How to cheer up an unhappy dog

Lately, the behavior of Teddy, our 5-year-old Lab, hasn’t been stellar.

He’s been barking more than usual – so much so, that one afternoon last week when guests were visiting, he barked almost the entire time.

On some recent walks with my husband, Ed, Teddy has acted unsure around other dogs and their owners.

Concerned, I turned to veterinarian Lisa Radosta’s “Is your dog happy? Ten easy ways to know” list in the premiere issue of “Happy Paws.” I looked at Teddy’s behaviors as well as my family’s to see if I could figure out how our boy was feeling.

Radosta’s first three points covered tail wagging, appetite and tail position. Teddy fit her description of a happy dog on each.

The vet asks if the dog shows happiness through tail wagging and butt wiggling daily. Teddy does, multiple times. He prances and wiggles when we play games such as doggy-in-the-middle or hide-and-seek. The Lab greets his dad’s arrival home each evening with butt-wiggling, tail-wagging joy.

Teddy’s appetite is good and his tail position, for the most part, is level – two other behaviors that point to a happy dog.

Other happy behaviors on Radosta’s list include liking the outdoors, independence, calmness, socializing and napping. Again, Teddy’s behavior demonstrates he’s basically a happy pooch.

I would venture to say that taking walks with his dad is Teddy’s favorite thing. Whether it is walking the trails around Lake Michigan on vacations or just walking around the neighborhood, the Lab always comes home bouncing and wagging his tail.

Teddy demonstrates his independence by napping in different rooms from where the family is. Thunderstorms or other loud noises do not bother him. He’s always in the middle of our family or snuggling with Ed when we’re watching a movie or TV. Finally, the Lab has a good sleeping pattern, sleeping soundly during the night and causally napping throughout the day.

Going by the list, Teddy is happy. So why the excessive barking and unsureness?

The vet also lists playfulness and control as two behaviors important to Teddy’s happiness. Playfulness is defined as the dog playing with us, toys or other dogs daily. Control is Teddy’s ability to stop barking.

Teddy plays daily but not as much as he should and that’s not his fault, but ours. He’s probably barking more than he has in the past because we haven’t given him as much to occupy his time and stimulate his interests.

So we’ve changed our behaviors to, we hope, change Teddy’s. First, we deployed his puzzle games again, particularly his food Kong tumbler. At dinner, half of his food goes in the bowl and half goes in the tumbler. According to “Happy Paws,” pet behaviorists say 10 minutes of mental stimulation equals 45 minutes of active play.

Teddy is back to going to his playgroup two to three times a week. And, finally, we’ve reintroduced his protocol in greeting visitors. He must sit and stay before the door is opened. He is given a special treat and heaps of praise when he performs.

So far, so good.

Karin Spicer, a magazine writer, has been entertaining families for more than 20 years. She lives in Bellbrook with her family and two furry animals all who provide inspiration for her work. She can be reached at


1. Start with simple toys

2. Pick toys appropriate for dog’s size and chewing style

3. Introduce dog to the puzzle

4. Puzzle toys can be used as feeders

5. Can slow down fast-eating dogs

6. Finicky eaters may eat more with puzzle toys

7. Wash daily

8. Treats shouldn’t be more than 10% of daily diet

SOURCE: Happy Paws

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