Belly rubs are one of the simplest, yet most meaningful ways to show your dog love. They can bring comfort, and attention and even help strengthen the bond between you and your canine companion. But why do dogs love belly rubs so much? In this article, we'll explore some of the reasons why dogs love having their belly pet and when belly rubs may not be welcomed.
Why do dogs show their belly?
A dog rolling on their back to expose their belly is a common dog behavior that can tell us a lot about how our dogs are feeling. There are two main reasons why a dog may roll on their back and it doesn't always mean they are inviting a belly rub.
Dogs, just like their wolf ancestors before them, roll on their backs as a sign of submission. They do this to appease other dogs (and humans) and show they are not wanting to fight. This is because a dog's stomach is a very sensitive area and exposing it makes them vulnerable.
If a dog is showing other signs of submission, when exposing their belly, then it is recommended you don't give them a belly rub. This is because standing over them and touching their stomach may be perceived as a sign of dominance by you.
The second main reason why your dog shows their belly is because they are comfortable and trust you. As mentioned above, their stomach is a very vulnerable area so a dog showing you their belly is a clear indication they feel safe with you.
A dog may be asking for a belly rub if they are exposing their belly combined with the following:
Relaxed, loose posture
Open, relaxed mouth with tongue lolling to the side
Eyes are not wide or alert
Tail is not tucked between their legs and is relaxed
Why do dogs love belly rubs?
As we can't ask our dogs why they like belly rubs, we can theorize, based on past research studies, why dogs may like this gesture so much.
Dogs have been 'man's best friend' for thousands of years since they were domesticated from wolves. This special bond between dog and dog owner is due to the surge in oxytocin for both parties during social interaction.
Oxytocin is known as the "love hormone" and is the hormone that forms strong bonds between dogs and humans. Studies have shown that a dog's oxytocin level will increase when they have physical contact with their owner. So it is likely that the positive social interaction of belly rubs releases oxytocin which feels good to dogs.
2. Attention seeking
It is possible that dogs like belly rubs because it gives them attention from their owners. Seeing a dog roll over to get belly rubs is a very endearing gesture, sometimes we can't help but give them a few belly rubs.
Dogs, therefore, learn that when they lie on their back they get attention so may like getting belly rubs because they know they will receive a positive interaction from their owners.
3. Social grooming - Allogrooming
The third and final theory why dogs like belly rubs is because it exhibits the same social grooming they received in the wild. Allogrooming is when the same species of animal grooms one another and is prevalent in social animals such as wild dogs and wolves.
This type of social behavior is thought to build trust and strong bonds within a pack of animals. A dog may like to receive belly rubs because it is similar to the social grooming they would have received in the wild and reinforces the strong bond between them and their owner.
Do all dogs like belly rubs?
Not all dogs enjoy a belly rub. While some may bask in the comfort of a tummy scratch, others may be uncomfortable with it and may even show defensive or aggressive behavior to communicate this to you. It is, therefore, important to know if your dog likes belly rubs or not.
An exposed belly is not always an invitation for a belly rub, especially if they are sleeping on their back. If your dog does like belly rubs then it's important to observe them during the contact, they may change their mind mid-way through and want you to stop, so be on the lookout for that.
A dog exposing their belly can be a sign of trust and submission. Dogs may enjoy receiving belly rubs because it bonds them with their loving owners, provides them with attention, and replicates the social grooming behavior they received in the wild. It is important to note that not all dogs like having their belly rubbed so be mindful of this with new dogs you are not familiar with.
Hannah is the proud dog mom of Makai, a Wolfdog with a penchant for naps and snacks. Hannah has a strong love for all animals but a special fondness of dogs. With a Masters degree in Chemistry and a love for writing, Hannah aims to share the latest scientific studies and expert knowledge with dog lovers worldwide through her blog Howling Wolf Pack.