Is Your Dog Happy? The Inside Scoop From An Expert

Because they do not have bills to pay, annoying in-laws, difficult bosses, because they live in the present and don’t concern themselves about what was or what might be, because they are forgiving, because they delight in small things, because their very presence is so delightful to so many others that they often walk into a sea of smiles, dogs have the potential to be happy all the time.

To a dog, so many things are the best things that ever happened in the world: a little game of fetch, a walk in the neighborhood, a snuggle in bed, a sneeze, a smile, a loving pat. I checked with my dog Sky, and here are some of the many things, big and small, that fill dogs with joy.

Breakfast!  Sky:  I can’t remember the last time I was this happy!

An adventure, big or small. Sky: A ride in the car, a trip on a ferry, a walk in the park! I can fill my senses with new smells, walk into a scent cone–a rabbit is nearby!!–leave notes on every tree, feel my muscles work and relax, spend time alone with my person.  A life full of adventure is a very good thing.

Learning new things. Sky: I am smarter than you think! Remember how I pushed a chair over to the counter to steal the bacon? I love to learn and solve problems, and I feel accomplished when I do, even when there’s no bacon involved. I love to discover what you mean and what you want me to do when you say Come or Sit or Let’s Go Out.  I even like to struggle a bit to understand the new game you are trying to teach me or to absorb the subtle rules of being in a new place, visiting your friends, being off leash in the park. I love to show you how smart I am and to hear you say, “Who’s a good dog!”

A good game of fetch. Sky: Not too little. Not too much. Just the right amount.

Quiet time. Sky: Most people don’t think of my species as contemplative, but dogs, too, need down time to absorb what they have learned, to integrate new information, to quiet the thinking mind and just be. Too much excitement, noise, or activity can be overwhelming, but a little quiet time is a great fix. Sometimes I like to rest in my crate or just find a comfortable spot where the floor is cool on a warm day or warm when the snow is falling. I love to dream, to gaze out the window and see who’s passing, to fall asleep in the familiar smell and sounds of the home I share with you.

Dinner!

A cool swim on a hot day. Sky: As a service dog, I go to the pool several times a week and watch my person swim.  On the most wonderful days ever, usually on vacation, I get to swim, too. The water is cool. It makes my fur float out away from my body and I feel weightless. When I get out, I shake and shake, sending rainbow-colored droplets in all directions. I’d give swimming a thumbs up, if I had thumbs.

A chance to do the work I was bred to do. Sky: Is that a grouse I smell in the undergrowth? It is. It is. I am going to signal my person. She will be so pleased. Are there sheep in the pasture, sheep I can gather and turn, sheep I can hold back while my person puts out their food? I can find a lost child, fetched dropped items, signal when there’s a sound, dispatch rodents, comfort people. Work? I feel the urge deep in the marrow of my bones.

Hanging out with my BFF. Sky: Even when you are busy, I love to be in the room with you, to lie down near your desk or jump up on the couch with you and lean against you when you read or watch TV.  Just being with you is enough to make me happy all the time.

Of course, no one is happy all the time. And when things get dull, most dogs I’ve met just take a nap. Because they are optimists by nature, dogs may believe that after a nap, life will be more fun than it was before the nap and that when they see you coming up the walk or get a whiff from the entryway that says you are about to unlock the door and be home again, it’ll be a party. And luckily for us, their joy is infectious.

This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.