If there’s such a thing as a universal pleasure center regarding dog behavior among dogs, it’s the belly.
The skin on their bellies is thinner than skin elsewhere, and there’s not a lot of fur.
As a result, the belly is exquisitely sensitive to touch. Dogs enjoy physical affection just like we do.
A dog who’s getting his belly rubbed enjoys the attention.
He likes the nice sensations. And he likes knowing he can attract people like a magnet just by rolling over and putting his feet in the air.
It’s A Trust Factor
Dogs use body language to convey very specific messages. As a dog behavior, rolling on their backs and exposing their bellies is a sure sign of submission.
It’s a way of telling other dogs, “I’m at your mercy; do what you will.” A dog who’s being threatened and wants to avoid a fight will expose his belly to signal his noncombatant status. Conversely, a dog who’s at peace and relaxed will go belly up just because he feels safe to do so.
That position is the ultimate dog behavior regarding vulnerability.
People only reveal their softer sides to those they love and trust. It’s the same with dogs. It takes a lot of trust for them to expose their bellies in front of people, and that’s one of the reasons that belly rubs are such blissful experiences.
When your dog looks at you, lies down, and flops over for a belly rub, that says something about the relationship you have with him. It tells you that your dog knows that you are in charge, that he loves and trusts you, and that he’s happy with that arrangement.
The unique thing about this behavior is that it presents one of the few opportunities that dogs have to set the agenda.
It’s usually the people who decide when to spend time with their dogs. We choose when we’ll go for a walk, when we’ll take a ride in the car, when we’ll sit on the deck and throw tennis balls.
But here’s an opportunity for dogs to say, “I’d like to spend some time with you now.” They know that their people will be more than happy to comply.
Some dogs are promiscuous with their affection. They’ll roll over for anyone at just about any time. This is especially true of Labrador retrievers, who are known for their people-pleasing personalities.
It’s not uncommon, in fact, for Labradors to walk around a room, pause in front of each person they come to, and flop onto their backs.
Other dogs are much more cautious about revealing themselves. It’s not a matter of love or affection, just one of temperament. There are dogs who love you but who just don’t want to be that vulnerable.
Akitas, for example, are known for being independent and somewhat reserved. They’re less likely than most dogs to ask for or even tolerate a belly rub.
This dog behavior is true of huskies, Alaskan malamutes, and other breeds with strong, assertive personalities.