We often see dogs lying on their backs, paws in the air without a care in the world!
According to pet experts, this adorable position is one of the most vulnerable positions that dogs can lie down in - indicating comfort and trust in their surroundings.
When a dog lies down next to you and rolls onto its back, it’s only natural to reach out for a loving belly rub!
Showing this type of affection can be incredibly enjoyable for dogs, but why? Find out more about why dogs like belly rubs and tickles below:
- Why do dogs roll on their backs?
- Is my dog asking for a belly rub?
- What does it mean if a dog lets you rub its belly?
- Why do some dogs love belly rubs?
- What is a dog scratch reflex?
- How to give the perfect belly rub:
Why do dogs roll on their backs?
There are a few reasons why dogs roll on their backs. When dogs roll over and expose their bellies while awake, they are usually doing so to show complete trust and relaxation in your presence.
This position can also be a sign of submission, it's a dog's way of showing that they’re not a threat! This is often referred to as 'appeasement display', and it is a behaviour that is common in nervous or anxious dogs.
Dogs also commonly roll onto their backs while sleeping, and this is their way of cooling down when they get too hot. Dogs exchange heat through their paws, so positioning their paws up in the air helps to decrease their body temperature.
Is my dog asking for a belly rub?
It’s important to understand your dog’s body language, and recognise what he or she is trying to communicate to you. When happy dogs roll onto their backs as a display of relaxation, chances are they will happily accept a loving belly rub or tickle.
On the other hand, if a dog is rolling onto its back as a way of showing submissive behaviour, belly rubbing is not recommended. This is because a dog’s tummy is one of the most vulnerable parts of their body, and touching this area while they’re feeling anxious will only make their nervous state worse.
Signs your dog wants a belly rub:
- Lying on their backs close to you
- Tail is relaxed, it might be still or wagging
- Mouth might be open with tongue flopping out
- Body position is at ease, not tensed up
- Eyes are wide open as opposed to squinting
- Your dog might gently paw at you as encouragement
What does it mean if a dog lets you rub its belly?
Veterinary behaviourist experts explain that dogs let their human owners rub their bellies when they feel completely at ease and relaxed in their presence.
If a dog is comfortable enough to let you do this, it means that they feel safe with you. It can be a good indicator that your dog feels part of the family, as dog belly rubs are a strong sign your dog trusts you.
Why do dogs like belly rubs?
For a lot of dogs, belly rubs feel incredibly soothing and relaxing. This calming sensation triggers a specific reaction in their brain that responds to hair follicle stimulation.
Dogs, like humans, also release endorphins and oxytocin through methods of touch, so rubbing a dog’s belly can help with bonding and affection. Ultimately, dogs like belly rubs because they feel good!
What is a 'dog scratch reflex'?
A dog’s scratch reflex is an involuntary response that most pups will exhibit when stimulated in their saddle region. This reflex can also be produced in other areas of the body, such as ears and paws.
Interestingly, this response helps to protect dogs from sources of irritation, such as fleas, flies and ticks. It gets triggered by clusters of nerves that are located under a dog’s skin.
When a dog’s scratch reflex gets set off, it usually results in the involuntary kicking of a dog’s hind legs. So, if you rub or tickle your dog’s belly, there's no need to be alarmed if you find that your dog kicks its legs in response.
Do dogs like this scratch reflex sensation?
Despite this reflex existing to create an action that will stop irritation, dogs actually enjoy the scratching sensation. You usually don’t need to worry about triggering your dog’s scratch reflex, as long as they don’t show any signs of distress or discomfort.
How to give the perfect belly rub:
It’s important to understand that not all dogs enjoy belly rubs, so you should always monitor your dog’s response to this display of affection and stop if they show any signs of discomfort.
If this type of contact is something your dog looks forward to, you should try to ensure they get the most out of it! If you’re wondering how to give a good belly rub, the key is adapting your style to your dog's response.
Improve your belly rubbing skills in five simple steps:
Step 1: Wait for your dog to lie down near you and roll onto its back. If your dog is lying on its tummy, you shouldn’t ever try to roll it onto its back for a belly rub. This is an important part of respecting your dog’s personal space, and this respect is what helps to build trust between you and your pup.
Step 2: Get down to your dogs level by kneeling or crouching down. Your mood and body language is important here, dogs are highly attuned to human emotion and can sense feelings of anxiety. So stay relaxed!
Step 3: Start to gently rub your dog’s belly in circular motions. At this point, you should only rub your dog’s belly for 5 - 10 seconds, and then stop.
Step 4: Wait to see how your dog responds to you stopping the belly rub. If he or she rolls back onto their tummy, or gets up and walks away, it means that belly rub time is over. However, if your dog shows signs of enjoyment, or stays positioned on its back, you can carry on. Some dogs may even paw at their owners to indicate that they want more.
Step 5: Over time, you can try different methods of belly rubbing. Mix it up between rubbing, tickling and patting your dog’s belly to learn what they enjoy best!
It all comes down to being aware of your dog’s body language, and your own. You need to be able to read your dog’s behaviour and respond accordingly.
While you should never force anything on your canine companion that will make them feel uncomfortable, a good belly rub or tickle can be a great way to show affection! Discover more ways to strengthen the bond and connection with your pup in our guide to dog love and affection.
Does your dog love a belly rub? Let us know in the comments below!