6 min read

Why Do Dogs Love Belly Rubs So Much?

A dog rolling over doesn't always mean what you think 🤔

Every dog has that one special spot that instantly turns her to mush, whether it be the base of the tail or behind the ears. But when a dog really trusts you, nothing beats a belly rub.

Stomach exposed and feet in the air, some pups even appear to smile, their tongue lolling out the side of their mouths, happy and relaxed.

So what is it about the stomach area that makes these pats so special? Do dogs really love belly rubs more than anything else?

You might assume a dog who is exposing her belly is begging for a rub, but according to Dr. Liz Stelow, chief of animal behavior services at the University of California, Davis, not every pup who rolls over on her back is looking for a tummy pet.

“There are two different reasons for a dog to expose its belly: She is soliciting a belly rub from a trusted individual, or she’s submitting (aka ‘tapping out’),” Stelow tells The Dodo. “The goals for these two behaviors are very different.”

When a dog exposes her belly, she is performing a submissive behavior, making herself vulnerable before a human or another animal. The submissive nature of this behavior doesn’t detract from the dog’s enjoyment of the rub — if that’s truly what she wants.

By showing her belly, the dog’s goal may be to put an end to the interaction, instead of beckoning you to come closer. A stiff body and ears held back against the head can be a clear sign of canine anxiety.

“The dog who's tapping out typically rolls slowly, often looking away from the person or showing the whites of his eyes, and seems tense throughout his body the entire time,” Stelow explains. “It is crucial that people do not see this as an invitation for a belly rub, as the dog may feel cornered and may become aggressive.”

So, how can you tell when your dog really wants a belly rub? Luckily, it’s not that difficult to pick up on the cues once you know what you’re looking for.

“The dog who wants the belly rub usually flops down close to the person from whom he's soliciting attention and seems happy to be there,” Stelow says. “They should have relaxed body postures, [and] loose facial muscles.”

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The reason why a dog might prefer belly scratches can be different for every dog, and we may never know what those exact reasons for enjoyment may be. Your pup may simply find a scratch on this sensitive area of his body enjoyable, or perhaps the behavior of asking for and receiving a belly rub has been reinforced and heavily rewarded by the owners, Stelow notes.

Regardless of where you give your dog a good ol’ scratch, petting your pup is good for him — it lowers your dog’s heart rate and blood pressure. Dogs also enjoy petting on a social level. Interactions with other dogs can be highly physical, whether through play or grooming, and human touch may mimic this.

So the next time you’re stuck in the middle of a 10-minute-long belly scratching session, just remember: It’s for a good cause.