happiness stakes for you and him both!
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