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My Dog Is Showing Its Belly

 
By Ricardo Luis Bruno, Veterinarian and ethologist. December 29, 2020
My Dog Is Showing Its Belly

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Many of us love to give our dog belly rubs. Their skin is often softer and their hair is fluffier. It might remind us of when we tickle a baby or some other cute activity which shows intimacy between us. The action can elicit powerful feelings of tenderness and affection. Some dogs will roll over and expose their belly for almost anyone they meet. Others will only save it for those they think are especially deserving.

In this AnimalWised article, we discuss why my dog is showing its belly. We show you why this action of exposing their bellies can tell us a lot about the personality of our dog and what it says about our relationship together.

You may also be interested in: Why Do Dogs Like Their Belly Rubbed?

Why do dogs show their belly?

Some dogs are very excitable and will seem to have little control over their body, especially if they are hyperactive. However, unless they have a physical problem which means they can't control themselves, a dog's body language is very deliberate. It is a response to the environment around them, including the other dogs, animals and humans they find within it.

For this reason, a dog exposing its belly to us is a form of canine body language we need to learn how to interpret. We also need to understand that every dog is an individual and they have different relationships with different people. Showing their belly will mean different things in different contexts. These meanings are animalwised.com/benefits-of-petting-a-dog-1529.html, but can be negative on occasion.

Here are the main reasons a dog is showing its belly:

They want their belly rubbed

As much as we love to rub a dog's belly, dogs often love it more. When we have a positive relationship with a dog, petting has mutual benefits for the both of us. Petting dogs has been proved to reduce stress in humans, one of the reasons they are often used as therapy dogs. For the dog, having their belly rubbed helps them to feel like they are receiving positive affirmation. This gives them pleasure and helps to strengthen the bond we have with them.

They have an itchy belly

Another reason a dog exposes their belly is more practical. They have an itch they can't scratch. The underside of a dog's abdomen is not always easy to reach, especially for dogs with squat bodies and short necks such as the Pug. If they cannot reach it with their paws or mouth, then they may roll over to expose themselves so we can help them out by scratching said itch.

They are excited to play

Especially when we are out in a grassy area, dogs love to roll on the ground. There are many reasons for this behavior. Some are practical such as scratching an itch on their back, but it can also relay information about their emotional state. When a dog gets excited and wants to play, they may roll on the ground to invite us or another animal to play with them.

Why do dogs show their belly?

Another reason dogs lie on their back and show their belly is to do with feeling hot. Since dogs do not have many sweat glands, they need to find different ways to regulate their body temperature. By rolling on their back, a dog can dig down to below ground level which is usually cooler. This way they can cool themselves off.

They trust us

Cats may expose their belly to us, but they will often not enjoy having their belly rubbed. One reason for this is because the underside of the animal is very vulnerable as it is an attack point for predators. Dogs have a similar vulnerability when they show their belly to us. It is a very good sign for our relationship as it shows us the dog trusts us enough to be vulnerable around us, even allowing us to pet them. Dogs are generally more forthcoming and trusting, although many cats will also let us pet them there if we have trust.

They are being submissive

Wild dogs have very specific pack behaviors and each dog will fulfill different roles within a hierarchy. To show submission to another dog, they may expose their belly. Domestic dogs might do this with other dogs, but usually to a lesser extent.

Dominance is an intraspecies-specific behavior. If a dog is aggressive towards us, it is almost always out of fear and not an attempt to dominate us. However, they may show their belly as a sign they know we are in control and they are willing to accept our commands.

They are afraid

In some circumstances, a dog might show us their belly because they are afraid of us or something else in their environment. Since exposing their belly puts them in a vulnerable position, they area acknowledging this fear. It is one form of body language which can also seen when they put their tail between their legs or lower their head.

If you see your dog is suddenly scared of you, we need to recognize it is a problem and do something about it.

My Dog Is Showing Its Belly - Why do dogs show their belly?

Why do puppies show their bellies?

In the first months of life, puppies depend absolutely on their mother. However, they also see other adult members of their group as care providers. Part of a young dog's development is playing and exploring their environment. However, they can be energetic and rambunctious, something not all adult dogs will tolerate. In these cases, you may find a puppy show their belly as a sign of deference during playtime.

Such behaviors are an important part of how a dog relates to their environment. They are using calming signals to show to other dogs and even us that they don't want any trouble and their intentions are good.

My Dog Is Showing Its Belly - Why do puppies show their bellies?

How do I know why my dog is showing their belly?

Since there are various reasons why a dog shows their belly to us, it is important for us to know how to interpret this behavior. Getting to know our dog and their personality is not only a great pleasure we have being a dog guardian, it is also necessary for us to maintain the dog's well-being throughout their lives.

Jill MacKay, a veterinary expert from the Royal School of Veterinary Studies in Edinburgh, Scotland, points out the importance of knowing why a dog is showing their belly[1]. If we always go down to rub their belly when they lie on their back, even if they are afraid, it can send confusing signals. For this reason, it is very important we look at the context of the situation.

If a dog is playing and they are showing body signs of happiness, we can be confident they enjoy having their belly rubbed. When dogs are lying down in submission or fear, we shouldn't assume they want a belly rub. This can happen especially if a dog becomes scared of another dog. Instead of having their belly rubbed, they want assurance and protection.

We can tell how a dog in a given situation by looking at their body language and behavior. If we know the dog well, we can also see when behavior is normal or when it is out of character.

My Dog Is Showing Its Belly - How do I know why my dog is showing their belly?

Why dogs show their belly when sleeping

When a dog is sleeping next to us and are showing their belly, it is a sure sign they love and trust us. In the wild, a dog is often most vulnerable when they sleep. They will curl up or cosy up to another member of the pack to protect themselves from predators. If a dog is sleeping next to us, it means they feel secure that we can help protect them. When they sleep with their belly exposed, it means they trust us completely.

Lying on their back and showing their belly is often a sign they are a happy dog and our relationship together is a healthy one. If you want to know other signs your dog is happy, take a look at our video below:

If you want to read similar articles to My Dog Is Showing Its Belly, we recommend you visit our Basic education category.

References

1. Vandette, K. (2018). Dogs don’t want their belly rubbed, animal expert claims.
https://www.earth.com/news/dogs-belly-rubbed/

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