How to tell if your dog is happy and healthy

Monday, July 2, 2012
By Anna Warwick
How to tell if your dog is happy and healthy

Our best friends can't explain when they're feeling blue or sick — so how do we know if something is not quite right?

Nationally accredited dog trainer and assessor Basil Theofanides has been keeping dogs happy and healthy for 25 years. Here is his advice on how to ensure your dog is feeling 100 percent.

Signs of a happy dog

Body language and facial expressions will tell you if your dog is happy. Dogs actually do smile. The way a dog postures itself is also a giveaway. It might bow down with its backside up in the air when it wants to initiate play. If it's wagging its tail — that's pretty straightforward.

Happy dogs tend to have a lot more energy than dogs that are unhappy. They want to play, they mess around with things like sticks and balls and they want to please their owners and get their attention.

Lead the way

The key to success in a happy relationship with your dog is learning to communicate and establish clearly that you're the pack leader.

Don't treat the dog as a human being. Dogs are a pack animal and we can't forget that. They need to have a hierarchy structure in any environment they live in, whether it's with their brothers and sisters or in a human family.

If you don't give your dog leadership and guidance then it will take on that leadership role itself, causing several problems. Dogs can become unhappy if they don't know their role in the household.

Dogs have to be trained. When the dog is rewarded for being obedient, it's happy because it has done something to please the pack leader.

A happy dog is a healthy dog

A healthy dog has a shiny coat and high energy levels. If your pup is lethargic, always moping around, or its mouth is always closed, you should take a close look at its diet. Dogs on a balanced diet tend to feel good. If their diet is lacking, your dog will carry on, but you can tell they just don't feel a hundred percent.

A balanced diet free of preservatives and additives is the best approach. Start with a super premium dog food. Give your dog bones to help clean their teeth. A young dog can have a slightly harder bone — lamb shank or marrowbone. As they get older go for slightly softer bones like a raw lamb bone.

It's important to give your dog a daily inspection. Massage and pat them all over, looking for things like skin irritations, rashes or ear infections before they get too bad and the dog feels uncomfortable.

Depressed doggie

Look at what has changed in your dog's life — for example, the loss of a partner or a friend. We had multiple dogs in our household. Our German shepherd was great friends with our greyhound. When our shepherd was put down because of illness, the greyhound became lethargic and there was no spring in his step. He was constantly looking for the other dog.

A great way to cheer a dog up is to give it a little bit of extra attention. Take it for walks outside so that it's stimulated. Let it socialise and run with other dogs. Take it to a doggie day care centre — they're a great way of getting the dog back into that socialisation phase. It really works.

Anxiety

Dogs can suffer separation anxiety when their owners go away. If you're going on holidays or back to work after a break, get your dog used to the idea of being left alone. If your dog is too attached and has become anxious, have a friend drop another dog off to play with it during the day, take it to doggie day care or bring a dog walker in. That way you can gradually wean the dog and it will adjust to being on its own.

Basil is the Training Director of Command Dog Training School.

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