Dogs can be funny creatures. Their behavior is designed to confound us or at least make us laugh. One of those behaviors is the seemingly random act of rolling over on its back and wiggling. Why do dogs roll on their backs and wiggle?
It’s as if they have an itch to scratch, and sometimes, this is, in fact, the case. But that’s not the only reason a dog might suddenly flop over and make an imaginary snow angel (snow or not).
In general terms, your dog uses body language to communicate with you, other dogs, and just about anything else. Many owners learn to understand much of their pet’s behavior and can tell when a dog is happy or in distress.
In the case of rolling over and wiggling, which of those is it? It can be either. Let’s dig into this behavior and discover the possible reasons dogs roll in the grass, dirt, floor, park, or just about anywhere.
Here is why dogs roll on their backs and wiggle.
- 1 First: Should You Be Concerned?
- 2 Why Do Dogs Roll On Their Backs and Wiggle?
- 2.1 1. Your Dog Is Itchy and Scratchy
- 2.2 2. Your Dog Is Trying to Be Cool
- 2.3 3. Your Dog Is Greeting You (Or Others)
- 2.4 4. Your Dog Wants Attention
- 2.5 5. Your Dog Wants to Be a Secret Agent
- 2.6 6. Your Dog Is Playing a Trick
- 2.7 7. Your Dog May Be Obsessive
- 3 A Note on “Alpha Rolling”
- 4 Final Thoughts On Why Dogs Roll On Their Backs And Wiggle
First: Should You Be Concerned?
Firstly, it’s worth knowing that just as with all dog behaviors, rolling on its back is neither good nor bad in and of itself. Most times, this is a behavior habit and not a medical condition at all. Whether or not the behavior is healthy may be a question at times, but usually not in this case.
Why Do Dogs Roll On Their Backs and Wiggle?
1. Your Dog Is Itchy and Scratchy
The first possible reason mentioned above, and the seemingly most obvious, is that your dog has an itch to scratch. After all, humans do it when the itch is unreachable — we look for a sharp wall end or door frame to wiggle on.
However, suppose it’s doing this far more frequently than what is reasonable. In that case, you may be within reason to investigate whether your pup is suffering from an allergy or other kind of skin irritation. Allergies and irritations can cause additional complications that may become more unpleasant for the dog and you as time goes on.
A good scratch now and then is okay. Scratching several times a day over an extended period may indicate other issues. Canine allergies can stem from the environment, like the ground, grass, parasites obtained from the soil in the yard, and so on. Dogs may also suffer from food allergies. Dust, pollen, and mold are also known to be allergens for dogs.
If you suspect an allergy or skin infection, speak with your vet to have it treated immediately.
2. Your Dog Is Trying to Be Cool
Most people know that dogs will pant or expose their tongues to cool off when they are hot. The belly, which usually has lighter fur, can also be exposed to offer additional relief. Also, dogs will expose their paws, as some breeds can also cool off this way.
3. Your Dog Is Greeting You (Or Others)
Some dogs love their humans. When they see you, they incline to show you that they welcome your presence and are no threat to you. So they roll over onto their backs, wag their tails, and squirm and wiggle. Usually, this is accompanied by enthusiastic licking and light yelping.
It also relates to exposing its belly to show you that it offers vulnerability and trust. Sometimes, it may exhibit this behavior when in a strange place or meeting new people and dogs. This is simply to say, “I am not a threat.” Let’s have fun instead.
4. Your Dog Wants Attention
Similar in function to greeting you, your dog may also ask for some attention. Rolling over sometimes invites a play session. Exposure to its belly almost compels us to go and scratch it, and a dog is more likely to tolerate this than, say, a cat.
Dogs may learn this from puppies, as everyone seems to love giving them tummy rubs. When they want some attention as adults, it seems logical to offer the one thing humans can’t resist.
Spending time with your dog can tremendously benefit your relationship and health. Your dog loves you and wants to be a part of your daily life. Why not engage in kind?
Caution: Dogs may tolerate tummy rubbing more than cats, but some can suddenly decide not to like it anymore. A good approach is to a pet in short bursts (two or three rubs), then stop, and see if your dog is inviting more of the same. That should be the start of a good play session.
Image by Michael Treu from Pixabay
5. Your Dog Wants to Be a Secret Agent
The heading here is only tongue-in-cheek. It means a dog may roll on its back to obscure its scent in a particular environment. This is instinctive behavior, likely handed down genetically, particularly in hunting dogs.
