13 Ways To Distinguish Whether Your Pug Is Sad (And What To Do)

Dogs are said to have about 100 different expressions (Prime Vet, 2019). This makes it easy for humans to misconstrue canine behaviors, mood and intentions. Specific breeds like the pug are said to always look sad due to their facial expressions. But are they really?

Pugs tend to be very jovial, social, and playful. However, being a brachycephalic breed means that they have some very definitive facial characteristics that may be misinterpreted for sadness. Ultimately, a pug’s body language is the most telling sign for whether they are happy or sad.

Although a pug may look sad, it may not be associated with actual feelings of unhappiness. There are other signs to look out for and they’re usually revealed through their actions. This includes a lack of engagement, loss of appetite, and a change in their habitual behaviors. It’s important to be aware of these as it can even be an indication of an underlying health problem.

1. Facial Characteristics & Expressions

Pugs fall into the brachycephalic category of breeds in the canine kingdom. This means that they have very definitive features including a shortened head, flat face and short nose. Due to the structure of their face and head, it naturally gives them a frown, which may get misinterpreted for sadness. They have proportionally big eyes, wrinkles, and have eyebrows that make them look particularly pitiful when raised. Evidently, it looks similar to a wide-eyed look of a sad human. But we need to remember that we can’t project our facial expressions onto a pug to perceive how they feel.

Despite this, pugs are known to be very happy creatures and have a wonderful temperament. Their appearance should not be used to translate feelings of happiness or sadness. Rather, we can look to their facial expressions for a better read of their general mood. For example, when dogs smile, experts believe that it means that they are happy and contented. It can also be seen as a submissive grin, which can be a sign that your dog wants to appease you (Strutner, 2015).

Lip licking on the other hand can be a sign of anxiousness. They may be feeling discomfort within a given situation, and excessively lick as a coping mechanism. It’s important to figure out what might be causing them to stress. Perhaps it’s due to a drastic change in their surroundings or environment. Whatever the case may be, it may be worthwhile taking your pup to the vet for a diagnosis.

Ultimately, looking sad doesn’t necessarily mean that they are unhappy. A pug’s anatomical structure may show a frown on their face, but a pug’s actual feelings can be exhibited through various factors including facial expressions and body language.

2. Tail Wagging

Tail wagging can often be misinterpreted for emotional arousal and excitement for a dog. While it does generally ring true, there can be different connotations in different contexts. A dog’s feelings and intentions can be interpreted by the speed and direction of their wag, as well as the tail position. For example, a higher tail may signal aggression or preparedness. Neutral tails might mean that they’re curios, relaxed or happy (if there is a healthy wag), while a lowered tail will usually represent submissiveness.

The speed of a dog’s tail wag can range from slow to fast. A slower wag might mean that your pug is feeling insecure about something. A faster wag is usually an indicator of excitement. Sometimes, they’ll be so so excited and friendly with guests that they will wiggle their hips side-to-side as well. However, if an active threat is perceived, the wag may be fast but the tail will be positioned vertically, and this usually represents aggression.

3. Body Posture

A pug’s mood and intention can be told through the postures of their body. Their body language can communicate stress, happiness, relaxation, and insecurity. Looking out for these is vital to ensure that you are aware of their feelings in a given situation. For example, the play bow implies that they want to play and are inviting other dogs and humans to respond to their initiation. As implied by the name, play bows usually involve a dog lowering their chest to the ground while having their bottoms raised in the air.

On the other hand, a sign of stress or fear can be exhibited through cowering postures. When hunching towards the ground, their intention is to look smaller so that they can get away from a situation by signalling that they don’t pose a threat. Additionally, rolling onto their back and exposing their belly is an extreme sign of submission. It represents stress and anxiety in tense scenarios. This same action shouldn’t be confused for a dog wanting a belly rub, which represents extreme trust. That’s because they would be in a much more relaxed state in comparison.

4. Eyes

Pugs have large protruding eyes that are not only adorable, but they can also help us understand how they might be feeling. Generally, they will have softer eyes that indicate calmness and happiness. Maintaining eye contact with their owners release the “love hormone” oxytocin. This chemical helps strengthen the bond between a dog and its owner. Oxytocin is also released when a newborn stares and its mother, thus signifying the importance and the role that it plays in boosting love and trust. It’s no wonder why dogs are known as “man’s best friend”.

There will come times however when your pug will give its complete attention to something by hard staring at it. This usually signals a threat, and can be followed by some aggressive behaviors. When feeling stressed and wanting to express discomfort, they can also choose to avoid eye contact with you. Finally, a pug that shows the whites of their eyes is another key indicator of stress and anxiousness. Look out for this when you think your dog may be feeling uncomfortable or threatened in a given situation. It may be as simple as them thinking that their favorite toy or bone may be taken away.

