Here's what you need to know.

By Jennifer Nelson
July 20, 2021
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If you have a belly rub-loving dog, you know the drill. She immediately rolls on her back and exposes her belly, and you proceed to rub and scratch till her heart's content. Just like a good back scratch or back rub for us humans, the belly scratch feels good!

The typical dog is supposed to love a good belly rub. "This is certainly something that features regularly in cartoons. In reality, not every dog is a fan, and some dogs may find a belly scratch an invasion of their personal space," says Dr. Linda Simon, a veterinary surgeon, and consultant for Five Barks, a site for practical dog advice.

"However, for a dog who does enjoy a good belly tickle, it can be a lovely way for an owner to bond with them and show them affection," says Dr. Simon.

Why Do Dogs Like Belly Rubs
Credit: Getty Images

Why do dogs want a good belly scratch?

For a dog to feel comfortable offering you their belly, you're likely someone they trust and are comfortable to be around.

Dr. Simon says dogs who have itchy skin tend to love the belly rub the most. It's a place they might not always be able to scratch so when someone they trust really goes to town on a good belly rub, they're usually quite happy about it.

"A good belly rubbing session can release endorphins and oxytocin in dog and owner alike, strengthening the special bond between them," says Dr. Simon. What's more, for your dog, the interaction ties in with 'social grooming' practices they once experienced in groups of dogs when they lived in the wild, and their instincts for it are strong.

When dogs don't like the belly scratch

Although sometimes nervous dogs will show you their belly as a sign of submission, they may not be asking for a belly rub but are simply letting you know that they aren't a threat to you. "These anxious dogs may also hide their tail between their legs, tremble, lick their lips and avoid eye contact," says Dr. Simon. You'll need to read the signals that this isn't an invitation to touch their belly and most likely they'll flip over to prevent you from doing so. This is a sign they're not up for it.

Why do some dogs kick their legs during belly rubs?

When dogs kick their leg during a belly rub, this is called an involuntary scratch reflex. "The scratch reflex evolved to protect dogs from fleas, ticks, and other irritants," says Dr. Michelle Burch, at Safe Hounds Pet Insurance. In certain locations, your dog has a cluster of nerves located just under the skin. When that spot is scratched or tickled, the nerves send a message to the hind leg to start kicking and remove any source of irritation. Most dogs seem to enjoy the scratching despite their kicking leg.

If your dog asks for a belly scratch, feel free to satisfy their need. If your dog isn't a fan, don't force the issue as it isn't something that every pooch will enjoy. Chin rubs, ear scratches or head pats may be more to their liking.

As always, consult your vet with questions about your dog's behavior.