I used to stop and give Phoebe scratches and hugs every time I saw her; it did not matter if she was in her bed, on a footstool, or outside. When I wanted to give her some love, I did not stop to think about whether she was in the mood or not. While this by itself did not cause Phoebe to get stressed, it did not help it either.

One day – I do not remember why – I started reading about various behaviors a dog exhibits when he or she just wants to be left alone. That is when I realized that just because Phoebe lounges in the living room, my bedroom, my office area, etc., it does not necessarily mean that she wants non-stop tummy rubs and ear scrunches.

Courtesy Image
Courtesy Image

 How do I Know if My Dog Wants to be Petted?

I also ran across a video that showed how to tell when your dog wants be petted and when he or she is just tolerating it. The pet owner sat in front of her dog and scratched the dog’s chest for a few seconds. The dog just sat there, turning his head, licking his nose, and acted totally disinterested. When she stopped scratching his chest, the dog just sat there and didn’t make a move. She tried this a couple of times, pointed out the subtle behaviors (nose licking, turning away, etc.). Next, the pet owner brought in another one of her dogs. She scratched him on the chest, and whenever she stopped, the dog would lean in for more and was not showing any avoidance behavior; he just wanted more every time she stopped. It was kind of cool to see, which led to some interesting insight about giving dogs belly rubs.

Does Going Belly Up Mean a Dog Wants to Play?

When Phoebe used to go belly up, I knew she was either being submissive or wanted a belly rub. Wrong.

I am sure I am not the only one who makes the assumption that a belly-up dog is a happy, playful dog. A dog can also go belly-up as a way of  ‘tapping-out.” Basically, it is saying, “I am stressed. I give up. I am just going to lie here and not move, and then maybe you will go away.”  It is important to decipher the difference between the two.

If your dog is playful and having fun, his arms and legs will be relaxed, and he will wiggle around. If you stop scratching that tummy, he may try to prompt  you for more.  On the other hand, if his arms and legs are stiff, he is looking way and does not move when you scratch him or when you stop, then odds are he is just “tapped-out” and does not want to play.

I highly recommend learning about some of the subtle ways that your dog sends you messages. Some are obvious like when they turn away from you while you are petting them, or turn around in their bed when you enter the room, and the infamous slinking off to a far corner with something precious (i.e., a big bone, favorite toy, etc.). Still, there are a lot of not so obvious signs

On the flip side, there are also behaviors that let you know when your dog wants some attention. I am guessing the actions are based on the unique relationship you have with your dog. For example, when Phoebe wants some loving, she sits in front of me and leans back on my leg. When she wants to be near me, but does not necessarily want to be manhandled, she will lie at my feet, and face away from me.

I put her actions in three categories:

“Mom! I need a hug!”

“Mom, can you just keep me company?” and

“Mom! Leave me the heck alone!”