Can a Pet Be ‘Too Happy?’

Recently Psychology Today published an article by Dr. Marc Bekoff entitled, “Can Animals Be Too Happy or Have Too Much Fun?

Is my dog happy enough? Does it matter?
Is my dog happy enough? Does it matter?

He doesn’t have the answer, but does point to some compelling evidence that this may be the case. For instance, a lamb at play runs into a cactus and starts bleating. This could tip off predators that the animal is injured.

That got me thinking about our domesticated companion animals- dogs and cats.

We buy tons of toys and treats, trek to the dog park and daycare, and bring our companions with us, sometimes when we really shouldn’t, all in an effort to make them “happy.”

Should happiness be the goal?

Healthy play for an animal is good exercise, and that keeps our companions healthy, just as it does us. Treats can be used as a reward. Toys can fill the void for a companion when we’re gone.

But should I be concerned whether or not my dog or cat is happy? And if so, to what extent?

What do you think?

29 thoughts on “Can a Pet Be ‘Too Happy?’

  1. I believe as a pet owner, we need to know to the best of our ability if our animals are happy. Whether it be change in moods and eating habits.
    Yes i agree that we tend to do things sometimes that are not necessary.
    I think if they could speak, we would be in for a shock.
    But healthy lifestyle, with plenty exercise and love always makes for a happy pet.

  2. I don’t think I have the answer…all I know is Forrest is happy that he is home and safe after a nasty snake encounter this Saturday….and I am happy he is alive…for him happy at the moment is a warm bed by the fire a full tummy and the companionship of Doc and the cats and hopefully us humans..is he happy or content? hugs Fozziemum xx

  3. differing from cats and wild animals, dogs are innately happy. Happiness is burned into their DNA. Now, that’s not to say that we – the creatures they’ve evolved to love and depend on – can’t make them unhappy, but if we care for our dogs, and don’t abuse or neglect them, they will pretty much be happy on their own.

      1. Yes, and I appreciate your attempt to make me feel better about myself, but I’m a grammar cop. I’m gonna have to bring my own self in for interrogation. 🙂

  4. I’m always concerned that my pups are happy. Isn’t that what drives humans? We do this or that in an effort to be happy. But my definition of happiness for my pups is for them to know they are loved and they are safe and that I will always make sure that is the case. Snacks are nice, I like ’em too. As are gifts and toys, which I buy for myself as well. I don’t think that is only reserved for pets. But as long as they know that I love them and will protect them and keep them safe I believe they are happy and that is enough for me.

    Sent from my iPhone

  5. I always worry if my pets are happy or not. Usually there is no doubt in my mind, being huskies they have numerous facial expressions to show their emotions as well as their body language. Sometimes though, you can tell when something is bothering one of them, and yes, I do try and cheer them up. Usually it is a jealousy matter, when I will be giving some love to one of them, the other seems to get depressed! Not all the time, but sometimes, so I will then go over and sit with the other for a few and cheer her up. My dogs are my kids and I like to know that they are happy. To what extent? I am not entirely sure.
    Great post.
    ღ husky hugz ღ frum our pack at Love is being owned by a husky!

  6. I have cats. I don’t need to make them happy. I just provide a healthy safe environment. They are happiest when they are doing things I would prefer they don’t do, like pushing things off tables or hacking out a nasty hairball. They do make me happy though.

  7. Guess it depends on the definition of “happy”. “Spoiled” and over indulged isn’t “happiness” for dogs or people. Molly can get “too happy”/over excited until she’s out of control and Malamute hyperactive manic energy behaving wildly and could hurt someone with her happiness. With this high energy rescue (that sometimes forgets people don’t play like other sled dogs) we try to keep her contented, well exercised, and practice behaviors that will assure people like her as much as she likes them. She’s not always “happy” about that, but it’s necessary to be socialize and safe. If left to her own devices, she’d happily eat the house, dig up the yard, rip clothing as she tries to get people to notice her and play, run full speed into people and shoulder them like sled dog play. All the stuff that got her tossed from home to home and finally the streets. She’s happy when she’s in control of herself. Some dogs do need jobs. It all depends on the dog and temperament – responsible owners have to judge the difference between spoiled and keeping them healthy, busy, and happy. (or they eat the house)
    Great topic!

