Why Do Dogs Roll on Their Back and Wiggle?

Why Do Dogs Roll on Their Back and Wiggle

Dogs indulge many peculiar behaviors. The one I love the most is when they lay on their back and start wiggling. It’s hilarious. But at the same time confusing, because most owners have no idea dogs roll on their back and wiggle… until now! 

After research and observation, I’ve managed to determine that this is a favorite past time for every dog on the planet, and it’s not something to cause undue concern. 

28 Reasons why dogs lie on their backs and wiggle 

Even in one household, some dogs will engage in this strange behaviour, and others not. And those that do, will most likely have different reasons for doing so. Another difference may be that some dogs do it in their own back yards, while others only indulge when they are in a strange environment.    

1. Out of enjoyment

The first impression I get see when I see a dog wriggling in the grass is that they are enjoying life. It is a practice of pure abandon. They are doing it for the sheer pleasure of it. 

2. Due to eccentricity

Other dogs have quirky personalities, and this is just another of their eccentricities. It is almost like a secret indulgence. They will come back inside with a smirk on their faces, energised for the next round of odd behaviour. 

3. To incite play

Some dogs roll on their backs and wiggle or wriggle as an invitation to whoever is watching, man or beast, to come and play. They will give you an upside-down, come-hither look that is often irresistible. 

dog on back wriggling
He’s rolled and wiggled and wants to play, she’s not so sure.

4. To get rid of energy 

Wriggling on their back might just be a way of getting rid of excess energy. If they have exhausted their limbs from doing zoomies around the back yard, they may flop over and start flailing their legs in the air. It’s just another delightful activity.  

5. To say hello

Some dogs roll onto their backs and start wiggling as a way of greeting you. It is a sign that they are thrilled to see you again and they assume that you feel the same way. 

6. To get attention

If you have been distracted for a period, and your dog thinks that it is time to seek attention, you may come across this behaviour. It is not necessarily an invitation to play, just a request for acknowledgement.  

7. To get a belly rub

Other dogs may roll over and wiggle around when you start petting them to indicate that what they most desire is a belly rub. 

8. Out of trust

Dogs who roll on their backs are generally healthy and confident and are showing you that that they trust you. 

9. To be submissive

They are also indicating to you that they are not a threat. If this is a strange dog showing submissive behaviour, beware of any conflicting body language. Approach with caution. If it is a nervous dog, it might still snap at you, if it feels threatened. 

10. In defence

Dogs may roll on their backs as a defensive gesture, especially when approached by what appears to be an aggressive dog. A dog may at first appear assertive when approaching a strange dog, but when it realises it is in over its head, it will adopt this humbler approach to the situation.  

11. In appeasement

Your dog may also roll on its back when you yell at it or indicate in other ways that you are not pleased. This is an act of appeasement. Much like its motive when dealing defensively with other dogs, it is an attempt to diffuse what it sees as aggression. 

12. Through tension

Some dogs lay on their backs and wiggle as a release of tension. Dogs that have been rescued from compromising conditions, will roll on their backs when they have settled, for no reason other than that they feel secure and relaxed. Your dogs may also do this after a short period of stress, such as a thunderstorm.

13. For scent marking

Dogs have merocrine glands on their feet and apocrine glands all over their bodies. When a dog is out and about, it may roll on its back, to leave its scent. Large amounts of pheromones are left on the ground for other dogs to decipher. Think of it as a kind of canine social media network. 

dog on back
He’s wriggling on his back and rolling around to scent mark

14. Marking territory

If a dog, especially an intact male, rolls around in its own back yard, chances are it is marking its territory. This is done in conjunction with stomping or scratching the ground, and urinating in strategic locations, usually on the perimeter of the property. It is a warning to other would-be intruders, that there is someone on guard. 

15. To mask their own scent

Dogs also roll on their backs then wiggle around to mask their own scent. This is a stealth strategy, ostensibly designed to fool any interlopers into believing that there is no one on guard. This appears to be the opposite of the tactic employed above. 

16. To get smelly

Some dogs take the masking of their scent to extremes. They embark on a quest to acquire an entirely new scent, seemingly the smellier the better. My dogs will roll in bird droppings, dead animals, earthworms and the much prized, fox poo! This is usually a counterproductive overkill which results in an immediate bath. If you are alert, you can see the signs leading up to the ‘roll’, and you can prevent the action by yelling loudly. 

17. To get a positive response

The roll and wiggle might be learned behavior that has been reinforced by a positive reaction from its family. It is an endearing posture that could result in the dog getting more attention than it normally would, or more than other members of the pack.  

18. As learned behavior

It could also be the result of socialisation. The dog saw its mother rolling on her back when it was a pup. Without knowing why, the dog will continue to do so as it grows older.

19. Through copying

A dog may also be emulating its human companions. There is a viral video online of a Golden Retriever doing bicycle kicks, with gay abandon, along with members of a mass fitness class. 

20. To cool down

Your dog may be trying to cool off. By lying or rolling on its back and wiggling like mad, it is exposing the sweat glands under its paws and its less furry underbelly. The cool breezes will cause transpiration and a loss of heat. 

21. To get warm

Alternatively, your dog might be heating itself by wiggling on its back on warm grass, or a carpet that has been heated by the sun. 

22. Scratching

It may the texture that appeals to the dog, and it is getting the equivalent of a back scratch. Have you ever seen your dog kick his back legs when you scratch him? Well, this is him doing that by himself.

23. Itching… but not for a good reason

Beyond pure pleasure at getting a massage, your dog may have an itchy back (consider apple cider vinegar). If it does this repeatedly, check for the cause. It may be a skin irritation or a build-up of dead skin and fur. Brush your dog regularly and check the area for signs of infestation or inflammation.   

24. As an anti-parasite tactic

Golden Retrievers and other water-loving dogs will up the ante and roll in mud. This behaviour is also seen in wild animals, like elephants and antelopes. They do it to cool off, and to rid themselves of any external parasites, like ticks and fleas. 

25. Through tiredness

Your dog may be overweight, and just taking the opportunity to take the weight off its feet. If your dog is a little pudgy, you may want to consider a low-calorie diet for a while. Dogs do not metabolise foods rich in carbohydrates very well and may develop long term health problems if they become obese.  

26. For relief

A pregnant dog will stretch out on her back, for some relief from the sudden increase in weight and changes in her body. This will help to give the pups more wiggle room, especially as she approaches the time to give birth. 

27. Due to not liking a winter coat

I’m convinced that one of my dogs rolls on her back because she does not like her winter coat we bought. It usually coincides with a garden covered in dry grass, so she comes in from outside, with a coat is decorated with hundreds of bits of hay.  

28. Compulsive behavior

Generally, there is method in a dog’s madness but sometimes it may develop compulsive behaviour. If you suspect that this is the case, try to monitor the situation and cause a distraction every time you see a rollover begin. Call the dog and praise it when it responds obediently.

Final thoughts…

Seeing your dog roll over, and start writhing on its back, with its legs flailing in the air, can be disconcerting. To think that they do this voluntarily, defies logic. 

Our canine companions lie on their backs and wiggle for a variety of reasons, most of them playful and pleasant. However, you may want to pay attention to other body language, to ensure that they are not indulging in compulsive behavior or trying to relieve long term disease or distress.   

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Marc Aaron

I write about the things we've learned about owning dogs, the adventures we have, and any advice and tips we've picked up along the way.

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