10 Ways To Tell Your Labrador Is Happy Through Body Language

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Labradors are expressive creatures. When you share your life with a dog, you soon notice that they use their Labrador body language to convey their feelings.

The better that we can read our dogs’ body language, the more chance we will have of correctly establishing what makes them happy.

Let’s look at 10 ways to tell whether your Labrador is expressing their pleasure through their body language:

1. Open Mouth

A happy dog will often have their mouth slightly open, like the dog pictured above. This position looks very natural for a Labrador, and will probably be the expression your dog pulls most of the time.

Submissive or scared dogs usually keep their mouths firmly shut, or pull their lips back away from their teeth.

These signs are helpful to us as owners, as they are early warning signs that something is really bothering our dog.

A comfortable Labrador will have a relaxed open mouth, but they will also often have their tongue hanging out the side of it too.

2. Tongue out and floppy

Because your happy Lab has an open mouth, you will often see his tongue lolling out gently.

If your dog is in a good mood, this will again look very relaxed and natural.

Make sure he isn’t licking at his lips when there is no food around, as this may be a sign he is feeling fearful. Lip licking with no incentive, especially when joined with what is known as a submissive grin, is a sign that your dog is unsettled for some reason.

If he is happy, his tongue will be out to allow him to pant, but it will stay mostly loosely in one dangly position!

3. Looking directly at you

Most of us have heard that dogs don’t naturally enjoy eye contact with each other. However, in the engineered environment of our homes they quickly learn that eye contact with their owner is a pleasurable thing. As when they look at us they often get rewarded with attention, a nice pat or stroke, or even a treat.

Your happy dog will therefore look you straight in the eye, in a relaxed manner.

If your dog is looking at your eyes, but from a crooked position, for example with their head pointed firmly in another direction, then this suggests they might be feeling threatened.

Look for other signs that will give away more clues in the eyes

4. Relaxed eyes

Your happy dog’s eyes will seem relaxed. This means that they will look normal, without excessive amounts of the white of the eye showing.

A Labrador who is looking at your from a sideways angle, with the whites of the eyes showing is not happy as we have just seen.

The same goes for a dog who has an intense gaze that has revealed these white parts.

Your happy Labrador’s eyes will be relaxed, with no exposed white or curious head positioning.

It’s lovely to see how the Labrador photographed above is looking expectantly and confidently at her owner. Her ears are also in a nice natural position and her head is held high.

5. Ears positioned naturally

Most Labradors have ears that point up and then flop over.

Although through breeding they have varying degrees of flopping, they are still able to be very expressive.

You will recognise your Lab’s happy ear position as resting naturally.

If they become raised higher this is because he is alert and listening intently, and if they flatten or move out sideways then he is probably feeling scared or submissive.

A happy Labrador will have ears sitting naturally in a relaxed position.

6. Head held high

Dogs convey a lot of expression to us through their head position, and that’s because we empathise in this regard with our own head movements.

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When we feel submissive or scared, we make ourselves look small by tucking our heads in. Labradors do the same. A bowed head signifies a worried dog.

If your dog’s head is unhunched and sitting proud and upright as he looks around, chances are he is feeling nicely confident and happy.

7. Play bow

Body language that we all recognise from our own dogs as well as various animal documenaries, is the play bow.

A playful happy dog will lower their front end by bending their forepaws. It is a gesture that they want to engage and play with you, and are definitely happy about it.

8. Bouncing run

If you own a lively Labrador you will probably have seen him, and other dogs, running around a lot.

When a dog runs they have a level stride that takes them to their destination.

If you compare this to the playful run of a cheerful dog, you will see that theirs has much more movement in the vertical plane.

When your dog is pleased to see a friend in the park, or skipping around you as you walk, their up and down motion is a lovely giveaway to their pleasure.

9. Naturally Wagging Tail

Contrary to a lot of people’s beliefs, a wagging tail is not always a sign of happiness.

It can be a warning that a dog is feeling threatened if he olds his tail high and stiff, and moves slowly from one side to the other.  Or nervous, if he holds his tail  very low and just wages the tip.

