London - When your dog rolls over, paws in the air, it’s hard to resist patting his belly and telling him what a good boy he is.
But it would be kinder to just leave him alone.
Dogs, apparently, don’t really want their tummies tickled, with most having learned to simply tolerate this strange human habit.
This is just one way we are getting it wrong with our pets – along with shouting at a dog when it barks at the postman and telling a cat not to scratch the sofa. Animal expert Dr Jill MacKay says a dog rolling over is an expression of trust which dogs evolved to show one another. "It is very common for a dog to lie down, show its tummy and lift its legs in the air, but that is not a request for a tummy rub," Dr MacKay said.
"When a dog does it to another dog it means 'I trust you'. So when a dog does it to a human they trust, it can then be alarming if that human invades their space and touches their soft, exposed belly. They have simply learned to put up with it."
Dr MacKay, from the Royal School of Veterinary Studies at the University of Edinburgh, said pet owners mean well but can misunderstand their animals.
When a dog barks at a stranger, most people tell their pet firmly to stop it. Instead, it would be better to pay no attention to the animal because dogs hate being ignored. The research fellow said: "It is really common for dogs barking at the door to be pushed away and told to be quiet. The dog doesn’t understand what is happening. It can think that you are getting excited too, so carry on barking.
"The best advice is to ignore and refuse to look at the dog. Dogs love us and want our attention so this is a good way to train them."
The academic also gave advice to cat owners frustrated with their pets scratching the back of furniture to mark their territory.
Dr MacKay suggested: "Instead of shouting at them, owners should just put a scratching post in the same place."
She also explained why cats drink from taps, saying: "This can happen because most cat owners put out their pet’s food and water together, when cats actually prefer their water to be in a different place. It is easy to please them by putting the water bowl elsewhere."