Most pet parents believe that, when their dogs roll over and expose their tummies, the dog is displaying submission to a more dominant counterpart. While this may be correct in some instances, it does not hold true across the board. In fact, dogs roll over for many reasons, ranging from submission to joy. Here are some of the most common times pet parents will see their dogs roll over, along with explanations of what the behavior might mean:
Rolling Over During Play
Any pet parent that has watched their dog play with another dog knows that rolling over is very common. While a dog may roll over as a sign of submission when a larger or older dog is playing too roughly, rolling over during bouts of play is more typically a battle tactic. Dogs on their backs during play are more capable of both blocking and directing bites at their play partner, which may actually serve to make them the more dominant dog during play thanks to their advantageous position.
Rolling Over During Greeting
When you walk into the house in the evening, your dog may roll over and show you his or her belly in a display of glee. Contrary to what most pet parents believe, this is not a display of submission. More likely, this behavior is a showing of affection or a way of achieving a great stretch or requesting a belly rub.
Rolling Over As an Apology
If you have ever scolded your dog for getting into the trash or behaving badly, it is possible that the dog has responded by skulking towards you in a submissive stance and slowly rolling over. This is one of the few instances of rolling-over behavior that does actually denote submission. When a dog is responding emotionally to scolding from an owner, the dog may roll over and expose its belly as a way of apologizing or asking for forgiveness. Additionally, if a dog feels legitimately physically threatened by another dog or a person, rolling over may be a natural submissive response.
Dog behavior can often be complex and there are many reasons a dog will roll over and expose his belly. Although some rolling over is indeed submissive, such as in the event of fear or scolding, rolling over is much more often an expression of joy or a tactical maneuver during play fighting with another dog. Dogs may roll over to scratch their backs in the grass, to stretch or simply to ask the nearest person for a belly rub.
By understanding the many reasons dogs may expose their bellies, pet parents can quickly become more in-tune with their dog's behavior, as well as being better able to interpret signs of submission or joy within their dog. The next time your dog rolls over, don’t be so quick to read it as submission. Pay attention to the context of the behavior and you will quickly see that rolling over can actually accompany some joyous moments in the dog’s life.
Content reviewed by a veterinarian