Why Do Dogs Kick When You Scratch Their Belly?

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If you’ve got a dog that loves belly rubs, as many of us do, than you’ve no doubt found “the sweet spot” that gets his leg kicking. This usually happens when you scratch him in his saddle region – the belly, sides, and parts of the dog’s back. The exact spot varies depending on the dog. Some dogs have several spots that get their legs moving.

This silly behavior got us wondering, why do dogs kick their legs when you scratch their belly?

Animal Planet offers this explanation:

Dogs shake or kick their legs when you scratch them because of something known as the scratch reflex. It’s a completely involuntary reaction, which explains why your dog may look as puzzled as you do when it starts to happen. When you scratch or tickle your dog’s belly, it irritates him, much the same way that the wind or a bug might. It activates nerves under his skin that are connected to his spinal cord and relays a message to his leg muscles to kick in an attempt to get rid of the irritant. Of course, you’re the one both providing the “itch” and “scratching” it, so it’s a completely pointless act.

Turns out, by causing the kick, you’re actually kind of irritating your dog (who knew!?). So, if making your dog feel blissful and happy is what you’re going for, just move to another spot that doesn’t cause the kick.

The scratch reflex isn’t just a funny party trick for your dog, either. In fact, veterinarians can use the spot to identify nerve damage or neurological problems. The belly rub kick can be compared to the knee-jerk that humans do when the doctor taps just below your knee with a hammer, or how cats automatically raise their bottoms when you scratch the base of their tail.

Still, a lot of dogs realllllly love having their bellies rubbed, so if your dog is one of them – keep it up!

Does your dog love belly rubs? Does he kick his legs when you scratch him?

41 COMMENTS

  1. If you read the animal planet article, it actually says that it’s not using the word ‘irritant’ as in you’re annoying your dog. They’re using ‘irritant’ by it’s scientific term, which is stimulating and causing a reaction. They specifically said that it doesn’t mean the dog doesn’t like it.

  2. My dog will push my hand writh his paw to his belly and then I will scratch him. If this is bad than why douse he seam want me to do it.

  3. I do not believe it “Irritates” them or they do not like it. My dog will move his arm/paw out of the way (When he is on his back) when i go for his tickle spot. Obviously he wants me to do it, I’m not one to believe dogs smile, but when i do it his lips go up looking exactly like one, and when i stop he starts wagging his tail and puts his huge paw on me like he is telling me not to stop. [He’s a pit bull (: ]

  4. I have a cavalier king Charles spaniel and when I scratch under her ear she taps her leg, or kicks it or scratches her ear..but her teeth also chatter when I do it..is this good or bad? What does it mean?

    • I have a king charles too and he does the same thing! His collar rubs on his spot and drives him nuts. I wish there was a way to get rid of the itchy spot.

  5. my dog is paralyzed recently and she can only scratch on one side. it is a strong indication of nerve damage. thakn you for this article

  6. my dog will also back up to me. she will get under my feet or arm and push up,then turn and look at me like rub,stupid,rub…..i believe she must like it or why would she insist on me doing this…most often it is at bedtime, but she also does at different times of day…..my other dog lays on his back and whines for a belly rub..he will vocalize insistently til u rub on him. they also rub up against bed and other things to get the spot themselves. my pitbull usually does this alot when he is overtired and ready for bed…he starts acting a fool and we know..ok time to turn out the lights and lower volume on TV set.

  7. “When you scratch or tickle your dog’s belly, it irritates him, much the same way that the wind or a bug might.”

    Translation: You’re actually irritating your dog. Don’t do that. :)

  8. I rub my BLK. LABS belly every morning before we get up .We have what I call our morning love FEST for a half hour as I am disabled and can not reach her very good from my chair once I am up. I say Trixie want a belly rub? She immediately comes tight to my side & rolls over so I can reach her if I say Mommy can’t reach you she will move up to where I can reach her. Then she lays there spread eagle just waiting for the rub & she loves it & yes that one spot does make her leg jump but I just say you silly girl cut that out & she stops doing it instantly. So Do know that they can control it even if it is a nerve thing or not. I always thought it was like our funny bone
    maybe anyhow Trixie has complete control over it. I only say it onc e. I just laugh when I say it to her. So I do
    not buy the nerve thing at all or I don’t think she could stop so quick and not start up agin.

    • The communication and understanding between you and your dog is amazing and heartwarming to read. I am so happy that you have such a bond in your life, and that you provide her with the same. From this short paragraph I can feel just how much you love your dog… I wish you and trixie peace and happiness.

  9. This doesn’t exactly add up. They say it’s an irritant, but compare it to a knee jerk test. I don’t know about anyone else, but the knee Jerk test was one of the funnest things to do when I was a kid 😉 I think Doggington Post and animal planet should be particularly certain on this matter. Otherwise (from the sounds of some concerned pup-parents) they may be depriving deserving dogs everywhere of a good, long sweet-spot belly rub!

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