I know what you’re thinking.
The happiest part of a dog’s body?
His tail, of course!
Well, while it’s true that your dog’s tail can indicate how happy he is, tail signs are often misread or misinterpreted. For instance, a tail held high and wagging in short bursts? Most definitely not happy. A tail held low and slowly wagging? Probably relaxed. A tail wagging in circles like a helicopter? There’s your happy dog!
There’s another part of your dog that is easily overlooked by most of us but conveys so much nuance and detail about his happiness level. Can you guess what it is?
Before we share the deets, do a quick experiment: Leave the room for a minute or so, then walk back in while watching your dog’s ears. What do you notice? Do they move forwards or backwards? To the side? Do you see them perk up? Or drop down?
Dog ears express it all. Sure, all breeds look different. A basset won’t have his ears prick straight up just like a min-pin’s ears won’t droop too far back. There are some general rules, though, that you can apply to your breed and his ears.
Here’s what you need to know about your dog’s happiest body part:
Repeat the same exercise we tried above but focus on your dog’s ears shifting. They’ll go from either alert (where’d my person go?) or relaxed posture and shift low and backwards. This low-and-back shift is a happy, friendly ear move. Floppy-eared-dog lovers, take heart: You can see this happen on your pup at the base of his ears. Watch there instead of the actual ear.
Since all ears are different, think of a relaxed posture as whatever is “neutral” for your dog. Not forward, not backwards, not poking out to the side. Just hanging where they’re comfy. When your dog’s ears are in this loose, gentle position, they’re chill.
Pinned back, tense, flattened ears signal problems. This ear position poses a problem for some pups because people often “read” it as a friendly shift backwards, which is a looser, floppier ear. Watch your dog to spot the difference. With ears flat back, your dog might feel anxious or nervous. Super flat, super tight, all-the-way-back ears signal a dog in a defensive pose, so proceed with caution.
Ears perked forward signal an alert dog. This tipped-forward pose can be spotted in friendly play with other dogs. Make a silly sound and watch your dog’s ears prick forward with curiosity. Bonus if that forward motion is accompanied by a head tilt. #slayfordays If they’re stiff and forward? Your pup might be gearing up to chase down a rabbit!
Your dog’s ears move constantly. Watch them twitch and shift, turn, and rotate. They listen for sounds and process new information constantly. The more you pay attention, the faster you’ll learn what your dog’s ears look like when he’s happy. And don’t forget to dole out some ear rubs. Most dogs love a good ear massage when they’re feeling relaxed!
BTW, this is just one reason cropping ears is inhumane. It takes away an entire chunk of a dog’s “vocabulary” by removing his ability to signal with his ears.
The reality, though, is just like in humans, the different parts of your dog’s body work together to express how he’s feeling. Learning to understand your pup’s body language is an awesome commitment to your relationship. His ears, his posture, his tail, and his face all work together to speak loudly and clearly--we just need to learn how to “hear” what they’re saying.