I walk into the kitchen and give my English Cream Golden Retriever a pet and a scratch. He wags his tail and then he slowly rolls onto his back. Does he now want a belly rub? That seems like a likely answer. So why DO dogs roll on their backs? Is there a specific reason?
We always feel like we know our dogs so well and that they are part of the family. We often treat them as though they are humans and feel that we know what they are thinking. When we see our dogs roll on their backs, we think “Oh, they must want a belly rub.” Our caring, light-hearted thoughts may think this, but animal behavior research dispels this theory.
When two dogs are together and one or both roll onto their backs, it may not be what you think it is. Many people think that this is an act of submission akin to people who wave the white flag of surrender. Research, however, states that is actually not the case.
Many times, the act of rolling on the back is so that the dog can block playful biting and then, in turn, do their own playful biting with their play partner. If that is the case, then my dog was just being playful.
Dogs are so smart that they roll over to include smaller dogs who may be intimidated or outsized by bigger dogs. When dogs roll onto their backs, they literally level the playing field for all-sized dogs.
Read more: How to Understand Dog's Body Language
What an unbelievably inclusive act by these canines. One thing that has been observed is that dogs will stay on their backs for a shorter duration of time when playing with another dog and for a longer duration if a human is interacting with them.
But what about if the dog is in a grassy yard and wants to roll onto their back with no other dogs around? Well, that’s a whole different story. There are many reasons why a dog may roll on their back in the grass. First, it could be instinct.
They may be trying to mask their scent from other animals. On the flip side, they could be, like their wolf ancestors, rolling to bring back information to their “pack.” They are releasing their scent into the environment, which is part of the reproductive behavior.
Although it is not relevant for the survival of the species, it is an instinctual aspect of communication.
Another reason they could be rolling is they have an itch or skin irritation. If you notice that your dog has a visible skin irritation, you should follow up on with a veterinarian. Yet another obvious reason to roll is it just feels so good!
If it doesn’t seem to have a medical or behavioral aspect to it, rolling in grass is an okay thing for dogs to do. It is important to make note of other body language clues to rule out other reasons for the behavior.
You Rolled in What?
Has your dog ever rolled in poop? I know, I know… disgusting right?! It is actually more common than you would think so have no fear if your dog rolls in this pungent substance. Even their ancestors the wolves are known to roll in animal droppings.
There are several reasons why your dog might do this dastardly deed. First, they may like the smell. Humans like perfume and flower smells; dogs like…poop smells. Second, they may be covering their natural scent, which is something that is innate and goes back to when their ancestors did this to get other predators off their trail.
Finally, they are bringing back a souvenir of where they have been. You might buy a t-shirt to remember a trip, they bring back… poop.
Some dogs may roll over when they are fearful of something or someone. It gives the message, “Please don’t come any closer.” It is okay if this happens occasionally, but if it occurs on a regular basis, it is something that should be discussed with a specialized dog trainer or canine behavior specialist. They can help train your dog to make more positive associations with things they are fearful of.
Watch Your Pups
If you go to work each day but want to keep an eye on your pet to make sure that his or her itch isn’t a medical issue, you can get Petcube's interactive pet camera. It’s a great way to watch and/or interact with your pet while you are away at work or doing errands.
We know that dogs have a playful, fun-loving side, so you can even dispense treats to interact with your pet while you’re away from home. You can also provide your doggo with a bunch of other interactive toys for when they stay home alone, this way they will not get bored by the time you will be back.