One of the many joys of being a dog lover is meeting a sweet dog who instantly rolls on their back for a belly rub. There’s something so endearing about this gesture that most people will bend down and rub their new friend’s belly. But what is it about these pets that dogs love so much? Let’s find out!
The Reasons Dogs Like Belly Rubs
Belly pets are synonymous with dogs—just like playing fetch or wagging tails! So where does this desire to have their tummies scratched come from? We can’t ask dogs outright, but experts have some theories.
1. Attention From Pet Parents
A surefire way for dogs to get their parent’s attention is by rolling on their backs and asking for belly rubs. Most dog parents can’t resist such a request. Dogs, therefore, have learned this is a great way to get some love and affection from their parents.
2. Oxytocin Surge
For thousands of years, dogs have been loyal companions to humans. Studies have shown that the hormone that bonds mothers and newborn babies is the same hormone that dogs and dog parents release when they interact with each other: oxytocin.
The surge in oxytocin that a dog experiences after their mom or dad touches them is likely the reason they like belly rubs. Oxytocin gives dogs warm, fuzzy feelings, and a belly rub from a pet parent can release it.
The final theory of why dogs like belly pets is that it mimics the grooming they would have received in the wild from their pack members. Allogrooming, meaning “grooming another,” is when animals of the same species groom each other by licking, stroking, rubbing, and scratching each other’s feathers or fur.
This type of social grooming is typical in pack animals such as wolves and wild dogs. Experts think this builds strong, trusting relationships between members of the pack. A belly rub simulates this same type of social grooming, and dogs may initiate one to foster stronger bonds with their pet parents.
Do All Dogs Enjoy Belly Rubs?
No, not every dog likes to have their tummy scratched. A dog’s stomach is one of the most sensitive places on their body, and they don’t all want to be touched there.
What’s more, an exposed tummy may not be an invitation for a tummy rub. A dog will roll onto their back as a sign of submission. In this case, bending over to rub their tummy can be interpreted as a sign of dominance and could provoke an attack.
Other signs a dog is exposing their belly out of submission is if they slightly urinate or look away from you while on their back.
How to Tell if a Dog Wants a Belly Rub
The best way to tell if a dog would like a belly rub is if they roll on their back and exhibit the following body language:
Soft gaze with a relaxed brow
Relaxed ears, not pricked forward or lying flat against their head
Soft and open mouth, their tongue may be lolling to one side
Relaxed body, not stiff or tense
Relaxed tail, not tucked
Dogs may like belly rubs because these pets cause a surge in feel-good oxytocin, get the attention of their beloved parents, and foster stronger bonds with their family members. However, not all dogs like to be touched on the tummy, so it’s best to read the rest of their body language before bending over and giving them some TLC.
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