Why Do Dogs Like Belly Rubs?
As dog owners, it can sometimes be difficult to know who enjoys it the most – you or your belly rub-loving pooch. When he rolls over for a tum tickle, it’s a wonderful chance to have some quality time together while he gets a good old scratch that clearly releases the feel-good factor.
But exactly why do they love it so much and are all dogs belly-rubbing fans? We take a look at the reasons behind the irresistible appeal of the canine belly and ask – why do dogs like tummy rubs?
Why Dogs Love a Belly Rub
At a very simple level, dogs love a belly rub because it makes them feel good and can also help to alleviate an itch, as they don’t really have an easy way to reach their tums themselves! And you should know for sure it is a belly rub he wants, as he happily rolls over and presents his softly hairy tum to you. Most dogs will also see you as an important part of their pack and as with mutual grooming seen in many mammals, the act of rubbing his tum is a way to bond and build trust between you both. However, as well as the simple feel-good factor, there is a whole lot more going on when you go in for the belly rub.
What That Back-Rolling Behavior Means
For a belly rub to really work, it is important to understand why dogs show their belly so you can accurately assess whether it is actually a tummy tickle he wants.
When a dog rolls over onto his back and shows you his vulnerability, there’s one of two main reasons at play – he’s either relaxed and wants a tummy rub or he is demonstrating a sign of submission. Dogs show submissive behavior when they are nervous or are trying to reduce a tense situation by showing you that he is not a threat. If this is the real reason for why he is exposing his belly to you, going in for a tummy rub could make him feel even more nervous so you need to go gentle. If you are unsure as to what your pooch is trying to tell you, check out their body language:
- A sign of submission – tense body, lips pulled back into a grimace, tongue flicking, eyes wide open with lots of white showing, a stiff, fast tail wag, quiet whining
- Your dog demands a belly rub – wiggly, loose body, relaxed, open mouth and eyes, happy, waggy tail, silent or low panting.
The Science Behind the Belly Rub
There is also a scientific reason why that tummy tickle feels so damn good and it is all to do with their hair follicles, which are stimulated as you give them a rub. Dogs – as well as other mammals – have a neuron in their brain that specifically responds to the stimulation of the hair follicles on their tum and other parts of their body. This is why dogs love to be petted in general. So, as you are gently rubbing your dog belly and tickling their tum, you are passing on the feelgood through his tiny tummy hairs and straight to his pleasure zone in the brain.
Your Dog’s Response to a Good Belly Rub
When it comes to a belly rub, it is not always a simple case of your pooch lying back and enjoying the attention; often other things come into play. First up, he is showing you he is trusting and happy in your company, enough to make himself vulnerable to you. He is enjoying the bonding experience, the grooming-style activity and the all-round attention, feelgood and relaxation. But when tickling that irresistible tum, have you ever noticed his back leg frantically kicking or almost looking like he is riding a bike? If this happens, it is likely you have caught his tickle hot spot and triggered an involuntary response.
This is called his scratch reflex and is linked to his nervous system, designed to alert and protect him against irritants such as bugs or fleas that have landed on his skin. This response in your dog is similar to the reflex test your doctor may perform to test the involuntary reflex in your knee. This scratch reflex isn’t a sign of your pup being ticklish or in the throes of belly rub ecstasy but something he cannot control, and chances are it something he doesn’t particularly like. So, if your pooch’s leg starts twitching mid-belly rub session, gently move your hand away and onto another spot that doesn’t illicit such a response.
Do Dogs Like to be Petted?
Well, if your dog is happy and willing, then the answer is yes! Letting your pet instigate a belly rub is also a sign of trust between you both and is a wonderful way to deepen the connection with your precious pooch. So, if your canine enjoys a belly rub then there is no reason to discourage it. However, while most dogs love their tums tickled, it’s not for all of them so if your pup is showing nervous submission or is simply not interested then a belly rub should never be forced. Also, watch their reaction to your caress so you can ensure you are not rubbing too hard or aggressively as you could be making it an unpleasant experience. And never force a dog onto its back, particularly if it is nervous as you are more likely to trigger other anxiety-related behaviors rather than the feelgood factor that should come from a belly rub.
In summary, not all dogs will take to or want a belly rub, and that’s ok, there are other ways to show your affection and love for your pet. But if you do have a belly rubbing monster, then consider yourself lucky as it is a sure sign that they are comfortable in your company and you are firmly a part of their pack.