Any dog owner will tell you that there is no better feeling in the world than spending some quality time with your furry companion. And when your dog flops onto their back, tongue out, to await tummy scratches how can you say no?
But is this just a funny quirk that some dogs have? Or do dogs really like belly rubs and if so, why?
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What are some of the reasons dogs like belly rubs?
- Trust – Belly rubs are a great way for your dog to show you that they trust you. When a dog is comfortable enough with you that it will roll onto its back it means it trusts you enough to expose its most vulnerable parts to you and a gentle rub of the belly can let your dog know that
- Love – One of the most simple reasons as to why dogs love belly rubs is that when we pet them it releases oxytocin (the love hormone). This is a great way for both human and dog to express their love for one another whilst also strengthening their bond.
- Learned behaviour – If you’ve had your dog since a puppy and have always given them belly rubs and scratches, then they may have learned that this is a great way to spend time with you. Your dog will remember getting belly rubs as an opportunity for bonding so will look to repeat this behaviour into adulthood.
- Stimulates hair follicles – If you’ve ever experienced a head massage, chances are you loved it and this is exactly the same for dogs and belly rubs! They enjoy it because it makes them feel relaxed, loved and secure.
- Dogs struggle to scratch their own bellies – Sometimes your dog simply has an itch they can’t scratch and needs a little help. So sometimes when your pup rolls over for those belly rubs, make sure to indulge them and lend a helping hand – they’ll thank you for it!
Does my dog actually want a belly rub?
When your dog rolls on their back they could be asking for a belly rub or they may be showing a sign of submission. It is important to pay attention to the rest of your pup’s body language to determine which this is.
Signs your dog wants a belly rub:
- Loose, wiggly and open body language
- Relaxed, opened mouth, sometimes with the tongue hanging out
- Open eyes, not staring at anything
- Relaxed breathing
- Happy and relaxed wagging tail
On the other hand, your dog may be presenting submissive body language in an attempt to diffuse any tension they may feel.
By rolling on their back and exposing their vulnerable parts they are showing that they’re not a threat.
Signs your dog is being submissive:
- Tense body language, they may even freeze up
- Mouth closed with lots of lip licking
- Squinted and tense eyes, or they may look at you without turning their head – exposing the whites of their eyes
- Soft whining or whimpering
- Still or tense wagging tail, often with the end tucked up
It is important to keep an eye on your dog’s behaviour to make sure that they are comfortable with you petting them on their belly, as touching this vulnerable area of a submissive dog may end up making them even more nervous and they could even lash out in defense.
It should also be noted that if your dog usually loves belly rubs but stops enjoying them or seems pained, then it could be an issue with their tummy or their back.
If this happens it may be a good idea to monitor them for other signs of illness or take them for a check up at the vets.
What if my dog doesn’t like belly rubs?
Dogs are just like people in that each one has their own personality and preferences! Just because humans generally like hugs, not all do and dogs are exactly the same.
Whilst some may love having their belly rubbed, others may prefer to show their love by playing fetch or having a game of tug of war.
The best way to tell if your dog loves you is if your dog enjoys your company. If your pup loves to go for walks with you, or curl up next to you on the couch then you have nothing to worry about.
If you are unfamiliar with your dog’s background it could also mean that they’ve previously had an unpleasant experience and don’t feel comfortable having their belly touched – this is totally fine too, just make sure to respect your pooch’s wishes and don’t force any belly rubs if they are not wanted.
So if belly rubs aren’t your dog’s thing, don’t feel bad! It’s not your fault and is nothing to worry about. And most importantly it definitely doesn’t mean that they dont love or trust you as much as the dogs who do!
We now know that dogs love to have their bellies rubbed by people they trust. Belly rubs are a great way for humans and dogs to strengthen their bond, whilst also making your pooch feel happy, safe and secure.
The science behind belly rubs seems to suggest that dogs actually get enjoyment from being touched by their owners, feel relaxed by it or are simply using you as a good scratch to an itch!
However some dogs may just not care for having their belly rubbed and this is completely normal. For whatever reason your dog may or may not like belly rubs, the most important thing to remember is to respect your dog’s boundaries.
Pay attention to their body language and as long as you respect their wishes you and your dog will get along great.
So regardless of whether your dog likes rubs or not, dogs just want to spend time with their owners. Take time to explore what it is your dog enjoys and make sure to bond over those things, whatever they may be.