It is safe to say that every dog enjoys a good belly rub. Anyone who interacts with a dog knows that it is common for them to roll onto their backs so you can give them a good scratch in their favorite spot. But it really begs the question: why do dogs enjoy their belly rubs so much? The answer is a little more complicated that you might think, because not all dogs who expose their stomach are interested in a rub. Some dogs, says a woman named Dr. Liz Stelow, who works as the Chief of Animal Behavior Services at the University of California Davis, are interested in belly rubs.
There are actually two reasons for a dog to show its belly, she says. Either the dog actually does want a belly rub or they are exhibiting a submissive behavior, commonly known as tapping out. There are two very different reasons for a dog to do either of these things. A dog showing its belly is a sign of submission, and it makes them vulnerable to other animals or to humans. This means that a dog could roll over and show its belly because they want the current interaction to stop, not because they want you to come closer to them. Dogs doing this behavior typically roll over very slowly, look away, show their eye whites and seem tense rather than relaxed. Giving a dog a belly rub while they are exhibiting this behavior is not a good idea.
However, when a dog actually does want a belly rub there are a few ways to tell. They will be relaxed, for starters. They will also typically plop down onto the floor near a human from whom they want attention and they will wag their tail or act like they are enjoying themselves. They could enjoy belly rubs because they feel good, because it has been positively reinforced by their owners or just because it happens to reduce their blood pressure and heart rate.
So, the next time a dog “asks” you, be sure to give them a rub!