Why Do Dogs Like Belly Rubs?

by Sundays

Do dogs like belly rubs like we like hugs–or is there more to the common dog behavior?

When a cat bares their belly to you, it’s like the clouds parted and a ray of sun shines only on you for a brief moment. Sure, it’s probably a trap, but there’s still that 1% chance that you might have truly been chosen to give a belly rub, no strings (or claws) attached. 

And then you have dogs, who are always rolling over and showing off their bellies. Dogs have no hidden motives–they just want a belly rub, right?

Even though it seems like pretty straightforward behavior (here’s my belly; rub it), your dog might not actually be asking for a belly rub. Don’t worry; we’ll help you figure out if they really do want one or what they might be saying instead. Plus, we’ll tell you why some dogs like having their bellies rubbed so much.

Belly Rub Request or Sign of Submission?

You may pride yourself on understanding your dog’s every tail wag and look of longing. So when your pup rolls over onto their back and presents that soft belly, of course you know they want belly rubs. There’s just one thing you should know about before you go in for the tummy pats.

In dog language, rolling onto your back and showing your stomach is also a sign of submission. It’s like saying, “I’m no threat; you have the power.” This is because the stomach is one of the most vulnerable areas of a dog’s body. So when a dog leaves that area unprotected, they are at the mercy of the other dog by showing a submissive pose. 

So, is your dog being submissive to you, or do they really actually just want some belly rubs? This is also a good question to ask if you don’t know the dog–they may just be scared and not wanting any attention on their belly. 

Make sure the dog’s body seems relaxed, from head to tail. This means their tongue is loose, their eyes are not focused on anything really, and their tail might have a slight wag. Signs of submission could be a tense body, lip licking, wide open eyes, or a tucked tail.

If your pup seems relaxed, then keep the belly rubs coming! 

Why Do Dogs Like Belly Rubs So Much?

If you have a dog that frequently asks for belly rubs, you might wonder what it is exactly that they love so much about it. Here’s what we know:

They get to spend quality time with you. 

One super obvious reason dogs love belly rubs so much is that they get to spend some quality time with their favorite person–you! They are probably getting your undivided attention or at least some of your attention, sitting right next to you or even on your lap. What dog wouldn’t love that?

On top of that, it’s helping to build trust between you and your dog. They are letting you pet the most vulnerable part of their body and trusting you completely. 

It reminds them of puppyhood.

Petting or rubbing your dog’s belly could remind them of the safety and care of their puppy days. It probably feels a lot like the grooming your dog got from their mom (licking them) when they were a puppy. So it feels familiar and calming.

It’s just plain science!

There’s actually research that’s been done on this. The study, done on mice, found that certain sensory neurons were only activated by gently stroking an animal’s fur. Both dogs and humans have the same neurons in parts of the body covered by hair. It’s thought that we evolved to enjoy gentle touch because it encourages good hygiene and social grooming practices.

And here’s some more scientific evidence of why dogs like belly rubs: oxytocin. A belly rub can release oxytocin (from both you and your dog), which is also known as the “love” or “feel-good” hormone. It can increase the feeling of closeness between you and your dog.

So now that you know how much good just one belly rub session can do, you can both enjoy the time even more!

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