A happy dog’s tail will move in a much more rapid, natural way. The tail will look relaxed and the motion will be smooth and fluid

But the absense of a wagging tail does not mean that your dog is not happy. That’s why our last spot is reserved for the undervalued but important, relaxed tail

10. Relaxed Tail

Your happy Labrador might have a tail like a broom, sweeping back and forth all day long. But if he doesn’t, it doesn’t mean he is unhappy.

Scared dogs have tails tucked between their legs, and dogs who feel threatend will hold their tails high and stiff.

Happy dogs’ tails don’t need to move to be happy. They will simply sit in their natural position, hanging around their hocks. Loose movement will be seen as they walk, and their back end will have an easy sway.

  

Happy Labrador Body Language

Your dog’s body language can be a wonderful window into his world, that allows you to identify when he is happy and how to keep him that way.

If there are other ways that you easily identify when your dog is happy, why not let us know in the comments box below!

More information on Labradors

You can find out more about how to keep your Labrador happy in our Care and Behaviour sections.

If you’d like all of our best Labrador information together in one place, then get your copy of The Labrador Handbook today.

The Labrador Handbook looks at all aspects owning a Labrador, through daily care, to health and training at each stage of their life.

The Labrador Handbook is available worldwide.

The Labrador Site Founder

Pippa Mattinson is the best selling author of The Happy Puppy Handbook, the Labrador Handbook, Choosing The Perfect Puppy, and Total Recall.

She is also the founder of the Gundog Trust and the Dogsnet Online Training Program 

Pippa's online training courses were launched in 2019 and you can find the latest course dates on the Dogsnet website

11 COMMENTS

  1. We have a black lab with unknown mix from a rescue. She is such the light of our lives. When she is interested in something she will stare in its direction and her tail will go straight up and wag at the tip but, she is not upset or scared. We know this because she will turn her attention quickly to us and spread her two front feet straight legged and duck the front of her body with her head breifly and then immediately back to what ever had her attention. Like she is pointing with her nose. This is her way of saying hey guys take me over there or, I want to see that closer. If we don’t get her attention back on something different she will pull us in that direction while on her leash. If we start walking in the direction she was pointing she will go into hunt mode and start sniffing the ground quickly. On the ground and then up in the air smelling and looking around intently to try and gather information. She does not bark unless she feels threatened. Rarely does she bark even if it is another dog is barking at her. She is overly friendly most of the time until it is time not to be. That is usually if a dog lunges at her. If another owner approaches slowly she is very playful but, never instgates a fight. However, she can be super intrusive and will want to smell the other dog really well and or the owner. She is very easy to get along with in the presence of other dogs or cats. She is friendly with animals in general and super curious unless, it is small game like a squirrel or rabbit. Then it is game on.(No pun intended) She loves animals much bigher than her. Even cows and I assume horses. I can definately see why this breed is great to hunt with by foot or horseback. She always has so much energy and loves to march in a direction that she choses or that we dictate. Then darting all the way behind us using her entire leash to have a deliberate smell maybe pause for a moment and then catch back up to us. She will pass us and start pulling and marching in the direction we continued walking in. Usually she will pass us and take the lead again marching off pulling all the while. The energy level and playfulness shows us how happy she is. We go on great jaunts into a trail wth trees that arch over top just feet from my head or, down into a creek with open sky by the water or, in it. Absolutely fearless. Although, she hates being startled by a loud sharp noise like a firecrackers unless you hold her close and prepare her for it. With reassurance she can handle most anything. She is our best friend and is so very compassionate.
    The family dog a Shelty 13 yo passed away the other day and she was cued by the whole families emotions. She was confused and tried to console everyone or, maybe she was just looking for reassurance herself. Either way she wanted to be close by our side and pressed us for affection. It was very comforting and today we are back to marching and hunting down sights and smells. I know hounds hunt happily with their tongues out and she seems to mimic that type of example.
    Sorry, for sharing such a long story. I do think this is helping in some of the grieving from our loss while sharing something very dear about our wonderful black labrador mix Zeena the all powerful and ever playful. God Bless thank you for reading.

