By Jessica Smith
Despite the language barriers between our species, our pet pups are continually communicating with us in various ways. From tail wagging to facial expressions and the tone of their bark or growl, your dog is trying to share its feelings with you.
Understanding how to listen to your dog when it’s “talking” to you will make you a better pet owner and increase the bond between you and your little furball.
It’s especially important to understand how your dog communicates happiness, as this lets you know you’re on the right track when it comes to caring for them.
1. Your Dog is Playful and Energetic
If your dog is teeming with endless enthusiasm, that’s a massive indicator of one happy pup.
Granted, it’s normal for your dog to tire itself after a long day of running through the grass and chasing squirrels. But if your dog is usually tired or lethargic, that may indicate an underlying health condition. Believe it or not, it’s also possible for dogs to have depression.
One tell-tale sign that their behavior is indeed playful (and not anxious) is by taking a closer look at their facial expression. A study in the Scientific Reports Journal describes two different playful expressions dogs display: “Play Face” and “Full Play Face.”
Play Face is an open mouth that shows off more of their bottom teeth, whereas Full Play Face incorporates their top-chompers, as well. Full Play Face is a more intense, eager version of Play Face.
2. Your Dog is Very Friendly and Approachable with Other Pups and People
If your dog willingly engages with other canines or houseguests, they’re probably a very confident and happy pet.
Some breeds are naturally more defensive or closed-off. That means they’ll need to “get to know” other dogs or visitors before letting their guard down.
There’s even breed-specific legislation in the United States about breeds that insurance companies deem “naturally more aggressive,” according to the ASPCA.
Breeds aside, a dog that’s always eager to socialize is likely one that feels very secure, safe, and confident at home.
3. Your Dog Grins Happily, Not Aggressively
Flashing their big, ol’ pearly whites can send mixed signals for those who aren’t familiar with the various reasons why dogs grin.
For example, if your dog is grinning as you adorn them in fashionable dog clothes, take a closer look at their facial expression. This will let you know whether they’re comfortable or if you need to purchase their outfit in a bigger size.
A mouth that’s drawn backward in a sharp “C” shape with wide eyes and eyebrows pointed downward is more of an aggressive grin, says a review in the Animals Journal.
Whereas the opposite expression — a grin curled upward accompanied by a soft gaze and relaxed eyebrows — indicates a much more positive, happy-chappy grin.
4. Your Dog Wags Their Tail Loosely from Side-to-Side
There’s more intent than meets the eye behind a dog’s wagging tail. A pup who holds their tail up high is one that feels confident, aroused, and open to play.
The direction of their tail-wagging also says a lot about how your dog is feeling. A loose, casual wag from side-to-side is your dog’s way of saying it’s feeling friendly, pleasant, and excited.
When dogs look at stimuli that make them feel happy, such as their owners, their tails wag toward the right side. On the other hand, stimuli that make them feel uncomfortable results in a left-leaning tail wag.
5. Your Dog Peers at You with a Soft, Warm Gaze
“Smile with your eyes” isn’t just advice aimed towards humans. Your dog communicates quite a bit through their gaze.
Avoiding eye contact doesn’t mean your dog is ignoring you—quite the opposite. Dogs avoid making direct eye contact to appease you and decrease tension. Their gaze will appear “softer” in relaxing and non-threatening contexts, as well.
6. Your Dog Points its Ears Forward
Your puppy's ears aren’t just for listening — they’re also for emotional expression. Ears that are pointed forward show that your dog is interested, paying attention, and feeling approachable.
On the other hand, ears pinned back to express that your dog is feeling scared or anxious. Side-facing ears indicate internal conflict on some level — perhaps your dog is feeling confused or stressed about a specific stimulus.
7. Growling and Barking Aren’t Always a Red Flag…
What your dog is literally saying through their growls and barks depends largely on their tone and volume. According to a study in the Royal Society Open Science Journal, shorter, higher-pitched growls separated by shorter pauses are considered more playful.
The context of bark is a bit harder to distinguish, adds the Animals Journal review. This is mostly due to some breeds barking less than others and the different vocal ranges between species.
However, the growls and facial expressions accompanying your dog’s bark can tell you a lot about what they’re trying to say to you.
Your dog is in constant communication with you. However, many of the signals dogs use to indicate happiness are also utilized to communicate fear or aggression.
Thus, familiarizing yourself with the nuances of your dog’s demeanor and tone will help you recognize when they’re truly in a happy-chappy mood.