Dogs have a wide range of emotions just like humans do, which means your pup can get sad just like you do. Unfortunately, while it’s usually not hard to know when a person close to you is unhappy, we have to rely on behavioral indications to know when a dog isn’t feeling their best.
Signs your dog is unhappy or depressed include a change in appetite, sleeping too much or too little, becoming unduly aggressive, failing to respond to feelings of affection like before, and shying away from activity, and more.
We’ll look at why your dog is unhappy and the signs to watch out for. You’ll also learn what to do when you find out your dog is unhappy or suffering from depression.
Why Do Dogs Become Unhappy?
There are many factors that can make a dog unhappy. Let’s go over several of them:
Your Dog Is Ill or Injured
A dog feeling unhappy doesn’t always have emotional connotations. Any physical condition that causes pain or discomfort can affect the dog’s mood and make them unhappy.
It’s always best to take your dog to a vet if you see any sudden behavioral changes that suggest your dog is unhappy. It’s important to rule out any underlying medical conditions as quickly as possible.
The Dog’s Personality
Dogs have different personalities. While some are naturally high-energy and always happy, others are more reserved and keep to themselves, even when they are very satisfied. You need to check to confirm that you’re not worrying about your dog’s happiness when they are just living in their natural state.
Again, though, if your dog has suddenly changed from their normal disposition, it is probably not a personality issue and you should explore other possible reasons for their sadness.
Improper Training Routines
Dogs need training so they can function well with their human families and with other pets. They crave structure and routine. If training techniques are stressful and involve correction or punishment, they may leave your dog feeling inadequate, sad, and lacking confidence.
Stressful training and frequent corrections in daily life (constantly telling them “no!”) can wear a dog down. They may become extremely withdrawn, which can be misinterpreted as the dog being well-behaved, when in reality they are under a lot of stress.
It’s always best to use reward-based training methods with lots of praise and treats. Training should be fun for a dog, not a chore. It can also strengthen the bond between dog and owner and increase confidence and self-esteem.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
Humans aren’t the only ones who can feel the winter blues. Changes in the weather can make a dog feel sad. However, their case of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) can also be linked to changes in the dog’s routine. Dogs have specific needs that you must meet to keep them healthy and happy. Stimulation and exercise are a part of these needs. Different breeds and types will have different exercise and stimulation needs.
In the winter months (and during other periods of unpleasant weather), it can be hard to get your dog the right amount of exercise. When the dog can’t do the things they love, this may cause the dog to feel sad, among a range of other behavioral changes.
Most dogs love routines, and they are at their happiest when they are satisfied with their immediate environment. Disruptions caused by major home improvement projects, moving to a new home, new additions to the family, and general rearrangement of the dog’s immediate environment can leave it feeling unsure. This can translate to sadness and other behavioral changes as they try to process the new changes, rediscover their routines and feel safe again.
Taking your dog out on a walk a couple of times a day sounds like a lot of exercise, but once you’re back home, they tend to spend more than 12 hours doing nothing else. This is fine for smaller breeds that can get enough exercise by merely walking around the house.
For larger, working breeds, they can get bored. The situation gets worse if you’re cutting into the few hours of activity or mixing up the schedule too much. Boredom can cause a range of behavioral issues in the dog as well as unhappiness.
Changes in the Family
Dogs are often strongly in tune with their family. They will bond tightly with everyone (including other pets) they perceive as a part of this family, and any changes to the structure can affect a dog emotionally. So, changes in the home such as loss of a loved one (or a pet), divorce, children leaving the nest, and any other such changes can affect them.
Dogs know when a friend or loved one is no longer there, but unfortunately, we can’t quite explain it to them. Even a change in your work schedule can affect the dog. If you’re suddenly working longer hours, your dog will feel it. Remember, they rely on you to provide love, security, and company. They will feel an increase in your absence a great deal.
In many cases, a dog’s sadness is a sign of an underlying behavioral problem. A dog battling phobias may not show any physical signs of fear, but they can be in a perpetual state of anxiety or stress. If the dog is afraid of certain noise, it may remain sad while anticipating the noise. The same applies if they are worried about staying at home alone.
