Why Do Dogs Like Their Belly Rubbed?

One of the greatest joys of owning a dog over a fish or guinea pig is cuddling with it. Most dogs like all kinds of cuddles.

Unlike cats, who will only accept cuddles on their own terms, dogs are open to pets and rubs all day any day.

Though dogs are really not picky, belly rubs might be their favorite thing. Why do dogs like their belly rubbed?

What is it about that area that makes it so great for petting? What other areas do dogs like rubbed?

If you want to show your pet some affection and understand them better, then keep reading!

Why Do Dogs Like Their Belly Rubbed: The Answer

Small white labrador puppy sitting in a dog bowl

We all know that dogs love to have their bellies rubbed, but nobody really knows why.

The truth is, it’s hard to come up with a scientific answer to this question, as dogs probably like their belly rubbed as much as any other part of the body.

You’ve probably heard someone say that dogs really enjoy it when you pet their butt. Other people say dogs are especially keen on rubs behind the ears.

Others advocate for rubbing the area on the neck where the collar goes. In other words, there are plenty of areas that dogs like rubbed!

There are many different theories as to why dogs like their bellies rubbed, including one that simply states that dogs like to have anything rubbed by a human.

A more specific answer would be that belly rubs are an act of affection and bonding. When you rub your dog’s belly, you’re basically telling them you love them.

I guess you could say your dog’s love language is physical touch! Christine Case of Beacon College has a different idea.

She believes that this behavior is directly related to the domestication of dogs and their bond with us, humans.

She claims that when your dog rolls on its back, it’s most likely exhibiting submissive behavior (more on that later).

Therefore, it’s hard to tell whether your dog actually enjoys belly rubs more than anything else, or if it’s simply used to rolling on its back because it creates a bonding moment for the two of you.

Even though the action of rolling on its back can be viewed as inherently submissive, there is more to be said for the pleasure belly rubs give your dog.

Belly rubs might feel good because dogs enjoy the stimulation of hair follicles.

In addition to that, your dog can also feel the sensation of a back massage when its back is against the floor.

We can’t exactly compare this to the human experience, but people enjoy massages too!

Even though the two experiences are quite different because humans can’t grow fur like dogs, we can all agree that everyone likes a good back massage.

How to Recognize That Your Dog Wants a Belly Rub

There is a difference between submissive and playful behavior. If your dog is showing you its belly, that doesn’t necessarily mean the dog is looking for a belly rub.

It could be displaying submissive behavior, meaning you should try to make it feel more comfortable.

Submissive Behavior

Terrier puppy lying down

If a dog is showing displays of submissive behavior, it is likely doing so to show others that they have nothing to fear.

In other words, your dog might be trying to appear less threatening. There are several reasons for that type of behavior.

Firstly, your dog may be feeling anxious or uncomfortable.

Feelings of anxiety in dogs are often caused by entering a new environment, meeting unfamiliar people or dogs, or being scolded or punished.

In that situation, the dog may start to lick its lips, look away, grin, or yawn. None of that means that your dog is in direct danger and needs medical attention, so don’t worry!

However, “attacking” the dog with belly rubs is not the best solution either. The best thing you can do is try to diffuse the situation by providing positive reinforcement or backing up.

Give the dog an opportunity to relax.

If you notice your furry friend getting nervous in the face of another dog or human, perhaps it would be a good idea to just take your dog and walk away.

If you’re scolding your dog and you notice it getting anxious, then you should stop. It’s as simple as that.

Giving your dog a moment to breathe will restore its mood and alleviate the anxiety.

Playful Behavior

A dog that wants a belly rub will show it! It being the belly, of course. The dog’s body language will be relaxed and excited at the same time.

You might notice its tail wagging, the mouth opened, and even light panting. For comparison, a dog that doesn’t want to be touched would look tense and stressed.

It’s easy to confuse submissive behavior with playful behavior, so you have to be careful. Pay attention to the dog’s mouth.

If it’s licking its lips and grinning in a way that it doesn’t usually do, it might be experiencing stress.

The situation should help you gain a better understanding of your dog’s mood. See if there are anything around the dog that is causing the stress.

If not, go ahead and give your pet a belly rub.

Why Do Dogs Kick Their Legs When Getting a Belly Rub?

Side profile of a doberman dog

If you’ve ever given your dog a belly rub, you must’ve seen its little (or big) legs kicking in the air. In that moment, it kind of looks like a baby lying on its back in its little baby crib.

You might be wondering why dogs do that. There is a very simple explanation for it - it’s a reflex! What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the word “reflex”?

That’s right, a doctor tapping on your knee and your knee jerking in response. It’s the same thing with dogs and it’s called the scratch reflex.

