White lab recue dog with tongue out looking happy in garden

Is My New Rescue Dog Happy?

How can you tell if your new rescue dog is happy? When you first took him out of the shelter, he was probably very excited to get outside and experience some new freedom. And, someone was paying attention to him. But now that he has been living with you for a while, you may wonder if he is truly happy in his new home.

Dogs have the advantage of living very much in the moment–much more so than humans. As a result, dogs often adjust well to new, positive, and caring home environments. There are several clues your dog will provide to indicate that he is happy:

  1. His tail is wagging
  2. Has a good appetite
  3. Sleeping well
  4. The tone of his bark is upbeat
  5. He is active and likes to play
  6. Makes eye contact with you
  7. Likes to cuddle with you



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Dogs Usually Adapt Well to Positive Environments

I can assure you that just about any rescue dog will be happy living in a loving home. However, he may go through a transition period, and he may miss his former owners. (Yes, dogs do grieve.)

But even a neglected or abused dog can rebound from his past trauma or the stress of living in a shelter for an extended period of time. Creating a positive, loving, and calm environment is key to helping him adjust.

Over time you will probably notice a change in your dog’s behavior and body language. Some dogs may be more demonstrative than others due to their unique personality. However, here are some common things to look for that will let you know if your dog is happy:

Signs that Your Dog Rescue Dog is Happy

1. A Dog’s Tail Says a Lot!

We have all seen that moving dog tail fanning back and forth rapidly in anticipation of something fun like a walk or a treat. Or when we arrive home at night and he is happy to see us, his tail will wag a mile a minute!

A dog’s tail is probably the number one way that a dog tells us what he is feeling.

A wagging tail usually means a happy dog. But if a dog is sad, or frightened, his tail will droop and may drop between his legs. If he is alarmed, his tail will go into a more upright, rigid position and move slowly, and tensely.

2. A Good Appetite is a Sign of a Happy Dog!

Food is an important resource for dogs. Dogs in the wild spend a lot of time foraging for food. They hunt for it, fight over it, guard it, and bring food home to their pups and pack members. For domesticated dogs, mealtime is probably one of the most fun and important times of their day! That is why new canine parents are always advised to feed their new dogs at the same time each day. This gives him something to look forward to and reduces his anxiety about when and if he will be fed.

Therefore, it is natural for a dog to have a good appetite. If he doesn’t it could be a sign of depression or a medical problem. Also, your dog may prefer a different type of food, so you may need to do some trial-and-error feeding in the beginning.

I tried three different types of dog food in the beginning and landed on good dry, kibble as their primary food. They love to eat and love their kibble. But they also get even more excited if I add a little canned dog food or better yet, boiled chicken and rice! The fact that they are always hungry at mealtime and eager to eat even just plain kibble, tells me that they are pretty happy.

3. He Sleeps Well

If your rescued furry friend sleeps a lot, he is probably happy. It is normal for dogs to sleep 12 to 16 hours a day. So, if your new pooch takes naps and also dozes off around 8pm while you are watching Netflix, don’t be alarmed. It is bedtime for him!

But if he seems restless and only sleeps for short periods, he may be feeling guarded and on edge. Or, he could have some arthritis or other medical problems. So, it is always good to have him checked by your vet.

I bought two or three different types of beds for my dogs before I found the one they really liked a lot. See my recommended products page regarding my preferred beds: Dog Beds and 8 Luxury Gifts for Your Dog.

4. The Tone of his Bark

Your rescue dog is probably happy if he likes to “speak to you” with barks that are high in pitch and short yips. Angry or fear-based barks are generally lower in tone, and louder, and will include growls and snarls. If your dog barks menacingly a lot, he may be feeling very guarded and unsure. His anxiety level may be high and he may become alarmed easily and express his fear with angry type barks.

If you suspect that your dog is experiencing some lingering stress from his past, talk to your vet and get some professional support to help him transition. I wrote about this issue in my post regarding rescue dogs and PTSD.

5. Your New Pooch Is Active

Happy dogs usually have good energy and like to run around and play. Of course, this assumes they are healthy and don’t have any physical disabilities. If they zoom around too much and have trouble settling down, they may be a bit hyper. This is probably normal at first as they get used to their new home.

Happy dogs usually enjoy playing and interacting with you. If your new pup is feeling secure, he will jump at opportunities to engage in some playful fun. See my post, Why Does My Dog Get Excited When I Lay Down on the Floor? for more on this.

When I first brought my two dogs home, they ran all over the house and checked everything out. I could barely keep up with them! Yes, they were a little hyper–happy to be in a home again after 9 months at the shelter. But they were also probably a little anxious about how this new place would work out, how I would treat them, and whether they were going to get to stay long-term. They had been in a couple of other homes on a trial basis before coming to live with me.

6. He Makes Eye Contact with You

The eyes truly are the portals to our souls. If your dog makes eye contact with you, that is usually a good sign that he feels comfortable around you, and may even be bonding with you.

A dog who avoids eye contact or looks away usually feels uncomfortable or threatened. But if he does make eye contact with you, it may mean that he is beginning to look to you as his new leader and dog parent.

7. Your Dog Likes to Cuddle and be Close

Shortly after I adopted my two mixed breed siblings, I was amused when they began to jump onto my lap in the morning. I have a habit of reading the news while drinking my morning coffee in my easy chair. On chilly mornings, they seemed to think that my lap was the best place to be! I was happy that they seemed happy and wanted to snuggle up with me.

Behaviors that May Signal Distress

Pay attention to other behaviors or signs that your dog may have some adjustment issues. Your dog may not immediately be happy in your home due to past trauma or grief over the loss of his former home. Give him time to adjust and get help if his symptoms seem severe. Here is a list of things to watch for:

  • Cowers and hides a lot
  • Trembles or shakes when petted
  • Sleeps poorly or sleeps too much
  • Does not want to play
  • Avoids looking at you directly
  • Wants to be left alone
  • Growls when approached
  • Has accidents in the house even though housebroken

Keep in mind that any of these behaviors may happen initially when you bring your new pup home. Moving into a new home is a huge adjustment! Think about that last time you moved. If you find your dog hiding a lot, he may be anxious or afraid of his new surroundings. However, there could be other reasons for this. See my post about dogs hiding in corners and behind plants and How to Comfort and Heal a Rescue Dog for more information about rescue dog trauma.

After I brought my two 6-year-old dogs home who was fully housebroken, one of them kept having peeing accidents on my off-white Berber carpet. It seemed to happen when she was a little stressed or anxious about something. It was annoying but we got through it and she settled down over time. I also discovered a few months later that she had a minor stomach infection, which could have also contributed to the accidents.

Some dogs have never lived inside a nice home. Others may have been with a family before, but they are unsure of the new rules and routines. All of this can be unsettling. Try to put yourself in their paws and appreciate what it may be like to get used to you, your rules, and your home. Be sure to see my post about Free-Roaming Dogs, who often have a very hard life. Dogs who are well cared for in a loving home, are much happier and have a better life.

In Summary

Give your new rescue dog some time, love, and support, and they will probably not only be happy, but grateful to get a second chance! Be sure to visit rescuedogs101.com to learn more about bringing a new dog home and getting him settled. They discuss the 3-3-3 rule regarding the first 3 days, 3 weeks, and 3 months and how a dog adapts at each stage. You can also see my post First Day in My New Home Through A Rescue Dog’s Eyes, for a whimsical but informative view of what it may be like to be adopted.