Belly Rubs: Why Dogs Actually Love Them So Much

Written by Emily Wolfel
Updated: October 15, 2022
© RavenaJuly/Shutterstock.com
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Key Points

  • From comfort to submission to forming emotional bonds, there are several reasons your dog asks for and enjoys belly rubs.
  • The belly is the most vulnerable part of your dog’s body. Letting you rub it is one of the biggest signs of trust that your dog can give you.
  • Rubbing their belly also simulates the feeling of grooming and stimulation that their mother would have given them as puppies, which offers them comfort and security.

Your dog may lie back whenever you approach. This is a clear invitation for a belly rub. Most dogs look forward to it. All you need to do is reach down and rub the fluffy belly.

But why do dogs like belly rubs? Let’s look at these questions and discover the reasoning behind this intimate activity between you and your dog.

What Does Your Dog Get from Belly Rubs?

Constant belly rubs are evidence of a deep connection between you and your dog. Exposing the belly means expressing trust in you. Apart from this, your dog has specific reasons for loving belly rubs. Below are some of the known advantages dogs get from regular rubs on the belly:

1. Comfort

Your dog can also have a bad day. Getting hissed at by a cat or losing a toy in the yard can bring any dog down. Your dog will wait for you to come home and ask for a little comfort. The easiest way to do this is to lie belly up and invite you for a belly rub. A good belly rubbing can give your dog the necessary comfort to end the day.

White chihuahua getting a belly rub from a woman
One of the primary reasons that dogs love belly rubs is that they’re comforting.

©2134626691/Shutterstock.com

2. Grooming

Mother dogs lick the bellies of their puppies to keep them clean. This is the first bonding experience that dogs take in. Grooming is an expression of love and comfort between mother and puppies. A mother dog grooms her pups many times a day. Your dog looks forward to getting clean during belly rubs.

3. Feeling Good

The memory of getting groomed makes your dog feel safe. It also relaxes your dog. Since you are the pet parent and primary care provider, you calm your dog during this activity. That is why most dogs fall asleep during belly rubs.

Rubbing your dog’s belly is a form of massage. It triggers the release of the joy hormone called serotonin, which helps improve your dog’s mood. Dogs love the feeling of a belly rub that they may even lie on their backs as soon as they see their pet parent.

Yorkie getting a belly rub from a woman
Belly rubs release serotonin, the joy hormone, which makes dogs feel happy.

©Ilona Lablaika/Shutterstock.com

4. More Attention

Your dog will always try to get your attention. Once your dog sees that you also enjoy giving belly rubs, then it will always be one of the best ways to catch your attention. Your dog will always invite you to give belly rubs to feel the comfort you provide.

5. Hair Follicle Stimulation

The follicles on your dog’s stomach are sensitive. Rubbing them stimulates the nerves around the follicles. When you rub your dog’s belly, your dog’s legs move quickly when you rub the right spot on your dog’s belly. This is a form of reflex. It is still unknown to scientists whether this is enjoyable or not.

6. Making Connections

Dogs love the attention they get from humans. They are social creatures. They enjoy care and attention. Your dog lies back and makes eye contact with you. This could lead to a belly rub or a cuddle. Even if you are sad or irritated, a belly rub is your dog’s attempt at making a connection with you or the people in your orbit.

7. Submission

You may have just scolded your dog for breaking something or going through the trash. Dogs know that they must seek your approval again after doing something wrong. Your dog will try to do this by lying back for a belly rub. This act of submission shows that you are the pack leader. It aims to make you feel a little sorry for scolding your dog. Rubbing your dog’s belly can also motivate you to forego physical punishment for the mistake.

Golden retriever lying on its back
When a dog lies on its back, it is displaying submission to its human pack leader.

©MPH Photos/Shutterstock.com

What Could Be the Possible Scientific Explanation for Belly Rubs and Dogs?

Scientists say that belly rubs are comforting activities. They also say that it can form a strong relationship and bond with your dog. Research shows that belly rubs came from the way the first humans domesticated wolves. The first humans used belly rubs to change the behavior of wolves.

These wild animals learned that rolling on their backs resulted in more food and comfort. That is why they submitted to humans. It is a behavior that has been handed down to modern dogs. The belly rub position does not mean that your dog wants a belly rub all the time. Jealousy can develop in a multi-dog household. Dogs that do this may be telling other dogs that they do not want any trouble.

