If you’ve ever been presented with a wriggling dog belly to rub, you probably know how adorable this behavior can be. Dogs that flop over to enjoy a good scratch on the tummy remind us to enjoy the little moments in life – but they also leave us wondering why it is that dogs like belly rubs.
This seems like such a strange place to enjoy affection to us, and if you think about the way that dogs express submission, it may seem like offering up a vulnerable part of the body for a rub is strange. But the truth is that there are several reasons that dogs like belly rubs. Here’s what you need to know:
Top 3 Reasons Dogs Like Belly Rubs
There are three main reasons that dogs love belly rubs (that humans know about, anyway!). The first reason is that it simply feels good! Think about how good it feels when you, or someone else, lightly scratches your scalp.
The skin under your hair doesn’t get touched as often as your other skin, and for many of us, it’s buried under hair that can get itchy. Well, a dog’s entire body is covered in hair, which means they get itchy all over. That relieving sensation that you feel scratching under your hair is the same sensation that a dog feels getting their belly rubbed. You can tell that a dog is enjoying this feeling by their very relaxed body language.
Another reason that dogs like belly rubs is that it is a trust-building activity. By showing you a vulnerable part of the body, your dog is telling you that they trust you. When you react by doing something that feels good, it solidifies the bond between the two of you.
Some dog behaviorists even believe that dogs like belly rubs because it is very similar to being groomed by a mother or another dog. This activity is one of the ways that dogs bond with each other, and so by doing something similar with you, they are just saying “You’re my best friend!”
Finally, science tells us that stimulating a dog’s fur by stroking the hairs, actually causes certain neurons in the brain to activate. These neurons are responsible for making a dog feel relaxed and happy. By stroking their fur, you’re helping the dog to calm down and enjoy life.
How Can You Tell If a Dog Wants a Belly Rub?
It’s always a good idea to make sure a dog actually wants a belly rub before you just start reaching for their stomach. Remember that dogs are animals, and that all animals have an instinct to protect their vulnerable body parts. If your dog isn’t in the mood, or doesn’t like belly rubs, they could see this behavior as threatening.
If your dog moves away when you try to give them a belly rub, or they stiffen up and stop wagging their tail or moving at all when you rub their belly, chances are they are not very comfortable with what is happening.
One thing to watch closely is your dog’s tail. If they keep it loose and relaxed, they are likely okay with the belly rub. If the tail curls up between the legs, or becomes very stiff, your dog may not be interested in a belly rub. And if a dog starts to show signs of aggression, such as bared teeth, warning growls, or flattened ears, you definitely don’t want to push the belly rub on them.
Why Do Dogs Kick Their Leg During a Belly Rub?
Have you ever given a dog a belly rub, and watched as their leg started to kick, almost as though they were scratching the air? Many people think this means a dog is ticklish. In reality, this response is called a scratch reflex.
It’s very similar to the kicking reflex that humans have when a doctor taps a kneecap. Basically, the nerves under a dog’s skin tell the spinal cord that something is happening on the skin, which in turn causes the dog to twitch their leg.
This is a natural reaction that is also what tells a dog to scratch themselves when a fly lands on them. As long as your dog appears to be happy and relaxed during the belly rub, this isn’t a sign that they want you to stop. It’s just an involuntary reaction to something touching the skin.
What’s the Best Way to Give a Dog a Belly Rub?
If you want to give a dog a belly rub, and their body language says that they are excited about that idea too, then you are in for a great time. It’s best to start with slow, calm movements until you get a feel for what the dog likes.
If this is your first time rubbing this dog’s belly, start at their fluffy chest first before rubbing the belly – this may make the dog feel more comfortable about you touching a vulnerable part of the body.
If they seem to be enjoying it, wagging their tail and wriggling in excitement, you can scratch or rub faster. Don’t force your dog to stick around any longer than they want to. Once the dog starts to move away, or shows any signs of being done with the belly rub, let them go.
Overall, dogs like having their bellies rubbed for the same reasons that humans like getting massages. It feels good, it’s a bonding activity, and it signals “feel good” receptors in the brain that help dogs feel relaxed. By indulging your dog in a good belly rub now and then, you’re letting them know that you love and trust them as much as they love and trust you.
Always be sure you watch a dog’s body language before rubbing their belly, and let them leave or move away if they decide they are done with the belly rub. That’s really all you need to know to master this favorite doggy technique. Now that you know all there is to know about dog belly rubs, get ready to make your dog fall in love with you!