Dogs enjoy a good ol' belly rub – any time of the day. It seems that there are both behavioural and neurological reasons as to why he particularly enjoys it.
It’s an everyday affair: He flops over onto his back, and you give his exposed belly a good rub while you two watch the telly. If you’ve ever wondered why your pooch loves this so much, it’s actually because when you stroke his underbelly fur, it triggers a neurological reaction that makes the entire experience super satisfying for him!
“I trust you”
As it is with cats, an exposed belly is a sign that your pooch trusts you. Rolling over to bare his belly leaves him physically vulnerable, and that’s a pretty big deal!
“This feels good”
Fido has a particular brain neurone that responds solely to the stimulation of hair follicles. This means that when you rub his tummy, you are actually stroking his tiny belly hairs as well, thus providing a specific type of stimulation in his brain, which makes it enjoyable for him.
“Just a reflex”
When you scratch a dog's belly, you may sometimes notice that he kicks his legs. Does he do this out of pleasure? Not really, but it’s not a bad thing either.
Underneath certain parts of the dog's skin are groups of nerves that connect to his spinal cord. When these nerves are activated, either by scratching or rubbing, they quickly send messages to the spinal cord, which then instructs his legs to kick.
This reaction is a self-defence mechanism for him, and is known as the scratch reflex! It’s an involuntary response that occurs when your pooch feels the need to protect himself from annoying bugs or insects crawling on his skin.
If there are fleas running around his skin, the itchiness will cause the scratch reflex to activate, thus causing his legs to kick in hopes of getting rid of the bugs.
“Eh, maybe not”
If your dog rolls over voluntarily, go ahead and rub his belly! However, rolling him over, without him doing it on his own, is not advised as it could make him anxious and upset. As mentioned, rolling over puts Fido in a vulnerable position, so some dogs may not feel “safe” doing so in unfamiliar surroundings (such as at the park or even at your friend’s house).
“Easy does it…”
Lastly, don’t forget to be gentle! Vigorous rubbing may be over-stimulating to some dogs and could cause discomfort. Always start off with gentle stroking, and pay careful attention to his reactions to see if he is enjoying it.
*This article was updated on 5 Oct 2020. It first appeared in PetsMagazine.com.sg on 11 Jul 2016.