Dogs bring so much joy and happiness to humans, so it is not far-fetched for a dog owner to be worried about his dog’s happiness. Any loving dog parent will want to understand why his dog always appears to be on the verge of tears.
It is hard for a dog owner to ignore those soulful puppy dog eyes, nevertheless, researchers believe that the classic puppy dog eyes have more to do with communication, connection, and evolution than the emotional health of your dog.
There’s been a lot of debates over the years about whether dogs are actually sad or if the sad look is just a perception. Could it be a health issue? Or perhaps an emotional response to trauma or change? These are some of the questions we will be tackling in this article.
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The Science Behind Facial Expressions in Dogs
To properly understand a dog’s body language, you have to take a good look at its facial expressions and its body posture. This is the best way to understand the dog’s overall comfort and emotional state.
A lot of people assume a dog’s communication ends with barking; this is not true. A good percentage of a dog’s mood can be deciphered from its body language.
Understanding your Dog’s Signals
Very few animals possess the level of non-verbal communication skills found in the canine specie. A dog will communicate with its tail, posture, and facial expression. You can easily understand the state of mind of your dog by paying close attention to its body language.
A good understanding of the changes in your dog’s body language can help you determine your pet’s mood. You can tell if your canine is stressed, fearful, happy, or confident by simply paying attention to its body language.
Research has shown that a canine’s ability to switch facial expressions can be traced to years of selective breeding by man. The facial muscle of an average dog is well evolved which explains why they’re able to respond and communicate with humans effectively. A dog’s facial muscle moves faster than that of the wolf even though they’re of the same family. Their facial muscle makes it easier for them to communicate with humans, which could also explain why canine faces are so appealing to humans.
Dogs possess more fast-twitch muscle fibers, which is why they find it easy to form facial expressions, especially the well-known “puppy-dog eyes”. A lot of what appears to be doggy sadness is actually the dog just resting peacefully. This is a common posture found in dogs when they’ve exhausted themselves. So, if you’re worried about your dog looking sad, they’re probably just trying to connect with you or grab your attention.
Reasons Why Dogs Look Sad
Altering a dog’s physical appearance became possible the moment humans started breeding dogs for specific physical traits. With selective breeding, dog owners can now fine-tune the features of their canines. All these alterations have a way of altering your dog’s appearance sometimes, giving him what appears to be a sad face. A Basset Hound for example has skin folds, a low-set head, long ears, and sad eyes. A French Bulldog with its short muzzle, and enormous, wide eyes, looks perpetually worried and sad.
Apart from their breeding, our perception of a dog’s signal can make us assume that our pup feels sad when in reality their looks are just a response to the person speaking and looking at them. Some dogs even keep their heads bowed or pant with their mouths open, this is their way of interacting with the speaker which is often interpreted as sadness.
Furthermore, dogs are quite smart and are capable of exhibiting learned behaviors. Some dogs know that they receive attention from their owners when they look a certain way, so they’re quick to pull that look when they want something.
Sometimes our dogs don’t necessarily look sad, it is just our guilt making us think they do. It is easy to guilt yourself into thinking your dog looks sad when you feel you’ve been neglectful of them. The truth is our dogs sometimes act the same way even when they’re happy and content, so there is really no need to guilt yourself into thinking something is wrong when your dog is perfectly alright. However, if you feel there is really a problem, then get your dog checked at the vet.
How to Tell if Your Dog is Actually Sad
Dogs can actually feel emotional pain. In fact, dogs have been known to grieve. They pick up on the sadness of the people around them, so sometimes their sadness is actually a reflection of the pain felt by someone close to them. This is why it is important to determine if your dog is actually sad or if it just looks sad. To do this you have to pay close attention to them and observe their behavior and routine, you can also check in with a veterinarian if you’re worried that there might be more to your dog’s sad look.
Dogs and humans have similar signs of depression. If your dog exhibits any of the following characteristics then you might want to watch out for depression:
Loss of appetite
Excessive licking of the paws and other body parts
Apathy/loss of interest in playtime walks and other pastimes
Poor sleep pattern
Accidents at home
Dog depression might not be very obvious, which is why you need to be in tune with your dog’s moods to detect if anything seems out of place.
These signs could be an indication that your canine is in pain, sad, or maybe suffering from a health issue. If any of these symptoms persist after a long time, consult your veterinarian. A vet will help you determine if the symptoms are caused by physical pain or just emotional and help find a solution.
How to Help Your Dog Feel Happier
As a dog owner, you have a responsibility to ensure that your dog is not only physically healthy but emotionally balanced. Below are suggestions on how you can keep your dog happy and content:
Train your Dog
Dogs are actually quick learners. Even an old dog can be taught a few new tricks. Training your dog is a great way to spend time with them and create amazing bonds. Dogs also enjoy training sessions as it means they get to move around and be free. And if you do not know how to train your dog, you can employ a certified pet owner to teach you.
Get them Toys
Kids are not the only ones that love toys, dogs do too. One way to prevent your dog from being bored is to get them toys to play with. A little game of toss and fetch is enough to make them happy. You can rotate the toys or get them new ones every now and then if you can, and watch how happy this makes them.
Take Walks with your Dog
Walks are great for physical and emotional well-being. Apart from exercising your dogs, taking walks with your dogs is a great way to bond with them. You can mix up your routine a little by visiting new parks, beaches, and woods, this will also provide your dog with some mental stimulation.
Don’t forget to give them a little lead time to explore their surroundings.
Help them Socialize
Dogs are actually social animals. You can boost your dog’s morale by introducing them to new people and new experiences. You do your dog a grave disservice if you leave him at home without the opportunity to socialize, in fact, this can be quite damaging to their personality. Furthermore, if your dog is introverted try not to overwhelm him by introducing him to many people all at once, you can actually ease him into it.
One of the easiest ways to ensure your dog’s happiness is by maintaining a positive relationship with them. Give them not only verbal praise but physical praise when they do something that you approve of. Your dog automatically becomes more obedient when he gets praise for good deeds, which is better than punishing them or shouting at them. Positive reinforcement is very important in dog training and should not be overlooked.
Pay Regular Visits to your Vet and Groomer
It is important to seek professional help if you think something might be wrong with your pet. Are you aware that visits to your groomer will not only take care of your dog’s physical appearance but his health? A visit to the groomer will help check for ticks, fleas, and dry patches. Good grooming is another way to make your dog happy.
The bond between a dog and its owner is probably one of the most important determinants of a dog’s emotional health. Spend time with your pet each day. Look for fun activities that you can do together. Spending time playing and exercising with your dogs will keep you in tune with their needs and make it easier to detect if anything seems amiss.