There’s nothing better than a happy dog, and since they can’t tell us in words when they’re feeling good, they show us with their bodies instead! When reading your dog’s body language it’s important to consider the context surrounding them and to read their body language and communication as a whole. Just like in us humans, expression and communication of emotion is a complicated but fascinating business, and many signals have multiple meanings which can vary on an individual basis - make sure you understand the nuances in your dog’s communication to keep them feeling fab!
Here are a few indicators that your pup is feeling pawsome:
When your pup is feeling at ease and happy, their eyes will be relaxed, their normal shape with a soft gaze. Dogs rarely make direct eye contact with one another as this can be interpreted as a threatening move. A happy dog will most often have their mouth closed or slightly open, perhaps with a cheeky little tongue lolling out and panting regularly (though this can depend on hot weather, too). The corners of their mouth might even turn up slightly at the corners, like a little smile!
A relaxed dog will stand at ease, with weight distributed evenly over all 4 feet, the muscles in their face and body relaxed. Simply put, they will look “normal”, with no visible tension or differences in posture. A play bow is a great signal that your dog is in a good mood - bottom in the air with the front legs lowered to the ground is an invitation to play, and a sign to other dogs that they are in play mode themselves! Rolling over onto their back can be a belly rub request or a demonstration that they are feeling relaxed and trusting in the situation (however this can also signal that they no longer want to take part in the interaction). Bouncy and energetic behaviour is also a hint that your dog’s feeling playful (and it’s probably safe to say that you already know their favourite game!) and a wiggling bottom - not just tail - with fluid body movement indicates friendliness. It’s their own version of a happy dance!
NOTE! A wagging tail is NOT an exclusively positive signal. While it is often an indication your dog is feeling good, it can sometimes communicate arousal, overstimulation, fear, frustration, aggression and more. The direction, speed, height of a wagging tail can mean vastly different things and it’s important to know the subtle differences.
See the following articles as a starting point to better understanding your dog’s body language:
Dog Body Language
Victoria Stillwell - Dog Body Language
PetMD Dog Body Language