Belly Rubs and Wagging Tails: The Secret to a Happy Dog

Does my dog know I love him?

Like most pet parents, you love your dog dearly and want nothing more than for them to be happy and content. You buy the best food, the most comfortable dog bed, fun and exciting toys, and you get up early to make sure they get their daily walks. But does this make your dog happy? 

How do you know if your dog is happy? In this article, we will look at what makes a contented canine, why petting and fussing is important to your dog, and how to know if your dog is really enjoying that belly rub!

Table of Contents

What makes a dog happy?

Put simply, dogs are happy when they feel safe and their needs are met. 

There is a definite hierarchy to these dog needs; if basic needs like safety, sleep, and adequate nutrition are not met, then it will be impossible for the dog to feel happy. 

For your dog to reach their happiness potential, the following needs must be met:

Safety, air, fresh water, sleep, exercise, comfort, adequate nutrition, correct temperature, medical care, and sufficient body and coat care to ensure comfort.

Trust in owners and companions, relationships built on consistency, love and secure attachments.

Affection, interaction and play with people and/ or other dogs.

Mental stimulation, environmental enrichment, training with positive reinforcement, some choice, and a sense of agency.

Just like humans, dogs are individuals and each dog will have certain things that make them really happy.

For one dog it might be car rides, for another it might be playing with doggy friends. If your dog does not seem as happy as they should be, consider whether all of their needs are being met.

Does my dog know I love him? ❤

Dogs experience many of the emotions that people do; fear, sadness, anger, pleasure, and indeed, love. 

Now, we can’t ask our dogs how they are feeling but from scientific experiments and observation of their behavior, we suspect that they experience love in a similar way to humans.

Studies show that the hormone Oxytocin is released in the dog’s brain when interacting with its owners. Oxytocin is associated with feelings of love in humans, including between parent and child. 

It is partly responsible for the building of strong bonds between people. Increased levels of Oxytocin during interactions, together with canine body language that indicates happiness when reunited with an owner, suggests that dogs do indeed feel love.

A common question from owners is “Does my dog know I love him?”. The answer is probably yes! 

If you interact with your dog in an affectionate and responsive way and pay attention to his needs, you are strengthening your bond and showing your dog that you love him. 

Dogs are masters of observation and they do recognize happiness in their owners from tone of voice and body language, so if you seem happy to be with your dog and show him you love him, he will understand on some level.

Suggested reading: What do dogs think about?

How do I build a good relationship with my dog?

Building a good relationship based on trust takes time. It requires you to be patient, calm, and consistent with your dog.

Show your dog affection, but be sure they want it – giving the dog choice when interacting with you is key to a good relationship.

Some days your dog might want lots of cuddles, other days they may want to be left alone. 

If your dog knows that they have a choice and they won’t be forced to do something they don’t want to, this in itself builds confidence and trust in you. 

Petting and fussing your dog is a great way to strengthen your bond– it causes the bonding hormone oxytocin to be released (in both canine and human brains!) and slow, soothing strokes can help calm your dog. 

Punishment- either verbal or physical- can damage the relationship you have with your dog, so be sure to use kind training methods based on positive reinforcement. 

In fact, regular training sessions can actually help to strengthen the bond you have with your dog.

How do I know if my dog trusts me?

Signs that your dog trusts you include; initiating and holding eye contact with you, asking for fusses, sleeping on their back when near you, calm and relaxed body language when near you, responding well to cues when training, and checking in with you for guidance if he is unsure.

Why do dogs like to be petted?

Most dogs love being petted, and it is likely that this is something that has developed during the process of domestication.

As we’ve already mentioned, dogs experience a rush of the bonding hormone oxytocin when they are fussed, which makes them feel safe and lovedBeing petted gently and slowly is very soothing to most dogs. 

Luckily for them, humans benefit too- we also experience increased oxytocin in our brains, as well as a reduction in blood pressure and the stress hormone cortisol- which means we are more than happy to oblige when Rover asks for a fuss!

Suggested reading: Why does my dog lay on me?

Where do dogs like to be scratched?

So where is the best place to pet or scratch a dog? There are some areas on the dog’s body that they will probably enjoy being touched- the neck, chest, shoulders and back are usually safe bets for most dogs. 

Work out what your dog likes and what they don’t like by fussing or scratching for a few seconds and then stopping- they will soon tell you if they want more! 

Think about how you are petting your dog and what effect it will have on them. Gentle, slow strokes are calming, while fast or rigorous petting may get them excited. 

Many dogs like to be scratched in areas they can’t reach themselves- often on the neck, behind the ears, and at the base of the tail. 

Some dogs also like having their belly rubbed and will let you know by rolling onto their back with their legs in the air. 

It is not uncommon for dogs to dislike their head and paws being touched, so be cautious and watch your dog’s body language for signs that they are uncomfortable.

Do dogs like belly rubs?

Lots of dogs do like having their belly rubbed and will roll onto their back for a belly rub at every opportunity. However, dogs will also roll over and expose their belly as an act of submission when they are feeling anxious. 

By exposing their most vulnerable areas, they are showing you that they are not a threat. This is a behavior that is commonly used by puppies, but some adult dogs will do it too.

Context is everything here; if you are petting your own dog and he is nice and relaxed when rolling onto his back, the chances are he wants a belly rub. 

But if you are meeting a new dog for the first time and they roll onto their back when you go to pet them, they are probably communicating that they are a little worried by you. 

In this case, move away and let them come to you in their own time. In younger dogs, submissive behavior is sometimes accompanied by urination- you have been warned!

 

Suggested reading: Why do dogs sleep on their backs?

Why do dogs kick when you scratch them?

You may have noticed that when you scratch a certain area on your dog, his leg starts to kick like crazy

That special area is known as a ‘sweet spot’; it will be slightly different for each dog, but it is usually on the neck, shoulders, or ribcage. 

The leg-kicking is called the ‘scratch reflex’. Many owners worry when they see this for the first time and ask ‘Is the scratch reflex bad?’ but the good news is that it is completely normal.

The leg kicking is an involuntary response to nerve stimulation under the skin, and evolved to protect dogs from biting insects such as fleas.

So do dogs like it when you scratch their sweet spot? You bet they do! They will often lean against you and make funny little noises to let you know how good it feels.

When shouldn’t you pet a dog?

Although most dogs love being petted, there are certainly times when petting a dog is not a good idea. 

Some dogs love being petted by their owner, but close contact with strangers may be too much for them. 

Always treat unknown dogs with caution until you know them better. Never try to pet an unknown dog unless they ask to be petted- if they keep their distance from you it is because they are feeling anxious.

If they approach you for a fuss, keep it short and sweet to start with. A gentle stroke on the shoulder (3 seconds is enough) and then stop and assess their reaction. If they want more, they will let you know. If they are feeling a little anxious, this gives them the chance to move away.

It goes without saying, but never fuss or pet a dog who is growling at you. Growling is a warning that the dog is not happy about what you are doing, and they are letting you know so that they can avoid having to bite. 

Always listen to a dog who is growling. They may be anxious or in pain and therefore do not want to be petted.

Does my dog know I love him – final thoughts

Dogs are similar to humans in so many ways; they have their likes and dislikes, individual preferences that we as their owners, have to work out. 

For most dogs, their wants and needs are simple and it is not difficult to keep them happy. Observation is key- watch your dog’s reactions and observe their behavior to work out what they like and what they don’t. 

If your dog does not seem happy and you feel that you are meeting all of their needs, have a chat with your vet to make sure your dog is physically healthy- sometimes a slight change in behavior is the only symptom that a dog is unwell.

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