What Are the Signs of Unhappiness in a Dog?
It’s not always easy to spot an unhappy dog, but there are telltale signs you should always watch for. We have covered these below. You most likely won’t see all of these signs simultaneously, but when several of them are present, your dog is likely unhappy or even depressed.
Tucked or Low Tail
When a dog is stressed or unhappy, it will likely tuck its tail between its legs instead of wagging it as high as possible in the air. A high wagging tail doesn’t always mean the dog is happy, but it is associated with positive feelings. Low and slow wagging tail often points to fear or some form of insecurity.
General Body Language
A dog that’s worried or sad may look tense instead of relaxed in the way they hold themselves. They may avoid contact and keep their head low. If you find the dog freezing in place far too regularly, it can be a sign of stress, sadness, or discomfort. Ears pinned back and flat against their head is another good sign that a dog is unhappy, anxious, or stressed.
Turning Away From People Mid-Activity
If a dog is unhappy with an activity, he’ll turn the head away or at least try to. In some cases, the dog will lick on your hand or face before turning away—a sign that they are not happy with the activity or just unhappy in general. You’ll catch this behavior by paying close attention to them during any activity.
Changes in Feeding Habit
A dog with a loss of appetite and showing little or no interest in food is a good indication that it’s unhappy (or sick). Similarly, a sad dog may also start to eat a lot more than usual, using food as a comfort. Any significant changes in the dog’s eating habit can indicate that it’s not in the healthiest place mentally. The easiest way to notice a change in your dog’s appetite is to watch for weight loss or weight gain. Any significant swings either way could point to an unhappy dog.
Changes in Sleeping Routine
Most dogs sleep more often than humans, getting a combined 12 hours of sleep per day. However, when a dog is unhappy, you may see it sleeping longer than usual. On the other hand, an obvious reduction in the number of hours a dog sleeps can also be a sign of unhappiness. There are several reasons why a dog may not be sleeping at night.
You should keep in mind that a lack of sleep (or even excessive sleeping) could also be that the dog is dealing with physical pain. Check for any obvious signs of pain (such as wincing or squirming when touched in certain places) to rule out physical pain as a cause of insomnia.
No Interest in Playing With Toys or Physical Exercise
If your dog suddenly stops showing interest in playing with toys or taking part in any activities they found entertaining normally, it is a sign that the dog is unhappy. This is especially so if the dog and the toys were previously inseparable. It’s normal for dogs to not want to play from time to time, but if it becomes a regular occurrence, it may be time for you to investigate.
Dogs that lose interest in playing with their toys may also be uninterested in other forms of exercise, such as going for walks or playing with other pets. Such low energy behavior could also point to a feeling of sadness. Again, you should remember that not all dogs are energetic and social. So, you should only be worried if the persistent low energy and general lack of interest is a new experience.
Hiding Away From People
An unhappy dog may also begin to hide away from people in corners of the house. If there’s no clear reason for them to hide (such as loud construction noise or fireworks), it may be a sign of general unhappiness. They may also combine this behavior with cowering to look smaller in the presence of people. This is an attempt to cope with their low mood.
There are a few reasons why a dog can show aggression, and unhappiness is one of them. They could be frustrated or having anxiety attacks. If you have a dog that is typically as calm as ever, but it suddenly starts to bark, growl or snap anyone at any other pets that come around, it could be a sign of unhappiness.
Prolonged Chewing or Licking
If your dog is always licking or chewing its paws, it’s easy to misinterpret it as staying clean or just scratching an itch. However, it could also be a coping mechanism while dealing with sadness.
Of course, excessive licking can also be a sign that the dog is dealing with a skin condition, allergies, or other health issue. If you rule those out and the behavior continues, your dog is most likely self-soothing.
Unhappy dogs will also exhibit anxious behaviors like humans. If the dog is pacing around the house, he is likely unhappy and bored. Spending more time outside could be what he wants, and taking him outdoors a bit more regularly can lift their mood a great deal.