5. Panting

Pugs may have difficulty breathing due to the structure of their face. Having a shorter nose means that they need to work harder to cool down as well. Panting is common in hot temperatures or when overexerted after exercising. But if your pup responds with a relaxed pant when given affection and praise, it’s a sign of a happy pug. You’ll generally notice this during a head massage or when given a belly rub.

6. Raise Hackles

Raised hackles, hair behind a dog’s head or neck, are an involuntary reflex that’s triggered when aroused. Think of this as being similar to when humans get goosebumps. It can have multiple meanings depending on the given situation. This includes, excitement, nervousness, fear, anxiety, and anger.

Most commonly, raised hackles is associated with extreme excitement that’s triggered during playtime with another dog. The rest of their body language will match their intent to socialize and engage with their canine friends. On the other hand, it can also be displayed in times of nervousness and anxiety. There are many considerations to factor in and context of a situation is important. The rest of a pug’s body language will tell how they’re feeling about something or someone. It’s important to understand your dog’s behaviors as fear can turn into aggression in a matter of seconds. Doing so will ensure that our dogs will live a healthy and emotionally happy life.

7. Loss of Appetite

Pugs are very motivated by food and will let go of their stubborn streak when there is an opportunity to be fed. It’s more uncommon to find leftovers in their dog bowl than not. So when a pug is not finishing their meals or responding positively to treats, then there may be an issue. Their appetite can speak volumes about their mood and even health.

If factors including their diet, lifestyle, exercise have not changed, then stress may be the culprit. They may be feeling sad as a result of an underlying health issue for example. It’s highly recommended that you seek professional advice from your vet as soon as this is noticed. Our pups won’t be able to communicate feelings of sadness with you verbally, but will rather do so through their actions.

8. Loss of Interest & Engagement

If you find a behavioral shift in your pug, this may be another sign of sadness, anxiety, and stress. Pugs always want to be part of the action and thoroughly enjoys playtime when there is a chance for it. If they’re not being responsive and seemed to have lost interest, then you may need to ask yourself several questions. Perhaps they’ve been neglected and haven’t received enough attention. Or maybe there has been a big shift in their lifestyle that may be causing signs of stress.

Lifestyle changes can be very impactful for a dog. Moving houses, having new additions to the household, and even a change in routine may cause them to be anxious. A sad pug is easy to spot, and there are things we can do to turn that frown upside down. A change in their surroundings can be made easier by making their living space comfortable and familiar with their favorite toys. I’d recommend exploring the new area together as well to show that this is new surrounding is safe. Regarding new additions to households (guests, roommates, and babies), work on building a new sense of trust so they aren’t perceiving them as threats. Alternatively, having someone moved out can be stressful for a pug as well. Finally, you will want to work on acclimating them to a new schedule slowly so that the change in their routine is not so drastic.

9. Velcro Dog

Pugs are known to be “velcro” dogs, and this means that they are very attached to their owners. They’ll follow you around the house like they’re your shadow. It’s part of their nature to be a lap dog and are known to be one of the best breeds for companionship. When they want to do everything that you do, they are being submissive. This means that they are content and happy. If they’ve seemingly lost interest in you, it’s a very poignant sign of their mood.

A dog may avoid their owners due to a lack of training or when inappropriately punished. But if this is a recent behavior change then it may be a sign of depression. If no new situational changes have occurred, it’s important that you figure out the cause for this. Serious underlying illnesses have the potential to affect your pug this way, and so ignoring you may just be how they deal with. Diseases can impact a dog’s mental health and enthusiasm towards you. Early detection is vital so when noticed, it’s worthwhile checking them in at the vet for a diagnosis. Some more obvious signs include, uncontrollable urination and defecation, vomiting, and fevers.

10. Behavior Change

If you already own a pug, you’ll know that they are very affectionate, calm, docile, and playful dogs. They’re very attentive and love to be by your side. However, if there is a noticeable behavior shift then it’s worth noting. Newfound aggression, increased or decreased affection, and their willingness to engage are some clear signs of sadness. It can be the result of a lack of affection shown to them or even them feeling territorial about how much attention they’re receiving. It’s unhealthy and can lead to separation anxiety.

These are clear signs of stress and should be addressed by finding the reasoning behind it. Going for daily walks, providing positive affirmations, and ensuring that they are mentally stimulated is important. If you’ve attempted to fix this behavior but is seemingly useless, then perhaps it’s worthwhile seeking advice from a vet or animal behaviorist. They will be able to help diagnose and implement a plan for pug to get out of this seemingly depressive rut.

