Dogs can’t communicate with us using our language, and so they use their body language to let their humans know what is happening. They can stare at you, tilt their head, cower with their tails tucked, wage their tail, erect their posture, and more. The one body language that all dogs often use, not only German shepherds, is rolling on their backs.
So why does your German shepherd roll on his back? The most common reasons are: to get your attention, because they are happy and excited, to cool down, to show confidence, because they are itchy, to shed loose hair, to mask their scent, as an act of submission, as a defensive tactic, to lure prey, to mark their territory.
Most of the time, you don’t need to worry about your shepherd rolling on his back, but there are a few instances that could lead to something more.
Why Does My German Shepherd Roll on His Back?
He wants to get your attention
Most dog owners will instinctively give their puppies a quick tummy rub when they roll on their backs. As a result, many puppies grow up learning that this behavior gets their owners’ attention and continues this into adulthood.
He feels Happy
Rolling on the back maybe another way your German shepherd shows his happiness. How often do you see your dog rolling around on your bed on his back looking content and happy? If your dog does this often, pat yourself on the back because you have done a great job as their owner.
He tries to regulate his body temperature
Dogs have a variety of ways to cool down on a hot scorching day. They may pant, drink a lot of water, go to shaded areas, or roll on their back on a cool surface like cool tiles or cool grass. If you notice your dog is doing any of these things, try to put him at ease by applying a cool (not cold) water compress to his belly.
He tries to scratch an itch
Because dogs can’t use a back scratcher to help them self-groom difficult-to-reach areas, they may roll on a textured surface such as grass to ease their itchiness or brush away loose fur clumps. This behavior is often noticeable during the heavy shedding season, wherein the skin can become itchy and flaky.
If you suspect itchiness to be the reason why your shepherd rolls on his back and you are not sure what the cause is, it would be best to bring him to the vet immediately for proper diagnosis against any potential skin issues such as irritation, allergies, and parasites.
He tries to mask his scent
Even after more than a hundred years since the first German shepherd was bred, they still instinctually carry on many of the same behaviors as their wolf ancestors. And one of those well-known inherited behaviors is the urge to mask their scent. Wolves in the wild roll around something dirty and foul-smelling to disguise their smells; they do this to defend themselves against predators or hunt their prey.
Unfortunately, their descendants, aka your shepherd, don’t realize that their chances of encountering wild bears while walking with you on the street are slim to none, nor they need to stalk and catch prey to fill their belly. This behavior is ingrained so deeply that some dogs do feel obliged to roll in something muddy and smelly at first sight of it.
He tries to show submission
Submission is another behavior that dogs have inherited from their wolf ancestors. Wolves do this to show respect to their alphas. So, if your German shepherd dog rolls his back in front of you and shows his belly, it could be his way of respecting you as an authority figure.
As in the case of timid dogs, they may use the same approach, followed by peeing when they are in a new environment or around new people. This is their way of saying, “Hey, I’m not a threat to you.”
He tries to defend himself
A new study by Kerri Norman and colleagues at the University of Lethbridge and University of South Africa found that dogs roll on their backs to better evade and bite their opponent during play fighting (1). The keywords here are play fighting and not real fighting. Keep an eye on your dog. If he is engaged in a real fight, separate them right away.
He is preparing to bite
Be careful if you see a stray or unknown dog rolling on their back while staring at you intensely with his body tense. It’s better to be safe than sorry by assuming that the dog is preparing snap at you or even bite you.
To my knowledge, there are two reasons why dogs do this. Either they try to lure in their prey, or they try to challenge your authority.
What to Do if Your German Shepherd is Rolling on Their Back
While many things can cause your German shepherd to roll on his back, most of the time, it is nothing to worry about. With that being said, when you notice your dog rolling on his back, you should assess the situation carefully to determine the cause. Check the list of causes above.
If you are concerned that something more serious could be involved, such as skin allergies or behavioral problems, then I recommend seeking the advice of a vet or a canine behaviorist.
1. Why does my dog roll on his back in the grass?
Your dog may roll in the grass to get rid of debris in his back or to loosen up the dirt stuck to his back.
2. Why does my dog roll on his back and growl?
Your dog may roll on his back and growl to establish his dominance and challenge you to see who is the alpha pack leader. If your shepherd acts like this, it’s time to enroll him in an obedience school.
3. Why do dogs roll in poop and other stinky things?
As explained in more detail above, dogs do this to hide their own scent and approach dinner without scaring it away.
4. Why does my dog roll on their toys?
Your dog may roll on their toys to show how much they love their toys and to stake their claim to it by leaving his scent on them, so everyone knows that the toys are his.