Another study shows that dogs can roll on their backs when playing. This gives them an advantage when they playfight. Lying on their backs is not a submissive behavior. In fact, it gave these dogs an advantage to bite the feet or legs of their play opponents.

Can You Tell If Your Dog Loves Belly Rubs?

Most pet parents assume that their dog loves belly rubs. Belly rub-loving dogs will offer their bellies to you. This will be accompanied by a soft, relaxed look in their eyes, a wiggling body, and sometimes, an open mouth. If your dog looks happy with the tummy rubs, then your dog is enjoying it.

After a good belly rub, try to pull your hand away from your dog’s belly. See if your dog tries to make you rub some more. This is a sign that you can keep rubbing your dog’s belly.

A dog that does not like belly rubs will look stressed. Your dog will tap out. Below are clear signs that your dog does not like belly rubbing activities:

  • Tail tucked between the legs
  • Tense body
  • Lip licking
  • Ears pulled back
  • You can see the whites of the eyes
Chihuahua lying on its back in the sun
This chihuahua is definitely enjoying having its belly rubbed.

©Annette Shaff/Shutterstock.com

Is Your Dog Being Submissive or Does Your Dog Really Like Belly Rubs?

Some dogs lie on their back to appease humans or other dogs. It can be a submissive behavior when dogs want to let others know that they come with good intentions. This can happen if your dog feels insecure, like when there are big dogs at a party or the dog park. This submissive behavior can also occur with yawning and lip licking. If you rub your dog’s belly when this happens, then this is not what your dog wants. Your dog will only feel more stressed. Learn to check your dog’s behavior before you give a tummy rub. Signs of stress will tell you that your dog does not want belly rubbing.

Why Do Dogs Kick Quickly Whenever They Get Belly Rubs?

Rubbing your dog’s belly stimulates the sensory neurons there. It triggers a scratch reflex reaction in the form of kicking. It is much like a knee reflex when your doctor hits the right nerve with a reflex hammer. The nerves in your dog’s belly are actually linked to the spinal cord.

This is an involuntary reaction that tells your dog’s brain to remove whatever is irritating the belly’s skin. It is a reflex reaction that helps your dog stay away from danger. The brain always insists on self-preservation. It does not happen because your dog is ticklish. Reading your dog’s body language is important whenever you interact with him.

If Your Dog Does Not Like Belly Rubs, It Is Best Not to Push It

You should not force a belly rub. If you force a belly rub on your dog, you will trigger the onset of canine anxiety. You might just lose your dog’s trust in the end. Gaining your dog’s trust can happen in many ways. Try to figure out which one works for your canine. A calm dog will look floppy and loose. A stressed dog will have a strained body with the tail between the legs. Remember, every dog is different. Some may enjoy some activities and sensations. Others may not.

Products That Can Help Make Your Belly Rubs More Enjoyable

Your belly rubs can be more enjoyable with a calming dog bed. This bed can help your dog relax faster. You can also give delicious dog calming treats to reward your dog after the rubs. Your dog may exhibit negative behaviors during belly rubs. Loving belly rubs too much may result in bites or nips. You can train your dog to stop this negative behavior by rewarding him with the best dog treat brands each time the biting stops. When your dog licks your hand, give him a treat.

If you notice that your dog has some allergies on the belly, take your canine companion to the vet. Your veterinarian can prescribe some medications to soothe the itchiness. You can talk to your vet about the best itch relief products you have seen on the market. You can also change your dog’s food to canine gastrointestinal dry dog food to help improve your dog’s immune system. This can help make your belly rubbing moments more pleasant.

Conclusion

Dogs are not built the same way. Some dogs love belly rubs, while others do not. A dog can ask for belly rubs because of the mentioned advantages. It is good to read your dog’s body language first before rubbing his belly. Your vet can help rule out any ailments that may cause increased sensitivity to your dog. Using certain high-quality canine products can help maximize your belly rubbing experience with your beloved dog.

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The Featured Image

Dalmatian getting a belly rub
Belly rubs were one of the ways humans won over dogs' ancestors!
© RavenaJuly/Shutterstock.com

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About the Author

Emily is an editor and content marketing specialist of five years. She grew up in rural Pennsylvania where you can regularly encounter anything from elk to black bears to river otters. Over the years, she raised livestock animals, small animals, dogs, cats, and birds, which is where she learned most of what she knows about various animals and what allowed her to work as a dog groomer and manager of a specialty pet store. She now has three rescue cats and two high-needs Pomeranian mixes to take up her love and attention.

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