When a dog hunts in the wild, it sometimes needs to mask its scent in order to stalk prey. It would therefore roll around in anything that had a more potent smell. Domestic dogs today might simply engage in this behavior as an inherited habit.
If, on the other hand, you feel your dog generally smells like fish, you may want to look elsewhere for answers.
A note on grass: Many dogs love the texture of grass. It smells significant (to them), it’s rough in texture, and it probably feels great on their backs. Rolling in the grass is a perfectly natural behavior, too.
Take note, however, if the grass creates any allergic reactions. Make sure the grass is free from other stinky detritus before you welcome the pooch back on the couch or bed.
A Few Tips: How to Stop Your Dog From Rolling in the Deep
If you’re fed up with cleaning your dog and home from the odors and debris of the not-so-desirables, here are a few things to curb the behavior.
- The main objective is to interrupt or distract from the behavior. Call it over or distract it by moving on as soon as it is down in the muck.
- Walk a short way away with the dog (if possible) and call it again. If it comes, reward it with a treat or petting. This will reinforce the response for the future. You can even add a prerequisite trick, like sitting before the treat.
- If your dog is not on a leash, leash it. Then lead it away from the offending pile or area.
- Once clear of the “danger,” engage them with a game or dog toy.
6. Your Dog Is Playing a Trick
Some dogs can be tricky, creating one of the concerning behaviors on this list. They have learned that lying on their backs can effectively lure innocent “prey” to the “kill.” This type of behavior is usually not desired and displayed by typically anxious dogs.
The idea is that they will lie still, on their backs, and await an approach. However, they are not relaxed and roll around with a happy disposition. They will often appear tense and fix their gaze with eye contact. Approaching such a dog is not a good idea.
More than likely, they will begin to growl or possibly snap at you. It’s best to give this particular example of dog-on-back behavior some consideration. The best advice is to consult a behaviorist or at least a vet for advice.
Other Cues to Be Aware Of
Hard eye contact may not be the only telltale behavior of a dog to avoid. This also applies when you witness another dog interact with yours, even if it is on its back at the time.
- A dog that stiffens up and avoids explicitly looking at you or the other dog it engages with may not be thrilled with the situation.
- The jaws close or stiffen up, indicating tension.
7. Your Dog May Be Obsessive
A less-frequent but serious possibility is that your dog is displaying obsessive-compulsive behavior. The reasons for this compulsive and obsessive behavior may not be that obvious. Once more, it is best to consult a behaviorist on such a matter. They may often recommend a redirection strategy to curb the behavior.
OCD in Dogs
OCD in dogs is not entirely rare and can encompass a range of activities besides obsessively rolling on the ground. Other behaviors include chasing their tails, and pica, biting the walls or thin air, and even simply barking and yelping.
More serious occurrences may lead to injury, sometimes even self-harm, as pups chew or scratch uncontrollably.
The critical aspect is that there is no apparent reason for the given behavior, and it serves no purpose, happening frequently and without the trigger. Studies have shown that signs of such behavior usually manifest before three years old and sometime after the first year.
Some studies suggest that OCD is initially caused by a triggering incident or possibly hereditary factors.
As the condition relates to anxiety somewhat, vets may try medication-based treatment. Generally, if left untreated or undiagnosed, the behavior worsens as the dog ages.
A Note on “Alpha Rolling”
Something worth noting, especially for those with puppies, is the negative impact of the “alpha roll.” This is when you, as a human, try to force your dog to roll over. When humans do this, they are “forcing” their dogs to take a submissive position.
Because this is such a vulnerable position for a dog, it may become associated with fear and anxiety over time. As we know, puppies are quick to learn, and training them out of this behavior may be challenging once it is ingrained.
It’s also worth noting that there are some advocates who support “alpha rolling.” They insist it is an effective technique for asserting dominance based on the belief that wolves in the wild seem to practice it.
Final Thoughts On Why Dogs Roll On Their Backs And Wiggle
Hopefully, this article has helped to demystify your pup’s strange habit of rolling on its back with a wiggle to boot. It’s not all that mysterious, which is mostly a good thing.
The only concern you should have is when you note some of the problematic behavior mentioned above: doing it far too frequently or accompanying it with nervous, aggressive behavior. So, assuming none of these is a factor, give that belly a rub.
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