The problem is that the moment we ask ourselves this question, we will likely start to doubt ourselves, leading to projecting body language that mirrors self-doubt and insecurity.
One of my clients this week, a lady who I have seen on and off for the last 30 years with the Dobermann's she has owned over that time, came with her current 3-year-old Dobermann boy; the primary reason she came to see me is she had been questioning if he was happy. In the last few months, they had started attending agility classes, not because my client wanted to take part in agility but because she thought her dog would like it! It turns out my lady client really doesn't like agility but admitted her dog did appear to enjoy the activity. My client was looking for me to tell her she didn't need to go and I happily obliged!
This client is very well educated in how to train a dog. She has seen me a lot over the years, as well as working in a vet’s surgery. Her dog and handling background are better than most people; her Dobermann's are very well trained, obedient, and willing to please. She regularly teaches them, plays various games, and told me how her dog enjoys doing that in the garden.
Does that sound like a happy dog? It sure does to me! Whether or not he goes to agility.
Another client this week came for the first time with the younger of her two Soft-coated Wheaten Terriers. This lady has spent 8 years in Europe with her older dog, in a country with a very different culture to ours, not speaking the language. On coming to the UK, she was shocked to be told in the local dog park that her dog was poorly trained and unsocialised; she hadn't experienced any issues at all overseas! And in fact, this dog is fine around other dogs, but he doesn't want to play with them!
This dog sounds perfectly socialised to me, choosing to stay with his owner rather than running off to other dogs and people.
What do dogs really want? We don't have to be perfect any more than they do! Right off the bat, they want a human pack that is confident, strong and takes care of themselves and the dog.
Different breeds have different needs; if you don't want to do much walking or training, don't choose a dog from the working branch of dogdom. Choose a toy breed instead; they will still enjoy going for a walk but won't mind if they don't go regularly. Training your dog can be a lot of fun, but you won't get into trouble with other people so much if one of these is out of control.
Of course, I love training dogs, and I am entirely convinced that a well-trained dog is not only happy but has a more prominent character and is more fulfilled than an untrained dog.
If you are someone who takes the time to consider "is my dog happy", my guess is the dog is happy! If in doubt, try observing; how does your dog react when you scratch his ear? Does he press in for more? Or pull away and leave the room?
Like us, they are quite simple and individual!
The things that really make all dogs happy
Pack (and luckily, this can be human. It doesn't have to be a dog pack)
Stuff that makes some dogs happy
A lap to curl up on
A soft bed
Not to have too much exercise too much, just enough
A window to look out of
Other dogs thrive on
Playing with toys
Going for walks
Just being with their human, even if just in the car
Work that feels like play to the dog
Not being cuddled and touched too much
Being left alone in-between walks
Variety in the daily routine
Human games and behaviour that is unpredictable creates fun
Some common misconceptions that humans have about all dogs: They really do not need these...
Dogs need other dogs to be happy
Scatter feeding or throwing food on the floor is enriching
Dogs need constant entertainment either via human attention or food or chews or toys to play with
All dog-like being stroked and petted a lot
Dogs should be sociable with other dogs
If a dog is exposed to other dogs enough as a puppy, he will grow up, as mentioned in number 5
Dogs must sniff anywhere anytime they want
Dogs must bark whenever as they are dogs
Dogs must hunt prey
Dogs need hours of exercise
Lots of toys
A rich ad lib diet
A fancy bed in every room
A wardrobe full of clothes
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