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Why Do Dogs Like Belly Rubs?

Written by Laura
Laura is passionate about all sorts of domesticated pets. They have written dozens of articles across the web.
Published on
Friday 29 January 2021
Last updated on
Tuesday 9 May 2023
why do dogs like belly rubs
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Belly rubs are a lovely way for humans to bond with our dogs. There are various scientific and social reasons why we love to pet our dogs, and why dogs, in turn, love being petted by us. But belly rubs are extra special. So why do dogs like belly rubs?

Most dogs love belly rubs, some even demand it! So what is so great about them, what does it mean if your dog doesn’t like belly rubs?

Reasons Why Do Dogs Love Belly Rubs

Is it fun, affection or science? Let’s take a look and find out.

There is a bit of Science Involved

Whilst there is no scientific study on why dogs love belly rubs specifically, we do know that dogs have a cluster of nerves located under the skin on their stomachs that are activated by touch. This often results in the humourous hind leg kicking that many dogs do during a tummy rub.

There are also a few scientific explanations as to why dogs like being petted in general. Dogs, along with other mammals, have a specific neuron in the brain that responds to the stimulation of hair follicles. This makes stroking your dog’s fur the equivalent of a head massage for humans!

Another reason they love it so much is that when we pet them, their bodies (and ours) are flooded with Oxytocin – the love hormone. So just like humans hugging each other, petting is a great way for you and your dog to express your love for one another. It could also be innate. Wolf packs keep themselves clean and bond with one another through grooming; licking each other’s fur. So this could be another reason why dogs like to be petted, especially by their pack!

A Sign of Trust & Love

Why dogs specifically love their bellies being rubbed may be down to more social reasons. When a dog lays on their back in front of you, they’re putting themselves in a vulnerable position. They can’t really protect themselves and are being completely open to you. This is your dog showing you how much they trust you.

In turn, they’re also showing you that they’re not a threat to you. By rubbing their bellies when they are in this position, something they physically enjoy and get a feeling of love from, it strengthens the trust and bond you have with your dog.

This may be a habitual action from evolution. Historians and scientists believe we most likely befriended wolves when hunting in the same places. Wolf families came to humans for scraps when their hunts were unsuccessful and ended up aiding one another in hunting. Humans also likely took in orphaned pups as their own and then they became domesticated. As humans and wolves both need packs, it was a match made in heaven. But it probably wasn’t easy – all those claws and teeth! Actions like belly rubs would have helped to create trust, and have instinctively stuck with us to this day.

Training & Respect

When dogs are being trained, they display submissive behaviors such as lying on their backs to show you that they respect you as the leader of the pack. Similarly, when they misbehave, they might do it to lessen the telling off. They’re showing you that they still respect you, despite their naughtiness – and they know they look cute!

What If My Dog Doesn’t Like Belly Rubs?

Don’t worry, if your dog doesn’t like belly rubs, it doesn’t mean they don’t love you. Just like humans, every dog is different. They all have different personalities and different preferences. Just because most humans like hugs – doesn’t mean we all do! Dogs are exactly the same. Most of them enjoy belly rubs, some even demand them by laying on their backs and making a fuss until they get one! But, some dogs just don’t like it.

Their dislike of tummy rubs could be because of past experiences, or it could just be uncomfortable for them. Try and think of it from a human perspective. If your human best friend didn’t like hugging, you wouldn’t feel less loved by them and you wouldn’t force them to do it. If your dog doesn’t like belly rubs, you should respect that. Never force your dog to have one, as this could damage your relationship.

Your dog may just express their love in a different way. He may not like belly rubs, but he may like cuddles, kisses, head scratches, or sleeping next to you on the sofa. Or, he may not be that tactile at all. And that’s okay! Dogs express love in lots of strange ways that you may not have even realized are signs of affection. The biggest compliment of all is that your dog enjoys your company. If your dog loves to play games and go on walks with you, those are the only signs of love you need to worry about. Although, if you do feel that your dog doesn’t trust you, there are things you can do.

Negative Reasons For Dogs Laying On Their Backs

Dogs laying on their backs in front of humans or other dogs is usually out of respect, affection, or play. But beware, it can sometimes be due to fear or aggression, so make sure you know the signs of both of these emotions in dogs just in case.

Though you want your dog to respect you, you do not want him to be fearful of you. Your dog may be afraid because of past experiences, or your approach to discipline may be too harsh.

A dog laying on their back can also be a fighting technique if they’re feeling threatened by another dog. They may lay on their back in order to look submissive, then leap up and bite the other dog’s face in a surprise attack.

dogs on their backs
Dogs lay on their backs for multiple reasons.

Why Dogs Like Belly Rubs – FAQs

Why does my dog roll on his back when I approach him?

Typically, this is a good sign! When dogs lay on their backs, they are putting themselves in a vulnerable position to you. This means they trust you, respect you – and want your affection!

Another possible explanation is fear, but this is unlikely unless you already know your dog is anxious around you for some reason.

Do dogs like being kissed?

Kissing is an innately human thing only, so dogs are not born knowing what it is or what it means. However, if they are brought up in a tactile family, they will learn that it is an expression of love. They may even do it back with a lick! If your dog is tactile, he will probably enjoy kissing with members of his family. But as it requires very close facial contact, he probably won’t like kisses from strangers.

Not all dogs will like it with their families though. Some may find it uncomfortable or even threatening, especially if they are rescue dogs with an unsocialized or traumatic past. Watch your dog’s body language and if he displays signs of discomfort, don’t kiss him.

Why does my dog hate belly rubs?

Whilst most dogs enjoy belly rubs, every dog is different, and some just don’t! If your dog is a rescue dog, it could be because of past trauma that makes them wary of placing themselves in such a vulnerable position, (on their back), or they could have had pain inflicted on their stomach.

If your dog is not a rescue dog, they either just don’t like it or don’t feel comfortable enough around you to do it yet! But don’t worry, there are various things you can do to build trust and show affection. If your dog just doesn’t like tummy rubs, don’t force it.

How do I know if my dog likes belly rubs?

If you’re unsure if your dog likes it or not, watch his body language. If he likes it, he’ll be relaxed and have a loose, wiggly posture. But if he is tense, with flat ears, has his tail between his legs, he doesn’t like it and you should respect that. If your dog bites when you’re rubbing his belly, stop immediately. Though keep in mind that if a puppy bites when you’re rubbing their belly, this is likely just mouthing.

Why do dogs like belly ribs but cats don’t?

The hair follicles on cats’ bellies are hypersensitive to touch, making belly rubs very unpleasant. If the theory of belly rubs being part of an ancient, instinctive trust-building exercise between dogs and humans is true, belly rubbing would also just not be natural to cats.

Does your dog love belly rubs, or does he show his love in other ways? Let us know in the comments below!

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