How Do You Know When Your Dog Is Happy?

In honor of Happiness Day, here are five ways my Finley shows she's the happiest dog in the world.

Whitney C. Harris  |  Mar 19th 2015


It’s no secret that dogs make humans happier. Their sweet little faces can make even the crankiest people soften. But do we ever stop to think about how we make our furry friends happy in return?

With March 20 being International Happiness Day, I started thinking about how my dog makes me happy every day of the week (most weeks, that is) and how confident I am that I return the favor on the regular. Granted, people always say that Finley looks “so serious” and “intently focused,” and that she doesn’t “smile” the way some dogs do.

To be honest, I see their point. Finley is no jokester. She has a long and prominent snout, giving her the appearance of having high cheekbones. This is paired with deeply expressive brows and penetrating eyes. Unlike some dogs whose faces are mostly hidden behind crazy curls or fluffy fur, Finley’s expressions are strikingly visible. And instead of a lolling tongue like many pooches have, she keeps her mouth tightly shut (and free of slobber) for the most part.

No, my dog certainly isn’t the goofiest tail-wagger on the block. In fact, most casual observers comment that she looks rather stately or regal (which I quickly take as a compliment). While she’s typically bursting with energy, she also has a way of neatly sitting on command and arching her neck to look you straight in the eye — especially if you have a bit of cheese for her. In other words, she can be a bit of a crowd pleaser.

The only non-serious part about my Vizsla is her floppy ears. But even those frequently strike onlookers as tenacious, since they’re typically sailing proudly through the air as she runs at full speed. But despite Finley’s more determined and earnest physical characteristics, I know for a fact that she is simply the happiest dog in the world. Here’s how:

1. She slow-blinks when massaged

While she’s not the type to roll on her back and offer up a soft belly for some scratches, Finley will always sit perfectly still for a little massage time. She could be zipping around the house like Speedy Gonzales a moment beforehand, but as soon as I sit down and reach out a hand, she stops on a dime and ponies up to her personal masseuse. Be it behind her ears, on the shoulders, or by her haunches, Finley absolutely loves a little rub to soothe those sore muscles. And she goes into a sort of deep trance when she’s being massaged: Her eyelids start to flutter and she slow-blinks like a Zen master.

2. She cuddles super closely

There’s nothing Finley loves more than body contact. She craves touch more than any dog or human I know. I know she’s happiest when she’s sandwiched between my husband and me because she literally doesn’t move. After squeezing herself between us as tightly as physically possible, she’s set for hours. It’s the only time she’s happy to just be.

3. She makes a lot of eye contact

I never knew that a canine could make such consistent eye contact before Finley. I’ve heard it’s the equivalent of a dog giving you a hug, and I’m inclined to believe that. Whenever she gets the chance, Finley looks deep into my eyes and holds my gaze. I can tell she relishes the attention; she’s never the first to look away.

4. Her tail wags furiously whenever I approach her

Drumming a rhythm against the carpet or her doggy bed, Finley’s tail could whip cream if given the chance. Even if we suspect she’s quietly sleeping, whenever anyone walks up to her, she immediately perks up — tail first.

5. She wants to play

This probably goes for most dogs, but for Finley, it seems pretty exaggerated. Upon walking in the door, she immediately grabs a nearby toy and brings it to you, ready to play. And at the end of a long day, even when she’s conked out on the floor, if you so much as walk by with something resembling a stuffed animal or rope toy, it’s game on.

So, no, Finley doesn’t grin like some dogs or make silly faces worthy of YouTube or Instagram, but I know she’s happier than any show-stopping Fido made famous for his laugh-out-loud party tricks. And that, in and of itself, makes me happy, too.

In what ways do you know your dog is truly happy? Let us know in the comments!

Read more by Whitney C. Harris:

About the author: Whitney C. Harris is a New York-based freelance writer for websites including StrollerTraffic, Birchbox, and WhattoExpect.com. A former book and magazine editor, she enjoys running (with Finley), watching movies (also with Finley), and cooking meatless meals (usually with Finley watching close by).