Why Do Dogs Love Belly Rubs?

dog getting his belly rub

Does your dog roll over onto her back, seemingly to demand you to rub her belly? And then once you do, her leg starts kicking like she’s trying to start a motorcycle? Believe it or not, there’s a scientific reason why your dog is reacting this way.

In this post, you’ll learn the real reasons why your dog can’t get enough belly rubs from you.

Why Dogs Love Belly Rubs

You may think that your dog loves belly rubs because she just loves being around you and being touched by you. While this is certainly part of the reason, it’s not the whole reason. The truth is your dog loves her belly being rubbed because it just plain feels good, and here’s why.

When you rub your dog’s belly, the stimulation of her hair follicles sets off a specific reaction in specific neurons in the brain. Many experts believe that this stimulation is linked to canine social grooming, also known as allogrooming. Allogrooming occurs in nature when two dogs groom each other exclusively through licking. This act is an essential part of the process of building sociability and trust between dogs.

This is why it is also considered a sign that your dog trusts you whenever she rolls onto her back and offers you her belly to rub. It’s not just a sign of submission.

Why Does a Dog Kick When Having Their Belly Rubbed?

One sign that most people believe shows that their dogs are really loving their tummy rub is when their back legs start kicking. Many think that this is what happens when you’re hitting the “right spot.” But what is really causing her leg to kick like that?

When your dog kicks while you’re rubbing her belly, it is actually her scratch reflex that is being activated. Think of it just like the reflex test your doctor performs on your knee. Rubbing her belly activates the nerves under her skin, which are connected to her spinal cord. In nature, this stimulation is what relays the message to the brain for her to kick her legs to get rid of whatever is activating her nerves, which in nature would most likely be insects or some other irritant. It is just like the response that occurs when your dog’s skin twitches whenever a bug lands on her back. It is an automatic response that is designed to protect your dog from danger. It does not mean that she is itchy or that she is loving her tummy rub, it is simply an involuntary reaction.

Because these nerves are tied directly to the spine, the scratch reflex is commonly tested by veterinarians in cases where it is suspected that a dog might have spinal or nerve problems.

What Does It Mean If My Dog Doesn’t Like Her Belly Rubbed?

While most dogs tend to enjoy having their belly rubbed, not all dogs do. If your dog doesn’t like having her tummy rubbed that doesn’t mean that she doesn’t trust you. She probably just doesn’t care for it.

But regardless, you should never try to force a tummy rub on your dog because there may be an underlying reason for why she doesn’t want to roll over onto her back, such as pain or a potential health issue. Trying to force your dog to behave a certain way can also wind up creating other anxious behaviors and can ultimately cause you to lose the trust you have built with her.

If you’re unsure if your dog likes having her belly rubbed, then pay close attention to see how tense or relaxed she looks. A relaxed dog will look loose and floppy, while a tense dog will be rigid and stiff. If your dog hunches her body, tucks her tail between her legs, or tries to move away from you, then you should stop rubbing her belly immediately.

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