Scratching a dog’s belly activates nerves that are connected to its spinal cord. The nerves send a message to the brain that causes the legs to jerk.

The scratch reflex in dogs helps them stay safe outdoors. When a fly lands on a dog’s face, the scratch reflex will cause the skin to move, encouraging the fly to leave.

This is an involuntary response. So no, your dog is not asking you to stop petting it and it’s definitely not ticklish.

Should You Give Your Dog a Belly Rub?

Why not, right? Just like with humans, you should give your dog the respect of asking for consent.

Though you can’t verbally ask if your dog wants to be pet, you can read its body language and make assumptions based on that.

For example, if your dog is showing you its tummy, it’s probably asking for a tummy scratch. In that case, scratch away!

Pay attention to your dog’s behavioral patterns. If it’s never been into belly scratches, don’t try to force them onto your dog.

Perhaps your dog just doesn’t like being touched in that way, which is completely fine.

Pet owners quickly learn to respect their cats’ physical space, so you should give your dog the same respect.

If your dog’s behavior suddenly changes and it no longer shows its belly to you asking for belly rubs, this could be an indication that something is wrong.

Maybe the dog’s belly or back hurts, or it’s experiencing discomfort in other areas of the body.

If that continues for some time, the question is no longer “Why do dogs like their belly rubbed?”, but rather “Should I take my dog to the vet?”. The answer is yes, you should!

Not All Dogs Like Belly Rubs

Labrador being carried by a kid

Dogs that are taken from shelters often faced physical abuse in the past. If you’re adopting an older dog, prepare to be extra careful with your body language.

The dog might be scared of you at first, expecting the same abuse from you that it got from its previous owners.

You need to gain the dog’s trust before you get to pet it whenever you please. Belly rubs are very intimate and the dog needs to be comfortable with you to allow them.

If all things go well, the dog will probably eventually open up to you and allow for more open body language.

Some dogs are so traumatized that they might never feel a hundred percent comfortable with you.

Don’t worry, this is completely normal and it’s not your fault. All you have to do is keep showing your dog that you are never going to hurt it.

Though you might never get a chance to give it a nice belly rub, you’ll know that you are doing the right thing for your dog.

In other cases, the dog might just not be as touchy as you thought. If you find your dog does not enjoy belly rubs, let it be and find other ways to treat it.

You can play fetch with your dog and give it delicious treats to show your affection.

Where Else Do Dogs Like Being Rubbed?

Unlike cats and other pets, dogs are not really fussy about where they like being rubbed. The short answer is - everywhere!

To be more specific, most dogs like to be pet on the neck, chest, shoulders, and belly, of course.

Some dogs also enjoy pets at the base of the tail and around the neck, where the collar usually is. Few dogs enjoy people touching their paws, legs, and nose.

Ultimately, it all comes down to what your dog likes. Much like people, each dog is unique. If your dogs doesn’t like to be touched on the chest, there’s nothing wrong with it.

Respect your dog’s wishes.

If at any point the dog you’re petting starts growling, barking, or showing signs of discomfort, stop what you’re doing and step back to show that you are not a threat.

What’s the Best Way to Pet a Dog?

Black dog in the snow

Even though dogs are known for being very friendly, there are some best practices you can follow to make sure your dog is getting the best pets in town.

Similarly, there are some red flags you should look out for. First and foremost, you need to make sure that the dog is indeed looking to be pet.

A good way to know that a dog wants to get physical is if it approached you first. You can make yourself available to the dog by squatting down to its level and reaching out your hand.

Then it’s up to the dog to decide whether or not it wants to interact with you. If the dog is showing no interest, leave it be and don’t push it.

When the time is right, it will come to you for petting! Once the dog has made its way to you, let it sniff you.

If you’re meeting this dog for the first time, it needs to get to know you before initiating physical contact. If at any point the dog starts to back away, let it.

It clearly doesn’t feel comfortable with you just yet. If all goes well, you should start petting the dog lightly.

The dog will lean into it if it likes your touch. Once you’ve established contact, you can get a little crazy and maybe even give the dog a belly rub!

Final Thoughts

If you were looking for the answer to “why do dogs like their belly rubbed?” then you should now know it’s not much of a mystery. 

Just like you may enjoy displays of affection from your loved ones, dogs love to receive affection from people.

There are some best practices related to belly rubs and petting dogs in general, which we have shown in this article.

Just remember that your dog will show you when it’s uncomfortable. Similarly, if it’s having a good time, you’ll know.

Follow your gut and do what makes your dog happy. If belly rubs are not on the menu today, find something else that your dog will enjoy.