Belly Rub Redux

Last week we discussed the different reasons a dog may offer his belly. While some dogs really do want belly rubs, other dogs will offer their belly as a distance increasing signal. In those cases, their belly-up posture is a polite way to ask you to leave them alone.

So, how did you do on our quiz? Below are the same group of dogs as last week, with more information on their body language.

Mona Lisa

Mona Lisa’s body is loose and floppy, with soft, squinty eyes and a relaxed posture. Rub that belly!


Donovan is doing everything he can to ask you to leave him alone short of growling or biting. His eyes are wide with dilated pupils, his ears are back, he’s licking his lips, his face and muscles are tight, his mouth is closed, and his front legs are held stiffly over his belly. No belly rubs for Donovan, and you should probably back away to help him feel less worried.


Layla’s loose and floppy, with an open mouth and a big smile. Her muscles are nice and relaxed. Rub that belly!


Abraham is showing some conflicted body language. While his mouth is open and his tongue is flopped out, we have no way of knowing whether this is due to heat or if he’s truly relaxed. His eyes are wide (and may be whale eyed, although this could also be due to the angle he has to look to see the camera). His muscles look pretty tense (check out the ridges around his mouth and eyes) and his ears are back. Take a step away and speak happily to him, then use his response to determine whether he really wanted a belly rub or is glad that you gave him some space. If he bounces over to you and flops on the ground again, rub that belly. If he stays where he is or disengages, you were probably right to leave him alone.


Boomer’s mouth is closed, his eyes are wide and worried with dilated pupils, and his ears are back. Give this puppy some space and let him approach you when he feels ready.


Bob’s having a blast! He’s pretty busy playing, and may or may not enjoy a belly rub. Since his body language is soft and loose, you can certainly approach him. He may appreciate a back rub, where you slide your hand between his body and the ground and rub up and down, more than a belly rub at this point. Help him reach the itchy spots!


Harry most definitely does not want to be approached, and he might bite if you push the issue. His mouth is closed so tightly that he has muscle ridges around it and around his eyes. His eyes are big and round, and he’s displaying whale eyes. One of his paws is curled tightly against his body, and the other is held up in preparation to push you away if you keep approaching. Back away from Harry and let him approach you on his own terms.

Remember, dogs who truly want their bellies rubbed will be loose and floppy, with soft eyes and wiggly bodies. If your dog appears tense, looks away from you, has wide eyes (or whale eyes), licks her lips, or shows other signs of stress, she’s probably asking you to back off. This body language is known as a “tap out” or “inguinal exposure,” and should be respected by giving the dog space to feel more comfortable.

So, how did you do? Are you a belly rub expert? Let us know in the comments section!

13 responses to “Belly Rub Redux

  1. Thank you for the follow-up. It’s great to be able to practice reading canine body language.

  2. I’m so thrilled with this blog (and its Part 1). I was looking for a source like this a few months ago, and couldn’t find anything worth sharing. Thanks!

  3. Carolyn Leyboldt

    I always thought offering the belly was a sign of trust. Thanks for the insight.

  4. very interesting – Ruby increasingly automatically rolls onto her back when approached by a new dog – thought it was submission (it may be) but I also need to look at her eyes/face too. Thanks!

  5. Love it! Sadly I have a few owners that don’t want to understand why I wont rub their dogs belly when its offered to me. These are dogs that obviously don’t want to be pet but people seem to think they all want belly rubs. Must be a common misconception.

  6. Reblogged this on idontsew and commented:
    This is so important!! SO many well meaning people assume that a belly exposed means a belly rub is in order. Read this awesome post at Paws Abilities to keep yourself safe and your dog happy!

  7. Pingback: April showers bring … indoor playtime with adorable adoptables | The Unexamined Dog

  8. These descriptions don’t fit with two of my three dogs. I have a male LGD, Great Pyr/Anatolian mix, that loves belly rubs. He will flop over on is back, his mouth may be open or closed and he is never loose, floppy or wiggly. My house dog, a maltipoo, also loves belly rubs. She is not loose, floppy or wiggly and her mouth is usually closed, yet she will come up to people (not strangers, because she doesn’t like strangers and won’t approach them), lay down next to them or ON them, and deliberately, slowly roll over to expose her belly…mouth closed, front legs tucked up tight. Our female LGD is a lose, floppy, wiggly dog, but doesn’t ask for belly rubs.

  9. Mosaics – my older dog, a border collie mix, does this, too. She approaches people (even my partner and myself), lays down on their feet, then slowly rolls over, tail tucked slightly, very tense, mouth closed. All of that is very clear anxiety markers. She will tolerate belly rubs, because most people assume that’s what she wants, but usually she is conflicted in her desires. She loves people, but is easily intimidated, so she seeks closeness and attention but then becomes a little overwhelmed and asks for her space. Nevermind that she is the one putting herself in close proximity in the first place. It’s just how she reacts when she’s unsure. She will also roll over with a BANG command or in play, and the body language is completely different. When she rolls over and appears nervous, instead of petting her, I’ll give her the ‘get up!’ cue and reward with affection when she’s clearly happier and relaxed.

  10. I’m a dog trainer (more accurately,a person trainer) a dogs body language will always (ok 98%) tell the story. You just need to learn their language. I got 100% on the test.
    Thank you for posting.

  11. Pingback: Belly Rubs: Do Dogs Really Like 'Em? - Joyful Dogs

  12. Pingback: Calm and Relaxed? or Stressed and Shut Down? | Lucky Pup Living

  13. Pingback: Belly Rubs: Do Dogs Really Like ‘Em? - Joyful Dogs

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