If you’ve ever seen a dog get a belly rub, chances are pretty good that you’ve envied the level of sheer joy and satisfaction that dogs seem to get from something as simple as a tummy rub.
What is it about belly rubs that are so deeply enjoyable for our canine friends that they willingly (and frequently) throw themselves at our feet, tummy to the sky, feet in the air, demanding belly rubs? And if your dog doesn’t like belly rubs – what does that mean? Is this something to be concerned about?
Does my dog want a belly rub?
We’ll start by saying that not all dogs enjoy a belly rub, just like not all humans enjoy having their back tickled. It’s down to individual preference. So, if your pup isn’t a fan of ye olde tummy tickle, don’t be concerned. It just means your dog will prefer another way of getting physical affection from you.
When a dog throws themself at your feet with their delicate tummy area exposed to you, it’s a sign of great trust. It’s their way of saying, “This is me at my most vulnerable. I have faith that you will not hurt me.” Think of it as the canine equivalent of a trust fall.
But there are dogs rolling on their backs for belly rubs and there are dogs rolling over for an entirely different reason. A dog may roll over for you if they are scared or fearful. It’s a sign of submission, often used to diffuse an aggressor. Another reason dogs roll over is to scratch their own back on the ground – this one’s easy to identify as dogs tend to wriggle around a lot getting some good back scratches going.
Make sure that you’re interpreting your dog’s body language correctly here. If your dog is on their back but showing signs of fear (tail tucked in, ears back) it’s more than likely they’re not in it for the belly rubs, but more to show you they are submitting to you.
If, however, your dog is on their back, the tail is wagging, and they look generally relaxed and happy, you’ve got a tummy rub fanatic on your hands…
Signs that show your dog wants some belly rubs:
- Their body is relaxed, not tense
- Their jaws are relaxed. Often their tongue will be visible or hanging out
- Their tail will be relaxed or wagging
- They may pant slightly in excitement
If you’re meeting a dog for the first time, don’t go straight in for a belly rub, even if you think you’re getting the signals from the dog. Start with head rubs and progress from there when you’re sure the pooch has warmed to you. Belly rubs are to dogs what hugs are to humans – a more intimate form of physical contact. You don’t go straight in for a big ol’ bear hug with a complete stranger, do you?
Why do dogs like their belly rubbed?
As we mentioned, when your dog shows you the delicate and vulnerable belly area, this is a sign of great trust. Usually, a dog showing you their belly is giving you a clear invitation to lean on in and give them a good belly rub.
If your dog is enjoying the belly rubs, this will release endorphin – feel-good hormone – and their oxytocin – the bonding hormone – levels will rise. This combination of feel-good, loving chemicals coursing through your dog will strengthen the bond between you and help your pupper feel loved and secure, and happy.
Affection in the form of belly rubs (and, frankly, rubs on the rest of the body too) doesn’t only benefit your pooch internally, but also externally in the form of hair follicle stimulation. Happy follicles mean a shiny healthy-looking coat. Win!
Having said all of that, there isn’t actually any way for us to know for certain why some dogs love belly rubs. There’s a theory, that postulates that dogs don’t enjoy belly rubs at all and the only reason they tolerate them is that they think it makes us happy.
How to give a good belly rub
If your dog is partial to a session of belly rubs, then read on for some tips on how to give the absolute best belly rub to a dog. Perfect your technique by trying the following:
- Check to see that your dog is into it. Look for the signs that your dog wants a belly rub.
- If your dog loses interest or doesn’t seem overly keen on rubs, then don’t push it. Your pup has let you into the circle of trust by showing you their belly – don’t overstay your welcome or intrude past the boundary your dog is laying down.
- Get on the level. Get low by sitting on the floor or kneeling. Looming over your dog like a shadow will only make them feel vulnerable. Dogs are sensitive to your vibe – be cool. Stay relaxed.
- Go in slow. Don’t dive straight in for the belly. Work your way there from the head or sides. Read the room – your dog’s reaction will tell you if you’re doing it right.
- Rub the belly with a flat open palm. Use fingernails sparingly on delicate tummy skin, especially around the nipples. Alternate between flat palmed stroking motions, circular rubs, gentle scratches, and the occasional reassuring ‘good-dog’ side pats.
- Don’t do the same thing continuously for a long time. Mix it up and give frequent breaks when you stop all contact.
- If doggo is having a great time, you’ll get the ‘keep going’ paw, or the ‘don’t stop’ snout nudge when you stop. Then you know to keep going.
- Cover the entire belly and experiment a little with pace and technique.
Dog belly rubs are important
Dogs are deeply emotional creatures and while a belly rub might seem like something super simple to you, to your dog, it’s so much more. Belly rubs are a way for you to spend some quality time with your pooch.
In fact, it’s not just about belly rubs. It’s about physically bonding with your pet, slowing down your life to share a moment of connection with your canine companion. Yes, your dog needs food and walks and a warm place to sleep but sharing quality bonding time with their human is a big part of happy dog life.
If your dog isn’t into belly rubs, that’s ok. Don’t force it. Maybe they prefer head and ear scratches. Or cuddles on the couch. Whatever it is, find that one physical form of affection that your dog enjoys and make sure to engage them in it frequently.