Why Do Dogs Roll on Their Backs?

Dogs rolling on their backs is adorable. Repeated rolling though can be a sign of excessive itchiness that might need veterinary care. Dogs also have a habit of rolling in things their owner's might not care to smell or wash out of their fur.


Why do dogs roll on their backs? A study published in a 2015 issue of Behavioural Processes determined that rolling over during play was a “combat maneuver adopted as part of an ongoing play sequence.” The researchers found the frequency of rollovers depended upon how long the play lasted. They considered none of the movements submissive, but instead, decided the dogs were either exhibiting defensive or offensive maneuvers during the play. This study debunks the idea that a dog rolling over, or showing their stomach to you or another dog, is a sign of submission.

We suspect there are a lot of reasons why dogs roll and, while behaviorists are amazing scientists, the dogs aren’t talking. One thing we know for sure – because dogs tell us with their body language and the above study says they saw it most during play – is that rolling feels good!

Dogs My Roll Because of Itchy Skin

Some dogs do roll because they’re trying to scratch an itch they can’t reach any other way. This is perfectly normal. The one thing we know for sure – because they tell us with their body language and facial expressions – is that it feels good to them, especially rolling in grass.

Excessive scratching, however, especially to the point of damaging the hair or the skin, could be a sign of a problem, such as fleas, ticks, parasites, pain, or an allergy. If that is the case, veterinary help is necessary.

Dog Roll to Hide Their Scent

Animal experts believe another cause of rolling goes back millions of years – to when dogs were wild and had to hunt for food. They roll in a scent other than their own to hide their own scent, so their prey won’t smell them as they approach.

And usually the smellier it is, the better it is. Other animals’ urine or feces, or even a dead animal, are best for the job of masking.

We know that dogs smell in layers, unlike humans. For instance, when we find a rose that smells like a skunk sprayed it, we only smell the skunk spray. But a dog smells the skunk spray and the rose.

Similarly, a dog can smell a tree that two or more dogs have marked with urine and identify those dogs. And when you see your dog sniffing the breeze, he’s identifying scents familiar and foreign, and dogs have an uncanny ability to smell things, which is one of the reasons they are such an asset in criminal investigations. Dogs enjoy scent, which may be one of the reasons scent games are increasing.