Close banner

Support Outside Online

Love Outside?

Help fund our award-winning journalism with a contribution today.

Contribute to Outside

Why Your Dog Loves Belly Rubs

Neural pathways behind petting

Ever wonder why your pooch will do just about anything for a belly rub? Now, science has an answer for you. A group of American scientists have identified the neural basis for why mammals, from mice to humans, enjoy being stroked. In a paper published in Nature, researchers from the California Institute of Technology, the University of Louisville, and the University of Pittsburgh found that stroking mice stimulated MRGPRB4+, a specific, rare neuron linked to the hair follicles, Discover reports.

Researchers genetically engineered mice so the MRGPRB4+ neurons would glow when active. Then they inserted a microscope into the mice’s spinal cords to see what happened as they stroked, poked, and pinched the mice. Certain neurons responded to unpleasant stimuli like pokes, but the MRGPRB4+ neurons only responded to stroking.

While professional mouse-petter may sound like the cutest job in academia, early versions of the experiment were significantly less cuddly. In 2007, a group of researchers tried and failed to stimulate the neurons using a swatch of mouse skin.

Via Discover

Support Outside Online

Our mission to inspire readers to get outside has never been more critical. In recent years, Outside Online has reported on groundbreaking research linking time in nature to improved mental and physical health, and we’ve kept you informed about the unprecedented threats to America’s public lands. Our rigorous coverage helps spark important debates about wellness and travel and adventure, and it provides readers an accessible gateway to new outdoor passions. Time outside is essential—and we can help you make the most of it. Making a financial contribution to Outside Online only takes a few minutes and will ensure we can continue supplying the trailblazing, informative journalism that readers like you depend on. We hope you’ll support us. Thank you.

Contribute to Outside
Filed To: News