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Why Do Dogs Roll Over During Play? 

All dogs, especially puppies, love playtime with their owners and friends. If you’ve seen doggies playing, then there is an excellent chance you’ve seen a dog roll over onto its back and stick all four legs into the air. While this position is often associated with submission in the wild, it doesn’t always mean your dog is yielding during playtime. There are many reasons why dogs roll onto their backs while having fun. So how can we differentiate a submissive dog from a dog who is being tactical or enjoying themselves? Well, first, let’s look at some other reasons why dogs roll onto their backs during playtime. 

1. They trust you

The most straightforward reason there are so many rolling dogs during playtime is that they are happy and content. By exposing their bellies to their owners, they convey a deep level of trust. In any other scenario, having their guts pointing towards the sky leaves the dog in a vulnerable and often compromising position. But during playtime, when a dog is at ease and comfortable with their human companion, they are rolling onto their backs because they can be vulnerable and enjoy themselves. Similarly, dogs that sleep in this position are content and feel their current environment is safe.  

 

2. They are self-handicapping 

When a large dog plays with a much smaller friend or an older dog with a puppy, it is not unusual for that dog to self-handicap to even out the playing field. The more muscular dog allows their friend to jump onto their stomach or take a playful bite by rolling onto their back. This promotes play between canines by allowing an equal back and forth. So next time your dog rolls onto their back during a play session with you, they may be trying to hold back to give you a fair chance! 

 

3. They enjoy it 

Most dogs love the sensation of rubbing their backs on carpeted floors or up against furniture. Unfortunately, it is one area of their body they can’t scratch and so often need to do a little wriggle and dance to relieve that itching sensation. This wriggle often happens during playtime, and the most straightforward reason is that it feels good! They are already happy and enjoying themselves, so why not add to the joy?  Snuffle mats  can be used for dogs that enjoy the sensation of fabric on their back. Not only do the rugs provide an excellent means of foraging for food, but the textured design also allows them to roll around on the mats to add to their sensory enrichment. For dogs that enjoy belly rubs, rolling on their back during playtime is also a way to ask for a pat from their owners to add to their joy.  

4. They are evading their playmate 

Interestingly, rolling dogs during playtime can mean dogs are defensive rather than submissive. They evade potential bites from their playmates by rolling onto their backs and flaying their legs in the air. This defensive manoeuvre is only fortified further by a good old wriggle across the floor. This behaviour can be differentiated from submission by their loose or relaxed body posture and the wriggling of their hips. They will also still make eye contact with their playmate as they don’t feel threatened or afraid, and their tail won’t be tucked under or their ears pulled back.  

 

5. They found a scent they like 

If you see doggies playing outside, they sometimes drop and roll because they found a scent they like. Dogs love anything that smells terrible, such as a fish carcass down at the beach, and they will move onto their backs to help coat themselves in the odor. This behaviour traces back to their primitive days when dogs would roll in other smells to try and disguise their own from potential predators. Of course, a dog enjoying itself during playtime doesn’t feel the need to hide, but unfortunately, it is an instinct they can’t overcome. It may happen more often when they are playing because they are overstimulated and therefore more likely to abandon their manners and training.  

 

6. They are submitting 

As you can see, many dogs roll onto their backs during playouts of enjoyment or as a tactical move. However, some dogs get into this position because they submit to their playmates. It is a vulnerable position that lets their opposition know they surrender the match. But how can we differentiate between the two? The key is in body language. If your dog’s entire body is relaxed and they are wriggling their head and hips as they roll about on their back, then they are happy and enjoying themselves. If their body goes suddenly stiff or rigid, however, and their head is locked in position, eyes wide and averted, then they are on high alert and surrendering to their foe. This can happen quickly during a play session if one dog is far too rough or boisterous with a weaker opponent. 

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Snuffle mats can be used for dogs that enjoy the sensation of fabric on their back. Not only do the rugs provide an excellent means of foraging for food, but the textured design also allows them to roll around on the mats to add to their sensory enrichment. For dogs that enjoy belly rubs, rolling on their back during playtime is also a way to ask for a pat from their owners to add to their joy.  

Conclusion

Many dogs roll onto their backs during playtime because they enjoy the sensation of the floor, or carpet, against their backs, and they feel comfortable being in a vulnerable position with their owners. Some dogs also put themselves in this position to self-handicap and allow smaller or younger playmates an opportunity to land a playful bite. Other dogs, however, find it easier to evade their playmate by being on their backs with their legs wriggling in the air. If a play session is becoming too much for one of the dogs, they may roll onto their backs and go still because they are submitting to their foe. The exact reason dogs get into this position varies from dog to dog. The way to differentiate between them is to pick up on body language cues and assess who the other playmate is; is it an overzealous dog, a gentle older or smaller dog, or a beloved owner? And remember, the motive behind rolling can change within one play session, so if your dog does show any signs of submitting or being afraid, make sure you stop the session and give your dog some time away to relax.