Is Your Dog Happy? Here’s How To Get Your Dog’s Tail Wagging

Is your dog happy? Have you ever wondered what's really going on your in your dogs head. Do you know how to tell if your dog is really happy ? and What really makes your dogs tail wag uncontrollable when you come home,

Well, as it turns out, dogs are often not happy and we are not helping . Many dogs show significant signs of stress everyday and we just don't pick up on it.

Is your dog happy

The Australian ABC’s Catalyst program recently aired a 2 part series called “Making Dogs Happy”. They uncovered that most of us are not actually very good at telling whether our dogs are happy or not.

What are the signs of a happy dog?

According to iheartdogs.com some of the signs of a happy dog include:

  • Relaxed eyes
  • Relaxed mouth
  • Comfortable ears
  • Tail position
  • Not destructive
  • Is active
  • Has a good appetite

You will notice that the first few signs are all about body language.  Catalyst looked at dog owners and tested them to see if they noticed their dog's body language and what it might mean.

What are the signs of stress?

We need to understand the body language of dogs in order for us to tell whether our dog is happy or stressed.

Signs of an unhappy dog can include:

  • Having their ears down and back.
  • Turning their heads to the side to avoid eye contact
  • Yawning or licking the air with their tongues.

Although these behaviors are completely normal in some circumstances,  but we need to be aware of the context, when it is happening and what your dog is trying to tell you. 

This fantastic illustrations by Lili Chin show a whole range of doggy body language.

How to tell if your dog is happy

What we do to stress our dogs out

We often hug our dogs. This is not normal behavior for dogs and can make them stressed.  Although some dogs will like hugging, try to read your dog's body language before you do.

This is a hard one for those of us that love to pick up our dogs and hug them.  I know that my dog does not like to be cuddled.  

I often hug my dog Tiger because he is so adorable but I know that it annoys him so I am trying not to.  If I am honest, when I am more disciplined and strict with him he is definitely more behaved and I can honestly say happier and less stressed.

How to make your dog happier

The ABC Catalyst program looked at the science of Dogmanship. Dogmanship is our ability to interact with and train dogs in order to have successful relationships with our dogs and to essentially make them happy.

In order to do this, they took three regular dog owners  and their dogs and assessed the dog's stress levels.  All dogs were showing some kind of stress that their owners did not pick up on.

The trainer then designed a challenge to put each dog owners dogmanship skills to the test. The aim was to use science to improve communication skills with their dogs and to develop a happier relationship with their dogs.

The dogmanship specialist was Ryan Tate is an expert in the science of animal learning. He has prepared dogs for starring roles in films, is a marine biologist and former seal trainer.

 Ryan taught the teams to use a bridging reinforcer or a bridge like the word "YES" (in an excited tone). A bridge, is a specific word or sound that is used to make an association with a reward.

To create a bridge or association, get your dog’s favorite treat, and I mean favourite, something really exciting to your dog. This may be a tennis ball or tasty cheese or sausage . Whatever works for your dog.

Start with giving your dog the tasty treat. When he takes the treat, immediately use the bridge word "YES", immediately.  This will develop excitement in your dog every time he hears the word  and eventually sets up a new pathway in the dog's brain. Every time your dog hears the word 'YES' (in that excited tone) they get a rush of pleasure. 

The secret to this training is all about timing and clear communication so that our dogs are not getting mixed messages and becoming confused. The longer we delay the reinforcement, the less likely they are to know what you are wanting them to do. Even a couple of seconds can confuse your dog as to what he has done right.

Practice does not make perfect

When learning Dogmanship skills, don't over do the training. We tend to think that practice makes perfect and while that may be the case for us, studies have shown that shorter duration sessions are better for our dogs to learn.

On average, training for 30 seconds to 3 minutes, two to five repetitions per day is the best for most dogs.  Make sure you finish every session on a high or a win so that your dog maintains enthusiam for the training.


Dogs generally love the challenge of being made to think for themselves. We often don't allow our dogs or give them the opportunity to "work" for us. Not only is it good for mental stimulation you may notice a significant change in your dog's behavior.

The program also talked about the effect our personalities have on our dog's ability to learn. Using punishment or angry voices  will not improve your dog's learning ability and will only increase stress in your dog. Similarly, if you keep repeating commands like saying “No, no, no, no,” your will confuse your dog and they will not learn.  It is best to remain calm and controlled and focus on consistency with your messages.

How our emotions affects dogs

It has been found that your emotional state can have a profound impact on your dog’s ability to learn. When dogs were exposed to an angry person, it took them longer to solve the task, It will best to understand your own feelings and emotions if you are trying to train your dog. 

The Family Dog Research Project in Budapest have taught dogs to lie perfectly still in a brain scanner and play the sounds of humans praising the dogs.

During the brain scan they watched as the dogs’ pleasure center in the brain light up like a chrsitmas tree and even more amazing, it showed that only genuine praise made the dogs happy. The dog seems to pick up on our happiness and genuine praise.

The challenge results

After the two-week challenge, the 3 dogs each learned to perform a task that involved finding something in the house: keys, phones, wallets.  The  dogs' owners learned essential Dogmanship skills that made the dogs happier and less stressed. All owners could all see a  significant change in their dog's attitude and behavior.


Is your dog happy?

Now it's your turn. How to tell if your dog is happy? Use the dog body language tips to see if your dog is stressed out in certain situations.

If you think your dog is unhappy, try using some dogmanship training and see the difference that this can make in your dog's behaviour and overall demeanor.

If you want to help with your Dogmanship training, this book by Dream Dogz can help you have a better relationship withy our dog.

Is your dog happy

Here are two great resources from the ABC Catalyst show has on the website.

Go to the ABC Catalyst show:

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