Why Does My Dog Roll On His Back and Growl?

A dog rolling on his back and growling is likely demonstrating submission and exhibiting fear of a threat. Your dog may be feeling cornered or territorial. However, this behavior could also demonstrate itchiness or even playfulness, depending on the context.

Rolling and growling are behaviors with a number of meanings, but the combination indicates that your dog is likely feeling submissive and fearful. If your dog’s body language is tense, this combo is likely a fear response. Let’s dive into what growling and rolling mean for dogs.

What does it mean when my dog growls?

For dogs, growling is a lot like yelling is for humans. Growling sends a strong message to other dogs and humans. Pay attention to your dog’s body language when he growls, and you can figure out what his growl means. There are 4 main reasons why dogs growl:

  • To threaten
  • To express fear
  • To protect their territory
  • To be playful

Dogs growl to threaten

For dogs, a growl can act as a warning alarm. Growling says, “stay away!” This occurs most often when a dog feels insecure or aggressive towards something which is bothering him.

Dogs growl to express fear

Dogs growl when they are feeling afraid. If a new dog or person is getting too close, your dog may begin growling. Look for other signs of fear, such as your dog’s tail between his legs or tense ears. Often, the fear response can turn into a threatening growl if your dog continues to feel provoked.

Dogs growl to protect their territory

Dogs growl to tell other dogs or humans who’s in charge of the turf. Just like humans put up fences and signs, dogs growl to protect and maintain their territory. Is your dog growling because someone is holding a toy or standing on his bed?

Territory isn’t always just space. Dogs also growl to protect their stuff, like toys and food bowls. If your dog came from a shelter, he might often growl because he is used to competing for his stuff with many other dogs.

Dogs growl when they play

You might notice your dog growling while he plays. This is most often a playful territorial growl; Usually, when he is playing with other dogs or playing with a toy, he feels protective over. Your dog is likely to growl during games of tug. Usually, this playful growl is accompanied by relaxed body language.

What does it mean when my dog rolls onto his back?

When dogs roll onto their backs, this exposes their bellies. Laying with an exposed belly is a vulnerable position for a dog, showing either trust or submission. There are 4 main reasons why dogs may roll onto their backs:

  • To demonstrate pack position
  • To disguise their scents
  • To scratch an itch
  • To demonstrate fear

Dogs roll to demonstrate pack position

If another dog is around, this may be the way your dog is demonstrating his position in the pack, showing the other dog that he is not a threat by exposing his belly. Because your dog is growling, he may be feeling threatened and demonstrating that he is not dangerous by showing his belly.

Dogs roll to disguise their scents

If you are outside, your dog may be rolling around in something with a strong scent. This is an ancient survival instinct for dogs. Dogs like to cover their natural scent with something stronger to help defend against predators.

Dogs roll to scratch an itch

Dogs often roll onto their backs to scratch an itch. We all know what it feels like to get a sudden itch in a place you can’t reach with your hands or paws. The itch may be something benign, but it’s never a bad idea to check your dog for fleas and ticks. Pay attention to how often your dog rolls on his back.

If your dog has been rolling on his back more than usual, make sure you have a flea and tick prevention plan. Once your dog is taking flea medicine, if he is still rolling more than usual, check with your vet to investigate skin allergies. Dogs can have allergies, too!

Dogs roll to demonstrate fear

For an adopted or foster dog who may have experienced abuse in his last home, the belly-up position may be the dog’s way of cowering or displaying fear. Growling may indicate your dog’s discomfort, acting as a warning, while his posture displays submission.

How should I react when my dog rolls on his back and growls?

Be gentle as you approach your dog. Try kneeling or sitting near your dog, and allow your dog to approach you for attention before you pet him. Talk to your pup in a gentle, reassuring tone, and if he doesn’t warm up to you right now, it’s okay to walk away. Everyone needs a little space sometimes!

Pay attention to what triggers this behavior in your dog. It may be a reaction to a new living situation, a new pet, or a way you try to play with your dog. See if you can make changes that help your dog feel more comfortable.

Can I give my dog a belly rub while he is growling?

Because growling is often a fear response, this might not be a good time to touch your dog. Normally, when a dog exposes his belly, a belly rub is welcome. However, if your dog is already feeling afraid, reaching out to pet him may make him feel trapped. Save your belly rubs for next time!

Can I get my dog to stop rolling on his back and growling?

It’s not a good idea to punish growling because this can increase anxiety for your dog. Instead of punishment, try getting to the root cause of the rolling and growling behavior. Eliminate threats to your dog by giving him plenty of space. Make sure your dog isn’t experiencing skin irritation from fleas or allergies.


  • Brad

    Hi I'm Brad, the founder of bulldogpapa.com. Having been a vet of 6 years I work alongside our team to provide valuable insight into your dog's health. I have a frenchie myself named Senzu who is my pride and joy!