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Why Do Dogs Love Belly Rubs So Much?

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By Nicole Cosgrove

belly rub

When a dog rolls over and offers up her belly for a good scratch, how can anyone resist? But perhaps you’ve wondered why dogs love these belly rubs so much? Well, read on, and we will look into this unusual dog behavior for you.

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Dog Belly Rubs Are the Best

When a dog rolls over and shows you her belly, it is a sign of trust. Exposing her soft tummy makes a dog vulnerable. If she displays her belly, she’s telling you that she knows she can trust you and can allow herself to be defenseless when around you. When you start scratching her belly, you’re demonstrating to her that you can be trusted.

The hair follicles on a dog send a message to the neurons of a dog’s brain when stimulated. This activity in the brain sends a message to the dog that lets her know that this stroking feels good. Experts discovered this neuron (called MRGPRB4+) was connected directly to hair follicles, and research showed that animals felt pleasure and were calmer after being stroked. They also believe that this brain activity developed to encourage social grooming, which leads to improved hygiene.

So essentially, belly rubs feel good, and your dog is showing you that she trusts you. It is an activity that forms a strong bond between you. However, sometimes a dog doesn’t want a belly rub, so let’s look at when you shouldn’t attempt scratching your dog’s tummy.

dog friendship
Image Credit: Lepale, Pixabay

Should You Rub That Belly?

Most dog owners know that it is a sign of submissive behavior when a dog exposes its belly. If you’ve encountered a dog that has rolled over to show you her belly, you should determine if she’s being submissive or inviting you to give her belly a good scratch.

Submissive Body Displays in Dogs

  • Ears will be pulled back and flattened against her head.
  • Showing her teeth in a “grin” is a sign of submissive behavior. The grin is meant to demonstrate that she is not a threat. However, if you approach a dog showing its teeth in addition to more aggressive behavior, such as snarling and a wrinkled nose, avoid.
  • She won’t make eye contact and will turn her head away.
  • Her tail will be tucked in, and if she wags it quickly while holding it down low, this is submissive body language.
  • Piddling on the floor in conjunction with the other signs of submissive behavior is her way of showing you she’s not a threat to you.
  • Yawning and licking the nose.

These signs of submission (also called appeasement display) mean that she is nervous or fearful. Therefore, when she shows you her belly, it doesn’t mean she’s inviting a belly rub.

The following signs of a dog’s body language indicate a happy and relaxed dog that would love nothing more than an excellent belly rub.

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Inviting a Belly Rub

  • The mouth is open and relaxed, and the tongue may flop out.
  • Slightly squinted or open eyes. They might close their eyes in enjoyment when the belly rub commences.
  • The tail will be relaxed and possibly wagging.
  • Very loose and relaxed body.

When You Need to Stop

Some dogs may appear not to be enjoying the belly rub, or maybe your dog never seems to enjoy it. That’s okay. Never force a belly rub on a dog. This is a vulnerable position, and the last thing you want to do is make your dog uncomfortable or anxious.

One method to test to see if your dog is receptive to belly rubs (or any petting at all) is to pet your dog a few times and then stop and observe her. If your dog starts to nudge you, lean into you, paw at you, she wants more. If she doesn’t respond, moves away, or doesn’t look at you, this is a good indication that she’s not enjoying it or just isn’t in the mood at that time.

belly rub
Image Credit: Free-Photos, Pixabay

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If your dog seems relaxed and happy and is inviting you to rub her belly, then, by all means, rub away! Just remember to look for the signs of a dog that is feeling anxious or stressed. If your dog is showing you her belly, but you can see the whites of her eyes and her body language is stiff, you should give her some space. Floppy dog means relaxed; stiff dog means stressed.

Of course, if your dog is grabbing your hand and pulling it towards her belly, that’s a pretty good indication that she wants a good scratching. Just be sure to use your best judgment and always respect your dog.

Featured Image: Mary Swift, Shutterstock

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