Why Do Puppies Love Belly Rubs?

If you like to pat your puppy then you’ve probably encountered the notorious “belly rub roll”. Puppies seemingly love to have their tummies rubbed. But why do rubs on the belly feel so much better than anywhere else?

The answer for this one is fairly simple; it feels really good.

Belly rubs for puppy’s builds trust, loyalty and love with your puppy.

A good belly rub is an awesome calming technique for the puppy’s temperament. If you find your puppy has way too much energy, try the belly rub technique and use a word like “Relax!” while stroking the belly. But important to note… you have to be relaxed while doing it.

I personally cut the nails of my Japanese Akitas while they are on their backs. In between feet and nails, they get their belly rubs, which they really love. They relax and trust me.

puppy belly rub training
It can make them relaxed when they are excited also, a calming technique which has many benefits.

Why Do Belly Rubs Feel So Good?

I bet you haven’t really put much thought into it before. You start patting your puppy and they like it. They roll over to expose their belly because they love the way it feels you’re willing to oblige because, well, you love your puppy.

It’s a simple process but there’s actually quite a lot of trust built into this exercise. A puppy’s stomach is an extremely vulnerable place. It houses important organs and is not protected by a strong, bony ribcage like their chest is. Puppies are naturally reluctant to expose their vulnerable parts so if they’re willing to roll over for belly tickles, it means you have quite a strong, trusting relationship with your puppy.

Now, onto why it feels so good.

While there isn’t much study into why puppies specifically enjoy belly rubs, there is firm scientific basis which we can apply in this situation.

Puppies are mammals, and most mammals (including humans) have an inbuilt neural response which reacts to hair follicle stimulation. Researchers found that a brain neuron called MRGPRB4 reacted strongly to gentle stroking but not at all to other sensations. More simply, when you stroke your puppy’s hair follicles a release of hormones stimulates feelings of pleasure.

belly rub training puppy
My Japanese Akita’s relaxing.

But why do belly rubs feel so good in particular?

Well this seems to come down to the smaller, much more sensitive hairs on your puppy’s belly. These hairs are more respondent to stroking and therefore make the MRGPRB4 stimulation more effective.

This could be a result of evolutionary selection. Perhaps puppies with more sensitive hair follicles on their stomachs learnt more quickly that they should guard their stomachs. Puppies could be taught through play that their stomachs were areas which needed protecting.

puppy belly rub training
Sleeping with the belling facing up means the puppy is very relaxed. Puppies will automatically roll over and this follows into adulthood.

What if My Puppy Doesn’t Like Belly Rubs?

While many puppies will revel at the opportunity to have their tummies rubbed, not all puppies enjoy this behaviour. For some puppies, exposing their bellies is a sign of different behaviours. For other puppies, contact with the stomach can be seen as hostile and trigger an appropriate response.

If your puppy automatically rolls over and exposes their belly to you when you walk into a room, this may be a sign of submission, rather than an invite to rub their belly. Puppies perform this trick to make themselves appear as unintimidating as possible to higher pack mates. However, if your puppy exposes their belly to you after you start patting them, then it’s more likely a sign of enjoyment.

If your puppy is exposing their bellies as a sign of submission, it’s important to build on the trust and bond you share. Being sensitive of anxious puppy’s needs is an extremely important part of growing a happy and healthy relationship with your pet.

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