  2. So, my spelling is off on tail, a comma is needed after the word or as well as insert the word “is” in the part where “dog is barking”. Again with the spelling for the word instigates. Remove the k and n from kncurious to get curious. I meant to say pressed us for affection not attention. Remove the O from OIt for It. As well as meaning to say ” back to hunting for sights and smells”. Last but not least playful is misspelled at the very end. Being able to edit for grammar and spelling after the post would be helpful . I do think you can figure out what I was trying to portray though. I may want to edit this reply to my own post lol I hate sounding uneducated. I think the idea gets lost in traslation if you do not edit before you post finally. I apologise and will try harder. I hope that the moderator will fix theese issues before allowing this post or allows me to fix it myself by resubmitting this. .

  3. We have a black lab with unknown mix from a rescue. She is such the light if our lives. When she is interested she will stare in a direction and her tale will go straight up and wag at the tip but, she is not upset or scared. We know because she will turn her attention quickly to us and spread her two front feet and duck the front of her body with her head breifly and then immediately back to what ever had her attention to. Like she is pointing with her nose. This is her way of saying hey guys take me over there or I want to see that closer. If we don’t get her attention back on something different she will pull us in that direction while on her leash. If we start walking in the direction she was pointing she will go into hunt mode and start sniffing the ground quickly. On the ground and then up in the air smelling and looking intently to try and gather information. She does not bark unless she feels threatened. Rarely does she bark even if it is another dog barking at her. She is too friendly most of the time until it is time not to be.That is usually if a dog lunges at her. If another owner approaches slowly she is very playful but, never instgates a fight. However, she can be super intrusive and want to smell the other dog really well or the owner. She is very easy to get along with other dogs or cats. She is friendly with animals in general and super kncurious unless, it is small game like a squirrel or rabbit. Then it is game on.(No pun intended) She loves animals much bigher than her. Even cows and I assume horses maybe. I can definately see why this breed is great to hunt with by foot or horseback. She always has so much energy and loves to march in a direction that she choses or that we dictate. Then darting all the way behind us using her entire leash to have a deliberate smell maybe pause for a moment and then catch back up to us. She will pass us and start pulling and marching in the direction we continued walking in. Usually she will pass us and take the lead again. The energy level and playfulness shows us how happy she is. We go on great jaunts into a trail wth trees that arch over top just feet from my head or down into a creek with open sky by the water or in it. Absolutely fearless. She hates being startled by a loud sharp noise like a firecracker. Unless you hold her close and prepare her for it. With reassurance she can handle most anything. She is our best friend and is so very compassionate.
    The family dog a Shelty 13yo passed away the other day and she was cued by the whole families emotions. She was confused and tried to console everyone or maybe she was just looking for reassurance herself. Either way she wanted to be close by our side and pressed us for attention. OIt was very comforting and today we are back to marching and hunting smells. I know hounds hunt happily with their tongues out and she seems to mimic that type of example.
    Sorry, for sharing such a long story but, I think this is helping with some of the grieving. While sharing something very dear about our wonderful black labrador mix Zeena the all powerful and ever pkayful.

  4. Hi I have a lab chow mix she is my baby ,I couldn’t ask for a better furrbaby but she does like to paw for attention,I have tried pushing her paw down when she paws at me,and others,but she don’t get why I’m doing that I guess,other than that she is wonderful,

  5. Hi! My 4 month old lab puppy barks like crazy in car. He loves going for walks, but till we reach the destination he barks at everything and everyone and is restlessin the car. Its making me panic and a not able to concentrate on driving.

  6. Hello!

    Thank you so much for the valuable inputs. We can easily co relate all the ten steps with our Lab whose name is Mylo. He has a very powerful amazing memory which baffles us.

    • I got a choc lab @ 4 months,,we do good,, but then I had to take another 2 month ,unloved dog ,,kinda looks bulldog but is not, so hes smaller than lab,, did it hurt to take another dog in and try nd love them both ???

  7. Why is our lab holding his tail high? As from puppy he is doing this. His tail doesn’t look like a labs tail. From half way down to the end of the tail it looks like a broomstick…. Not like a nice firm ‘otter’ tail.

    Annemarie

    • Hi Annemarie, some labrador do have a naturally high tail carriage and lack the otter tail. This is more common in dogs from working lines. But as long as your boy is happy, that’s all that matters 🙂

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