11. Health & Underlying Conditions

Undiagnosed health issues and diseases may put your pug into a depressive state. It will have an impact on their mental and physical health. While they’re not able to tell you what is wrong, their actions will speak volumes. A shift in their behavior, routine, and mood should be noted and shared with your vet. They should be able to freely play without signs of ache. Sometimes health issues will be more noticeable when showing signs of sickness or disease.

Some common pug health problems to look for include:

RespiratoryExcessive panting, struggling to breath, and gasping for air.
EyesVision loss, incoordination, weeping eyes, excessive tearing, discoloured and thick discharge, and unusual spots in and around the eyes.
SkinItchiness, pimples, bumps, and blisters.
Bone & JointHopping, limping, difficulty getting up and down, jumping, and when one leg is favored.
SeizuresEpilepsy and extreme twitching, especially during sleep.

12. Destructive Behaviors

Destructive behaviors like chewing furniture and using the toilet indoors when they shouldn’t, can be the result of excessive energy but also disorders like separation anxiety. When a pug has too much pent up energy, they may engage in such behaviors. It usually due to them not getting enough exercise and attention. It’s vital that they’re stimulated physically and mentally on a daily basis, and that can be achieved through exercise, training, and smart toys.

If these needs are being adequately met and you don’t think it’s because of social isolation and having excessive energy that’s pent up, it can be related to some sort of behavioral disorder. They may be lashing out in an attempt to cope with feelings of anxiety and fear. Separation anxiety can be common amongst pug due to their clingy nature. A pug suffering from separation anxiety will panic when their owner is not present. There are techniques mentioned in this article that can be implemented to help deal with it. However, if none are effective then seeking help from a veterinary behaviorist can help relieve some anxiety for your pup through behavioral modification training.

13. Sleeping Habits

Being aware of your dog’s sleeping patterns is important. Adult pugs can sleep up to 14 total hours per day. This will include naps throughout the day. But if they’re sleeping much more compared to usual, then it can be a sign of depression. For example, if you arrive home and they decide to continue sleeping rather than greeting you with excitement at the door, something is probably wrong. Obviously, you’ll want to check for any physical issues first and foremost. If there is nothing glaring, it’s likely that they are sad and discontent.

Alternatively, if they have irregular or disturbed sleeping patterns, then this may contribute to the previous point. Physical health issues can cause extreme stress and anxiety, which eventually leads to insomnia. It’s also worth noting that senior dogs can suffer from brain degeneration, and this may also disrupt their usual sleeping patterns. I’d advise seeking advice from your vet as they can help diagnose and treat the issue.

Techniques That Can Help Cheer Up A Depressed Pug

Some of these techniques may have already been covered but below is a helpful list of ways that can be implemented to help deal with a sad or depressed pug. While it is recommended to seek professional help from a vet or animal behaviorist, you can also start with these to help alleviate any immediate stress or anxieties.

  • Exercise – physical and mental stimulation is important for pugs with pent up and excessive energy. It’ll help calm them and reduce stress levels for a happier pug.
  • Attention – ensuring that a pug gets enough attention and affection is important. They crave social interactions and will be visibly upset when isolated.
  • Treats – a special treat is the easiest way to pick up their mood. Smart toys can keep them entertained, while long-lasting treats can keep them busy for hours. Not only that, they’re usually great for their teeth and dental hygiene.
  • New interactions – our furry friends are very curios creatures. New experiences are important to keep them happy. Exploring new areas and playing with new friends and dogs at the dog park can help keep them stimulated and jolly.
  • A safe space – when they aren’t with their pack, especially when we’re at work, it’s important that the area that they’re kept in is comfortable. Having blankets, their favorite toys, and treats around can help alleviate feelings of sadness while alone.

Related Questions

Why do pugs cry so much? Constant whimpering and whining can be signs of separation anxiety. Other times, they want your attention or the food that you’re eating. It’s important that you ignore them so that the behavior is not rewarded.

How do you punish a pug? It’s important to avoid any physical forms of punishment, as this will lead to fear and anxiety. Pugs respond best to positive reinforcement training which include praises, treats, and physical attention.

Do pugs cry real tears? No, pugs excrete tears in order to flush out dirt, dust, and other debris from their eyes. The consistency should be clear and runny, but if the discharge is thick and yellow, green or even brown, then this can signal underlying health issues.



Strutner, S., 2015. What Dogs REALLY Mean When They Smile, Yawn Or Stare At You.

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