If you’ve become too busy to give your dog regular exercise, you should consider hiring a dog walker instead of leaving him stuck indoors all day. If the dog is getting regular exercise but still paces around the house, talk to your vet for other solutions. Pacing can also be a symptom of physical discomfort.
While serious cases of separation anxiety are easily identified — the dog goes crazy barking and whining whenever you leave them — more mild cases may not be as obvious. The dog may be stressed by your absence but you are unaware. You can read more about dog separation anxiety here.
Turning to Destructive Behavior
Your dog becoming destructive is another behavior that shows it is dealing with emotional problems. If your dog is suddenly showing more roughness than normal with their toys and other items in the house, it could be a sign that they are unhappy. If you’ve lived with your dog for months and it suddenly starts to tear up floors and cushions, the dog is likely upset or unhappy for some reason.
How Can You Help an Unhappy Dog?
Dogs can’t verbally communicate their feelings, so you have to watch out for the signs of sadness we’ve discussed above. Once you’ve recognized the problem, solving it is a bit more straightforward. The first step is to sit back and ask some pertinent questions that will help you understand more about the source of the emotional change.
- Are you getting your dog as much exercise and stimulation as it needs?
- Is there a noteworthy change in the dog’s life, social group, and the immediate environment?
- If your dog is getting adequate exercise and simulation, are you sure it’s the right regime for the breed?
- Is your dog getting as much human contact as it is used to?
- Does your dog have other behavioral problems?
By answering these questions, you’ll have a clearer idea of your dog’s needs and explore ways to remedy the situation. The solution to your dog’s unhappiness will be one (or more) of the following:
Go to the Vet
Going to the vet is one of the surest ways to get to the root of your dog’s unhappiness. A dog suddenly going from cheerful and warm to droopy or aggressive may be displaying the first signs of illness. Therefore, going to the vet can help you arrest a dangerous situation before it progresses any further. Once an ailment has been ruled out, you can explore some of the other options.
Give Your Dog More Attention
Dogs generally love human attention. One of the best ways to cheer up your dog is to spend more quality time with them. However, don’t rush things. You need to offer more attention incrementally to allow your dog enough room to deal with their emotions at a stable pace. Forced attention can make things worse.
Improve Your Dog’s Activity Levels
Just like getting outdoors can improve your mood when you’re feeling unhappy, fresh air can boost your dog’s mood a great deal. If they already walk around the yard, you can improve the situation further by taking them out to explore new routes. This can help the dog physically and mentally.
During activity and simulation, your dog’s brains will release feel-good chemicals like serotonin dopamine to give them a warm, fuzzy feeling. When your dog isn’t getting enough stimulation, the pent-up energy can lead to boredom and sadness. Lack of exercise is a very common cause of a dog’s depression or unhappiness.
If your dog is unhappy, encouraging them to play with other dogs can help lift their mood. These are highly social creatures, so seeing other dogs (and other pets) can get them feeling more enthusiastic. If you have a few neighbors who own dogs, you can schedule “play dates” to get them together. Alternatively, you can enroll the dog in training classes or daycare sessions.
Maintain a Regular Routine
Ensuring your dog knows what to expect every day is a good way to help them rediscover happiness. Create a timetable for physical and mental activities and stick to it as closely as possible. You should also ensure their meal times follow a defined pattern. Over time, you should see the dog returning to its former energetic and cheerful behavior.
If you’ve changed your dog’s food around the same period when you started to see the signs of sadness, it’s easy to blame the emotional switch on the new mix. However, some dogs can get disillusioned with the meal plan they’ve known for a long time. Spice things up a bit and see how the dog reacts to the new change in the meal plan.
After seeing signs of depression, moving your dog from unhappy to energetic and cheerful goes beyond trying to get it to play fetch or increasing the food and water rations. The feeling often runs deeper and may be caused by underlying health conditions.
Once you’ve ruled out a medical condition as the source of unhappiness, it’s time to review other aspects of the dog’s daily life. Go over the general routines and any other aspects of the dog’s life that may have seen some changes and try to reverse any changes that may have coincided with the feeling of unhappiness where possible.