Why Do Dogs Like Their Bellies Rubbed

December 8, 2015 :: Posted by laryarnett

Did you ever wonder why most dogs like belly rubs so much that some will actually demand a good rub? When a dog rolls over and offers his belly for rubbing the invitation is nearly impossible to resist. Exposed dog tummies beckon a good rub or scratch but why do so many dogs like it so much?

Some dogs can’t resist a good belly rub, and the reasons are both behavioral and neurological.  Dogs will generally roll over on their backs for a nice belly rub from people they trust most. The submissive element doesn’t mean the pup is not enjoying the rub. If the dog is comfortable with the person who is petting him, the pup will sometimes roll onto his back to increase belly access. It seems in these dogs; the belly rub feels good. While showing off his tummy is a conscious act that speaks to his relationship with you, your dog also undergoes a neurological reaction when you start stroking his fur. The combination of the two can make tummy rubbing a wholly satisfying experience for your pet — if he lets you do it in the first place.

While at its core, rolling over onto the back is considered a submissive behavior, this differs for cats when they expose their bellies. Cats often lie on their backs in a defensive posture, which shouldn’t be interpreted as an invitation for a belly rub.

When your dog displays his tummy for a rubdown, he is performing an act that is, at its core, submissive. Rolling over to show you his belly leaves him physically vulnerable, and represents a strong degree of both trust and submission to you. Rubbing his belly just plain feels good, much like other types of petting, but it also shows him that his trust and submission were well-placed, and that you won’t take advantage of his vulnerability.

Playful submission shouldn’t be confused with frightened submission which is sometimes happening when a dog rolls on his back as soon as he is approached. If this behavior is accompanied by other submissive posture such as tucking tails or licking lips, attempting a belly run is not the best response-at least not at first, as the pup could feel intimidated by someone leaning in for a rub. While most dogs tend to enjoy a nice belly rub it should never be forced. If you force a dog onto his back, you’re likely going to create other anxious behaviors. There are plenty of ways to gain a dog’s trust. By forcing a dog to do something they’re not comfortable with, you’re going to lose trust in the process for these dogs. The best way to help them feel comfortable is to get down low, approaching them at their level and call them over to you without leaning or reaching into them. This helps to earn trust.

If you’re unsure about your dog’s comfort level, check to see how tense he looks. A relaxed dog will look loose and floppy. If your dog shows any signs of being uncomfortable such as tucking his tail between his legs or hunching up his body, stop and move away. If your dog moves away or seems to relax once you stop, that’s a good signal he’s not comfortable with the belly rub. If he wants more he’ll let you know; dogs have a great way of asking us for what they want.

Belly Rub Love – Is it Science?

Science also plays a role in why your dog likes tummy rubbing, and his appreciation for the rub is linked to the reasons he enjoys all types of petting. Dogs have a specific brain neuron that responds to the stimulation of hair follicles which means when you rub his tummy, the stroking of his tiny belly hairs is actually providing a specific type of stimulation in your dog’s brain. This neurological stimulation is only possible through stroking, which makes petting, like belly rubs, uniquely satisfying.

Why Does My Dog’s Leg Kick When I Rub His Belly?

While your dog may love tummy rubs, don’t confuse his uncontrollable leg-kicking with the throes of ecstasy. The leg-kicking associated with tummy rubs is often considered a sign of your dog’s enjoyment, but in reality, this is an involuntary reaction. It’s call the “scratch reflex” or “tickle response” and it’s much like kicking your own leg when a doctor tests your reflexes with a mallet to the knee. It activates nerves under his skin which are connected to the spinal cord. It relays a message for him to kick his legs to get rid of the irritant, much like when their skin twitches when a bug lands on their back. It’s an automatic response that helps keep your dog away from danger – the spinal cord tells the leg to kick before the conscious brain makes the decision. It’s a matter of self-preservation.

So when Fido looks at you with a confused face and his legs start to kick you’ll know why. No more ‘tickling.’ Well you can but your dog would probably prefer if you just moved your petting to another spot.

At Central Bark Doggy Day Care, we specialize in doggy belly rubs for our friends who like this kind of attention. And, unlike some doggy day cares, we don’t charge extra for this type of love and affection. If you’d like to know more about a Central Bark Doggy Day Care near you, just fetch a location or fill out our easy online enrollment form.

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  1. erica
    October 26, 2019 at 11:31 am

    Every time I go near my dog he offers his belly for a scratch which in turn makes his leg move.
    From what I can see he enjoys it immensely, but is their a limit to how often you should do the “belly rub”

    1. ediayi
      October 29, 2019 at 3:59 pm

      Hi Erica!
      Pay close attention to your dog’s body language to determine if your dog is enjoying the attention and belly rub. If they are enjoying it, that’s great! If they seem stressed or uncomfortable in any way, I would switch to a different kind of praise and attention they are more comfortable with.

  2. Pingback: New research shows hugs may give dogs anxiety. 10 things to try instead. | Justworthsharing

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