Why Do Dogs Like Belly Rubs?

Dogs and belly rubs go together like fish and chips, but have you ever wondered why they love them so much? Is it simply because they feel good? Or is there some scientific reason behind it? Well, we’re here to answer the question of, “why do dogs like belly rubs?” once and for all!

Why do dogs like belly rubs?

There’s still a lot we don’t know about dog psychology, and when it comes to belly rubs, there are more than a few theories as to why our furry friends love them so much. Without further ado, here are some of the most common reasons why your pup might want belly rubs.

#1: It feels good

The best theory as to why doggos love tummy scratches is the simplest – they feel good! A 2013 study of mice found that the neurons linked to hair follicles were activated when stroked, creating a pleasant sensation. In basic terms, animals (including humans!) receive pleasure when their hair or fur is stroked.

Likewise, previous studies have shown that, when we pet our furry friends, they release endorphins (feel-good chemicals) and oxytocin (also known as the love hormone). So not only does it physically feel nice, but it also makes their brains feel good! As for us humans, petting dogs lowers our cortisol (the stress hormone) levels and releases oxytocin in us, too. Win-win!

#2: They’re showing you they trust you

For a dog to roll onto their back in front of you or their trusted Pet Sitter shows a great deal of trust. Anatomically speaking, they’re exposing the most vulnerable part of their body (i.e. where all the major organs are). If your pupper is willing to roll onto their back (and, of course, be rewarded with belly rubs), it shows there is a real bond between the two of you.

#3: They need help scratching an itch

Ever had an itch you couldn’t quite reach? It’s happened to all of us, but for our canine friends who lack humans’ superior mobility and scratching tools (a.k.a. hands), it’s a pretty common occurrence. The belly is one of the trickiest areas for a dog to reach, so it’s possible your pupper isn’t just asking for belly rubs because they feel like it. Instead, they could be asking for your assistance to help them scratch that annoying itch!

#4: They want attention

Look, pooches are pretty affectionate creatures, and if they’re not getting as much love as they want, they sure know how to demand it! If your pup is in need of a little attention, there’s a few things they might do to ask for it. In addition to rolling onto their backs and soliciting some tummy rubs, they may also nudge you with their nose, paw at you, whine at you or even jump on you.

Are they asking for belly rubs or being submissive?

While wanting belly rubs is one reason why dogs roll onto their back, the other reason they do it is to show submission. In fact, you might have seen them do it when meeting new, unfamiliar dogs. Thankfully, there are a few ways to tell if your dog is being submissive. Here are some signs to look out for:

  • Tense, frozen posture
  • Mouth closed with lips pulled back (almost like a smile) and lots of licking
  • Wide-open, alert eyes, often staring into the distance
  • Tense or tucked tail which may be wagging or completely still
  • Soft whines

If you notice any of these signs, it’s highly unlikely that they’re asking for belly rubs. In fact, patting them may increase their anxiety, so try to give them some space.

How to tell if your dog likes belly rubs (and if they don’t)

Now that we know why dogs like belly rubs, there’s something important to remember. Every dog is different, and just because your dog loves a good scratch on the tummy, not every dog you meet will. Pups that are familiar to you (like your own, or a friend or family member’s doggo) are more likely to trust you and therefore may love tummy rubs. On the other hand, if you’re meeting a dog for the first time, you might want to take it slow. Try befriending the pup and taking cues from them. 

If your pooch exhibits the following signs, chances are they’re almost certainly loving it.

  • Relaxed, wiggly posture
  • Relaxed, open mouth (occasionally with their tongue hanging out!)
  • Eyes open and bright or squinting, but not focusing on anything in particular
  • Relaxed, wagging tail
  • Light panting sounds, if any noise at all

Conversely, here are some signs your dog isn’t enjoying their tummy scratches.

  • Tense posture that relaxes when you stop
  • Wide eyes
  • Licking their lips
  • Tense or tucked tail
  • Pawing at you as if to push you away

Remember, if your dog doesn’t seem to want scratches, it doesn’t mean they don’t love and trust you. It could be that they’re not in the mood, or it’s possible they simply don’t like belly rubs! In either case, respect their need for space and work on other ways to show your affection.