‘Each time I approach my four months old puppy he turns over his back and exposes his belly, as if asking me to scratch it. He seems to enjoy it a lot, but if I try to turn him over and pick him up he leaves a few drops of urine on my hands. Why my dog does that?’ inquired a dog lover.
Pup gets the first experience of tummy scratching, the moment he is born. Dam licks him repeatedly, to clean him and also help him in passing urine initially for about three weeks. During that period the muscles of his urinary system are not strong enough to pass urine. The dam knows this by instinct and licks a dog pup from back to front and a bitch pup in the opposite direction. Apart from assisting him in excretion the rough tongue of the dam scratches his belly inadvertently and the pup feels most reassured.
Once the pup goes to a new home and the new owner, if he gently scratches the pup’s belly, the puppy goes gaga with ecstasy. He just lies flat on his back and offers his belly to be scratched. It is not merely the thought of getting scratched by your fingers which makes the pup turn on his back. There are other few more things behind this.
I have often repeated dogs have an uncanny sense of smell. Seeing an adult dog approach some puppies turn over their back and they cover their genitals with their tail, the end of which trembles like the end of a tuning fork. This is an expression of surrender by the pup. Usually shy puppies surrender like that, but sometimes even normal puppies surrender out seeing the huge brute’s approach.
Since smell has a lot to do with a dog’s life, covering the genitals is just an attempt to hide his smell from the stronger dog. Often adult dogs also surrender in the same manner, but sometimes they also bare their fangs in anger and if the bigger dog insists to explore further the smaller, weaker dog might quickly snap at his nose and scoot.
Your pet on the other hand just loves to be scratched on his belly. The network of nerves on his belly is such that even if a tiny insect for example a flea crawls on the surface, dog knows instantly. And out of sheer reflux he begins to scratch the part where the insect is at that moment. And an interesting part is that certain areas of the belly if scratched produce a kind of tickling sensation in the puppy and he moves his hind leg rapidly in reflex, as if scratching.
In case you have a normal dog, i.e. the one who does not pee when his belly is scratched, then you can make the scratch sessions as the best time to relax. Take the dog to a quiet part of the house. Spread a comfortable mat or carpet on the floor. Lie down on the floor with your dog. First gently scratch him behind the ears and gradually shift to his belly. In no time he will turn on his back and expose his belly. Both of you can enjoy the session for as much time as you like.
This develops a close bonding with the dog. This bond helps to train him better. Observe a dam with her litter. Watch their activities. While most of the puppies love to play around, jump over her, bite each other, tug at her tail etc. the dam would be mostly busy licking them clean one by one. This licking process also traverses the belly area. If you observe the pup enjoys this part of cleaning carried out by the dam. The pup just shuts his eyes and even purrs like a cat in excitement. Such sessions bring them together, in addition the dam knows in advance if there is something wrong like presence of fleas or ticks. Poor creature she cannot use a spray or a pair of forceps, but she does try to lick vigorously.
Observant breeders take immediate steps to not only remove the pests from the pup but also check all the puppies and also clean up their bed, living area etc.
Human infants too do not talk, but they develop a sense of communication soon and start smiling back or make particular type of sounds. Human mothers too cuddle the infant and hold the child close to her body. This reassures the infant and he feels safe and secure apart from getting the body warmth.
In case of dogs the communication between the pup and the dam is only via body touch and licking the belly is one of the important ways of that. Therefore let the pup or your adult dog enjoy the belly scratching sessions so that he develops closer bond with you. In yet another blog you will read about developing a lifelong bond with your dog. Till then enjoy the belly scratching session.