First, what is dog happiness? According to the English dictionary, happiness is a feeling of contentedness, well-being, pleasure, or good fortune. It is not, as curmudgeon Ambrose Bierce once said, an agreeable sensation arising from contemplating the misery of another [though some humans do seem to derive pleasure in that way].
With dogs, who essentially wear their hearts on their sleeves, contentedness and well-being is a far less complicated affair and is plain for all to see – as long as you know what you are looking for.
Signs of Dog Happiness
Content dogs sleep for about 8 to 10 hours per day, mostly at night. They wake up early and set out in search of food. Breakfast, if you will! They appear bright, alert, active, and solicit attention from their owners. They also interact positively with each other in the case of multi-pet homes.
Through the morning, they enjoy walks, play, and social activities, perhaps resting briefly between events. In the afternoon, dogs may spend some time chewing on a toy, exploring in the yard, or socializing with other dogs or people. Increased activity becomes apparent as the late afternoon approaches and into early evening, with the excitement of returning family members and mealtimes. The various actions and interactions that occur at this time are engaged in with interest and joy. Eyes are bright, ears are swiveling, and tails are high. A quieter late evening period ensues with contented animals enjoying each others’ company or seeking out and staying close to their human caregivers for company. Many dogs nuzzle to solicit petting. All the world is at peace.
Signs of Unhappiness in Dogs
Unhappy dogs are created by adverse experiences, inconsistent interactions with their owners, lack of exercise, an unstable routine, in appropriate social interactions, and by underemployment. What owners have to remember is that while their homes are set up to please them, with all “mod cons” like telephones, VCR’s, computers, furniture, and elegant décor, none of these things is really appreciated by the dog. For owners to keep their dogs happy, they have to think like a dog. Think “how would I like it if” and then work their way through their dog’s 24-hour day. How would I like it if my owner didn’t protect my interests? How would I like it if my owner never exercised me or barely communicated with me in any way? How would I like it if my life was totally unpredictable, uncontrollable, and was punctuated by adverse social interactions? How would I like it if I had nothing to do all day long?
When things go wrong, aspects of the “unhappy dog syndrome” start to emerge. Unhappy dogs often sleep more in a 24-hour period, entering a state bordering on depression or learned helplessness. On the other hand, they may sleep more fitfully at night as they are not in a proper routine. Lack of gainful employment leads to any number of behavior problems that arise as diversions. These sometimes take the form of barking or destructive behavior, annoying attention-seeking behaviors, or overeating. Dogs with social issues may become involved in confrontations with each other or with their owners, do not pay attention to their owners, are difficult to control, and may either become aloof or [paradoxically] over-attached. Their eyes don’t shine with excitement but rather appear dull and vacuous. Such dogs may adopt hunkered, cowed postures and may show a lack of alertness and curiosity. Many are anti-social and some act out their negative feelings toward others. Many times, attention to the basics can turn an animal like this around. The following is a list of items that may need attention:
Steps to Make a Happy Dog
Most animals are happier if they have a set routine and know what to expect.
Exercise is a great stress reliever and should be encouraged. Dogs should be exercised aerobically for at least 20-30 minutes each day.
Food should be healthful and supplied on a regular basis at mealtimes. It is probably a good idea to change flavors from time to time to prevent boredom of a certain type of food from setting in.
Clear communication with dogs is helpful as a means of building a strong bond between owner and dog and as a way of alleviating stress. Dogs should be taught the meaning of one new word each month and it can be expected to develop a vocabulary of some hundreds of words. The better communication the less confusion.
Medical matters that are bothering the dog should be addressed. Parasites should be controlled, endocrine disturbances should be addressed, pain should be alleviated, and allergies should be attended to. You can’t be happy as a dog when you’re in pain or discomfort.
For dogs that are withdrawn, they should be coaxed out of themselves and encouraged to join in and be more social. You an do this by playing with them and encouraging them to interact with you or other dogs. Their involvement should be rewarded in no uncertain terms.
For dogs that are over attached and are unhappy or distressed when they are separated from their owners, they should be encouraged to develop independence and, literally, to stand on their own four feet.