Body Language Signs of a Happy Dog

By Ricardo Luis Bruno, Veterinarian and ethologist. Updated: February 28, 2024
Body Language Signs of a Happy Dog

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Any responsible guardian sees happiness as a basic care need for their dog. If we provide them with food, shelter and security, it's a good start to keeping them happy. However, since canine and human communication is different, we also need to know how to confirm our dog is happy. While we might simply think a dog wagging their tail means they are feeling cheerful, there are many different ways to know a dog is happy. Body language via different postures and positions is one of the most useful ways to know if our dog is happy.

At AnimalWised, we look at the body language signs of a happy dog by showing you 10+ positions to know if a dog is happy. If your dog doesn't display any of these signs, you will need to question whether they are happy at home.

You may also be interested in: Dog Body Language and Calming Signals

1. Invitation to play

Perhaps the most abundant joy a dog can feel is when they are at play. Play behavior uses various different positions dependent on the type of game they are playing. For example, a leap into the air while playing frisbee or running excitedly when racing.

When a dog wants to initiate play, they make a very particular body position known as the invitation. It is similar to the famous downward dog body posture in yoga. The dog raises their hind quarters and stretches out their front paws. Their head will be looking at the person or animal they are trying to initiate play with. They may make quick movements from side to side or even bark excitedly.

Although most dogs will be happy when they play, we need to be on the look out for any problems. Our article on why dogs growl when they play might help.

Body Language Signs of a Happy Dog - 1. Invitation to play

2. Leaning against you

Has your dog ever leaned against you or on top of you when next to you. When they do so they are showing you they are not just physically by your side, but emotionally as well.

However, in addition to being a body language signal the dog is happy, leaning on you can have different meanings in different contexts. It is also possible they are feeling insecure and need more attention from you. This could be due to not paying them enough attention or due to stress.

Body Language Signs of a Happy Dog - 2. Leaning against you

3. Rolls in the grass

When we first see a dog rolling the grass, we might think they have let go of their faculties. Once we get to know them, we will see it is usually an expression of pure happiness. There are other reasons why a dog might roll in the grass. For example, it helps them to cool off in hot weather and it can be used to attract the attention of their guardian.

Body Language Signs of a Happy Dog - 3. Rolls in the grass

4. Lies on their side

Although we might see a dog lying in their side as body language they are calm and relaxed rather than happy, we need to consider what makes them happy. A dog which is calm in our presence or has a generally positive state of well-being is a happy dog. This doesn't mean they are always happy when lying on their side. We need to look at the rest of the context. For example, are they restless or content. To know more, take a look at our article on the meanings of a dog's different sleeping positions.

Body Language Signs of a Happy Dog - 4. Lies on their side

5. Excited shaking

When our dog is shaking, we can't immediately assume they are happy. There are psychological and physical problems which can explain why a dog is shaking. However, nervous or anxious energy is not always negative. Just as we will get excited by something we are looking forward to, dogs will do the same.

One of the most common states of excitement for a dog is when they know they are about to go for a walk. They will tremble with happiness. However, they might also be excited because they have been desperate for a walk for too long. We need to know how often to walk a dog so we can provide sufficient exercise for their particular needs.

Body Language Signs of a Happy Dog - 5. Excited shaking

6. Lying on their back

Another clear signal of happiness and contentedness is the dog lying on their back. If a dog sleeps in this position, they know that even while unconscious they will be safe and not vulnerable to attack. Their abdomen and area under their legs is the most vulnerable place to attack and they wouldn't like this this if they weren't secure.

Puppies will also show their emotions by adopting this pose in front of their mother and siblings. This body posture in dogs will only be exhibited when they are in a state of well-being and tranquility.

Body Language Signs of a Happy Dog - 6. Lying on their back

7. Smiling

Although this is a facial gesture more than a body position, it is still and important part of dog body language. As with humans, smiling is an action which conveys their mood and it is an expression which uses more than just their mouth.

Smiling is not a gesture which is only used by people. Many dogs can smile, although the extent to which they are able to do so depends on their genetics. Many characteristics of breeds mean they have a shorter snout which either looks like it is in a permanent smile or means they cannot smile much at all.

This is why we need to look at a dog's overall expression to see if they are smiling. When they have a wide expression, large eyes, ears erect and mouth slightly open without bearing teeth, they are likely smiling due to happiness. Their body posture will also be relaxed and tail moving.

Body Language Signs of a Happy Dog - 7. Smiling

8. Lie down beside you

Another body position which shows your dog is happy is when they lie down beside you. They don't necessarily need to lean on you. They are most often in a prone position and have their head on their front legs. They may also lie down to lick their paws and/or face. When this happens the dog is happy and content in your presence, something which shows you have a strong bond. It is similar behavior to when they follow you around everywhere.

Body Language Signs of a Happy Dog - 8. Lie down beside you

9. Stops in their tracks

There are certainly situations when a dog stopping suddenly is a sign of fear or surprise. However, it might also be a clear sign of happiness. When a dog is playing, they may stop at some point and seemingly stare at nothing while panting. This is a sign the dog is happy, specifically happiness which is due to excitement, exhaustion and joy. This is something dogs which are well-socialized experience, intimating a sense of happiness being with others.

Body Language Signs of a Happy Dog - 9. Stops in their tracks

10. Stalking posture

The stalking posture is a part of a dog's body language associated with hunting. It is something working dogs use to stalk suspected prey, but it is also something canines will use in play. This is because many games they play exist to reinforce such behavior.

We can see this when two dogs play together, although they can sometimes do it with their human guardians. They will hide in the bushes or somewhere hidden, wait for them to come along and jump out excitedly. They do this in a state of extreme happiness. When a dog is hiding, but acting strange, this doesn't necessarily mean they are happy, so we need to be careful.

Body Language Signs of a Happy Dog - 10. Stalking posture

11. Upright posture

There are other positions that demonstrate a state of internal well-being in our dog. They are not displayed when they rest or play, but when active and engaged. Dogs which stand upright when they see their guardian are often in a state of happiness and anticipation. They are happy to see them and can't contain themselves. Of course, a dog seated comfortably and at peace is also displaying signs of happiness.

A dog being happy is not the only emotion shown by body language. Below you can find a video with more information on what your dog is trying to tell you through their postures and expressions:

If you want to read similar articles to Body Language Signs of a Happy Dog, we recommend you visit our Facts about the animal kingdom category.

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