I am so excited to see this blog post today as this is a common theme of phone calls I receive from frustrated dog owners or parents after their dog has growled or bitten someone just after or during a belly rub. “But he was on his back getting belly rubs. He loves belly rubs.”
Dogs get on their backs for many reasons. Here are three different situations I frequently see with family dogs.
1. Dog on back, tight body, no tail wag, whale eyed, stiff facial features, mouth closed, eye contact avoidance…paws may be outstretched if person approaches to block or increase space.
This is often to increase distance and not an invite but rather a “leave me alone please.” Usually with an unfamiliar person.
2. Dog on back…wiggly, waggy, tail sweeping floor, relaxed face, happy eyes…when you stop petting the dog nudges for more and wiggles and stays loose.
Often they want pets and engagement.
3. Dog on back…possibly wagging tail tight to body, licking lips fast and weary eyed, tighter body moving to side more than complete on back.
I have seen dogs do this when asked to do something that makes them uncomfortable or they feel threatened. Some dogs will do this when asked to do something they really don’t want to do in that moment…ex: get off bed or couch etc. A pretty please leave me alone type belly up.
I recommend people Pet/Pause/Respect
Pet the dog (assuming he initiated and indicated he wants petting)
Pause…. after several gentle pets pause to see what the dog offers
- Nuzzles hand for more…. good
- Sweeps floor with tail and wiggles closer…good
- Turns away and disengages…. he is done
- Gets up and shakes off…. he is done
- Tightens facial features and becomes stiff…done!
- Checks in with handler often…done
Respect…now that the dog has given feedback that you observed during the pause…respect what the dog has communicated.
The hard thing for most people is to recognize when the dog has had enough. A dog may want several pets and then may choose to walk away and be left alone. We often put our desire to pet the dog over the need of that particular dog. This can backfire!
I think about when I was pregnant and how many people wanted to touch my belly. YIKES! Just because it was there did NOT mean I would want a stranger touching and for PETE”S SAKE rubbing my belly! I might have allowed family members to touch and even lay their head against etc but my comfort level was very different depending on the context, my relationship etc. Just as we people have our own special boundaries so do dogs! We need to allow them to communicate with us and respect what they offer. Pet/Pause/Respect offers this.