Dogs Never Really Liked Belly Rubs And Tickling – They’re Just Tolerating It, Animal Expert Says

A dog exposing its belly is not really inviting people for belly rubs.

An animal expert says that dogs don't really enjoy belly rubs.
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A dog exposing its belly is not really inviting people for belly rubs.

When people see dogs lying down and exposing their bellies, they immediately go up to them and give them loving belly rubs or even tickles. While people think dogs enjoy getting them, an animal expert says that they actually hate it and never liked being touched that way in the first place.

As reported by the Daily Mail, Dr. Jill MacKay from Royal School of Veterinary Studies at the University of Edinburgh understands that pet owners only mean well by giving dogs belly rubs. She also believes that it’s one of the things that owners got wrong when it comes to dog behavior.

Dogs rolling over and exposing their stomach are easily taken as an invitation for affection. However, this, according to MacKay during an advance talk on the matter at the Edinburgh International Science Festival, is the animal’s way of expressing trust.

“It is very common for a dog to lie down, show its tummy and lift its legs in the air, but that is not a request for a tummy rub.”

MacKay explains that if a dog rolls over and exposes its stomach to another dog, it simply means that it’s comfortable being around the other animal. But when a dog does it around humans and gets touched, it’s much like having the owner invade the animal’s space. But somehow, dogs just welcome the touch because they have learned to tolerate a human’s impulse to give belly rubs.

Animal expert Dr. Jill MacKay says that dogs rolling over are not really asking for belly rubs.
  Pavel Hlystov / iStock

MacKay’s observations somewhat contradict a 2015 study that showed that dogs are not acting submissive when they roll over. Instead, they’re being defensive and ready to engage in combat. The study by scientists at the University of Lethbridge in Canada together with University of South Africa researchers showed that the common behavior of rolling over has been mistaken for an act of submission.

To arrive at the findings, the researchers analyzed YouTube videos showing dogs playing around. They also observed a medium-sized female dog playing with 33 other dogs one at a time. Researchers found that the rollovers were not done to appear submissive. Instead, the act was done as a defense mechanism to avoid getting bitten on the neck or also an offensive tactic for an attack.

In an email to the Huffington Post, study co-author Dr. Sergio Pellis suggested that rollovers are not always about dominance and submission. If that had been the case, smaller dogs would be more likely to expose their bellies but researchers observed that bigger dogs rolled over more. In addition, if rolling over is done as an act of submission, a dog should hold that position for longer periods of time. However, researchers noted that the rollovers were brief.

The study can be found in the journal Behavioral Processes.