How can I make my dog happy?


Our dogs are more than “just pets.” They’re family.

They bring joy, comfort, and unconditional love into our lives every day. Whether they’re wagging their tails, licking our faces, or snuggling next to us on the couch, their affection is pure and heartwarming.

Of course, they have little (no?) control over their lives. We decide when and where and how they get exercise, what they eat, who they play with, and every other decision big and small.

One of those big decisions, at least in my opinion, should be this: How can I make my dog happy?

It feels like the least we can do for them considering all they do for us! So, let’s dig into what happiness is to a dog and how we can deliver it each day.

A Black woman in a tan sweater, blue jeans, and knee-high riding boots walks a small black and white terrier along a sidewalk cutting through an expanse of grass. The text overlay reads: How can I make my dog happy?

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How can I tell if my dog is happy?

Dogs and humans share a few things in common. Do you remember learning about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs? We can’t feel truly happy unless our basic needs our met. Same goes for our dogs, and it’s our job to meet their needs. That should be the baseline: food, water, warmth, rest, and–moving up one level on the needs pyramid–security. We shouldn’t question providing those for our dogs, and we definitely shouldn’t punish them by removing one of those needs.

With that foundation established, how can you tell if your dog is happy?

Unless you’re going to be collecting saliva data to measure levels of oxytocin (if only!) you need to rely on your senses. What do you observe?

  • Does your dog have a loose, waggly body?
  • Are his eyes soft? Instead of a fixed or staring gaze, is his focus soft?
  • Barking is happy and chipper instead of angry or defensive–I always think of Cooper’s excited bark when I toss his squeaky toys versus when another dog has the nerve to walk past the front of our house.
  • Does she have floppy ears? Obviously this varies by breed, but perked-up ears might not indicate a happy, relaxed state.
  • Is your dog open to play, pets, walks, or whatever thing normally brings joy?

These five things to watch for are generalizations. They won’t be consistent among breeds or individuals, but it’s a great place to start. For example, Cooper LOVES to go for a walk. If I ask him to walk or grab his leash, and he doesn’t jump up… that indicates to me he’s unhappy, sore, sad, something. On the flip side, he really doesn’t like much physical affection, so if he resists petting, well, that doesn’t necessarily tell me something.

Think about your dog in the context of these questions and see if you can come up with a happiness profile for your pup.

On the flip side, do you recognize 5 common signs of stress in your dog? Know what stress signs your dog gives, too, and by putting together your solid list of emotional indicators, you’ll be able to tell how your dog’s feeling at a glance.

Want to dig into happiness a little more? Check your dog against “the five freedoms” on this post: Is your dog happy?

What makes a dog truly happy?

I wrote a post about the five love languages for dogs. In it, I shared some silly ideas for what might fill your dog’s cup.

In reality, every dog is very different–just like us humans. What makes me happy (reading in bed after a long day) might not work for someone else (John’s pref is to watch a movie).

General happy dog things include:

  • walks or hikes
  • play sessions with toys
  • pets
  • treats
  • snuggling on the couch

But your dog might have something super specific. Maybe it’s swimming. Or playing tug in the backyard. Perhaps your dog goes bananas over frozen yogurt or a soothing massage. Whatever it is, find something that lights up your dog’s life, and make time to do it as often as possible.

A brown Toller sits next to a pond. His tongue hangs out of his mouth and his eyes are pulled back to look like a big smile.

How can I make my dog happy?

True happiness comes from safety, security, love, trust, and–of course–find ways to bring joy into the everyday. Some little things I do for Coop:

  • This morning, I added a fried egg to his breakfast.
  • Last weekend, we let him lead us on a long hike. We let him sniff any direction he chose and trailed behind him.
  • I subscribe to BarkBox because squeaky toys are life for him. I have a link to double your box if you want to try them for your dog. Cooper is happy to squeak, chase, tug, and de-stuff them all.
  • He gets a heating pad on his sore back hips every night. Does it make him happy in the moment? Probably not, though I bet it feels good for him. The happiness comes later when he can chase his squeakies with greater mobility! For our older bubbas, making a senior dog happy usually comes down to security and comfort.

Some questions to ask yourself:

  • Does my dog need another dog? (Often this answer is no… but it can’t hurt to consider!)
  • Does he prefer to be inside or outside?
  • Does my dog get bored at home?
  • Are we doing enough training?
  • Does my dog get enough exercise? (This, too, often the answer is no…)
  • Are we due for a vet visit?
  • Do we spend enough quality time together? Playing, walking, snuggling, whatever quality means to you.

There are so many choices! Get to know your dog’s personal preferences, and deliver on those as often as possible!

A brown and white corgi puppy sits on a gray arm chair. His mouth is open in a happy, loose smile. Above his head, a white man's hand holds out a treat, ready to give to the puppy.

How does YOUR dog show happiness?

What are the signs you see from your pup? How do you know if your dog is feeling happy or sad, tired or depressed, joyful or bored? Are there any clues you see?

And what steps do you take to ensure your dog’s happiness? I’d love to learn from you and build out this list of happy ideas for all our pups!

After all, they deserve it!

Photos: IvoryMix, Hanson Lu on Unsplash, and Laula Co on Unsplash


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