  8. Like the other readers say, me too…I’m often worried if my companion animals are having a happy life being with me….especially cats…because dogs are very loyal animal and they love having their owners, but cats….ours are all from outside and we took their outside life away….of course for their safety though…..I ask myself, what if cats love being outside in their life….am I wasting their lives? still can’t find the answer….

  9. Living as close to their nature is the best way for a dog, cat, animal to live. Not altered for “our” benefit. Your post makes an excellent point about what the “treat happiness etc” conditioning can result in. Good point. Doesn’t mean to stop treats, toys, etc. but understand the purpose and keep the animals welfare in mind first and foremost, not ones own.

  10. TOO MUCH HAPPINESS???? NEVER could THAT be. BRING IT ON. That is what Ernie and I (Frankie Furter) say…. BRING IT ON.

  11. I don’t have a lot of expressions, so Mom never knows for sure if I’m happy. She thinks I’m happiest when we are walking and I am being well behaved. I think I am happiest when we are cuddling and resting together.

    Love and licks,
    Cupcake

  12. I definitely believe it’s important for an animal to be happy. They have emotions, just like humans. They have more complex psychological and emotional systems than most people realize, but that science is just now discovering. If someone has a pet, it’s critical for that animal to be happy within that environment. That way they’ll be more protective and loving towards the humans in the home, which turns out best for everyone.

  13. Dogs are people too, so yeah, they should be happy. They can sense if you are happy or not, and try to comfort you when you are sick or hurting, so why shouldn’t try to make them happy also? It takes so little, an extra hug or cuddle, and gives them so much reassurance. And so little effort on your part, so give them that extra belly rub or hug and see how rewarding it is to both of you.

  14. What’s too happy for a pet? Rumpy, for having Jen home and giving you cookies makes you extremely happy. Can you be too happy, errr. no. Fundamentally you are a happy dog. Somethings may make you happier, but you are a happy dog. You even had a sense of humor with your teeth.

    BJ was blatant about his unhappiness with a recent situation with a foster dog i was going to adopt. He showed me clearly when he was unhappy. As soon as the foster was out of the house, BJ’s mood completely changed. He is now a happy pup.

  15. As long as people don’t confuse “happy” with over indulged and spoiled, so that they create brats and monsters (just the same as with human children), then no, I do not believe there can be too much happiness. It is when happiness is confused with overindulgence and appeasement of every whim/the inability to say no and set boundaries that then the “too much” part comes in to play.

  16. A lifetime of their company has shown me that dogs are intrinsically happy creatures, content with giving and receiving love and, as such, an example to humankind. Misuse and cruelty can subvert a dog’s optimistic, cheerful, outgoing disposition but the strong desire to love and share joy is difficult to eradicate completely. Kemo Sabe and Pip x

  17. I think we should do everything we can to make them content. I mean arranging for them to have everything they need depending on the animal, not the things humans want and enjoy. For example, speaking personally, I’d rather go on a long hike than have a birthday cake.

  18. What a compelling subject! I do not think our 4 leggeds can be ‘too happy’. They are thinking feeling beings. Maybe they do not have complex reasoning skills (altho I think they just might) our 4 leggeds feel a range of emotions.
    Nylablue came to me as a mystery. She was aloof & polite. She did her own thing & accepted the food, toys & shelter provided. Was she happy? From my point of view she did not ‘appear’ happy; just ‘there’ if that makes sense.
    We started to bond 3 months after she was with me (after I was assaulted & almost killed). From that point on she & I became closer & closer. I see that my LOVE has made her happy. The gifts I give her & the gifts sent make her happy. Me singing to her & kissing her makes her happy. Being out on a warm day in her Condo makes her VERY happy!!!!
    This has been my mission since I rescued Nylablue. To make her as healthy as I could & to give her the chance to know love & be happy!!!
    Despite her health problems & Vetting she is still very happy & so am I….
    Sherri-Ellen & Nylablue ❤ ❤

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