Rubbing A Dogs Belly: Good? Bad? How Do You Stop This Habit?

Rubbing a dog’s belly seems like a fun, pleasurable, and innocent thing to do. Most people would never see any downside to it. But there can be some significant negatives, so for this reason I always pet and rub my dogs on the top of their bodies, and I always encourage others to do the same.

When a dog has a habit of rolling onto his belly whenever someone approaches, the dog is essentially demanding attention. His entire body language is beckoning to the person, “Go on, pet me…rub my belly…shower your affection upon me!” This can create a very demanding dog and problems can manifest in all kinds of areas of your life with him.

Offering physical affection toward your dog is something that should be done at your discretion and not in response to your dog’s silent demand, however cute and inviting that subtle demand may be. Rolling on the belly is a fairly obvious demand for attention. More subtle ones are as follows: 1) a dog nudging a person’s hand or leg with his snout, 2)

Another reason for discouraging belly rubbing is that it can undermine the teaching and reinforcement of commands. For example, if you’ve placed your dog in a “Down/Stay” and you’re using strangers for distraction testing, allowing belly rubbing (versus asking the person to pet the dog’s head) can cause the dog to squirm out of position or even break the command entirely (e.g. rise up and follow the stranger). This breaking of the command will have happened because of the excessive praise, yet my Perfect Dog DVDs teach that abundant praise should be reserved for when the command has been properly completed (AND you have given the proper release command).

Calm petting of the dog’s head as a praise reward for maintaining a command – whether performed by you or others – should always be done gently, and the verbal praise should be pleasant but not enthusiastic. This helps keep the dog in the proper position you’ve put him in (e.g. in a “Down”).

Now, you could be wondering what to do if your dog has already developed the habit of always rolling onto his belly to receive praise and affection. Is this habit undoable? Rest assured that the answer is yes.

When your dog rolls over on his back as the person approaches, get the person to wait and hold his/her hand in the air just above where the dog’s head would be if he were still upright. The dog will soon get the idea and will roll back upright in order to receive the affection. The person can even wave his/her hand flat in the air (acting as if s/he is petting the dog’s head) for extra motivation if the dog is reluctant to roll upright. If the person does this for long enough, the dog will eventually give in and be willing to receive the praise in the manner being offered.

If the dog proceeds to roll over again once the person is petting the dog’s head, get the person to again hold off on the petting with his/her hand held where the dog’s head was, waiting for the dog turn over. If a certain person is not willing to comply with your wishes, it’s best to ask him/her to please refrain from interacting with your dog. Don’t be afraid of saying what’s necessary, in the best interests of your dog’s training progress. Always remember that you’re the one that has to live with your dog 24/7!

If you keep this up – both at home and in public, including you and all your family members, your dog will eventually always remain upright to receive praise and affection.

– Don Sullivan, “The DogFather”

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One response to “Rubbing A Dogs Belly: Good? Bad? How Do You Stop This Habit?”

  1. […] – review my DVDs for my explanation on this. I have also written a Blog post on this subject: Then, turn to your dog and offer the same kind of attention. Don’t worry about whether or not […]

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