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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?
[…] Why Do Dogs Kick When You Scratch Their Belly? – The. – I liken it to our ticklish spots, it might be irritating to some but everyone laughs even if you don’t like being tickled. Look where animals like being rubbed and more than likely so do humans since we are animals too. Who doesn’t like their back scratched/rubbed, ears played with, stomach lightly rubbed, and for some people, their butts. […]
Our dogs are bored. Most dogs(young to middle aged dogs at least)can not get enough attention. In the wild, they would have things to do. At home, not so much. So any attention that’s not painful is good attention. It doesn’t even need to be said that they’ll let you know when it’s not what they want, duh. They might as well just start talking. Dog owners know this.
My Doxie, Charlie will not get out of bed until he gets a belly scratch. I have to do it because I’m always worried about picking him up the wrong way and hurting his back. But it’s our ritual and I wouldn’t give it up for anything.
I also know dogs do have emotions. Anybody that’s ever had a dog would know that. I know when they’re sad, happy, grumpy or whatever. Maybe they’ve acquired our emotions over the centuries. But I think it’s quite obvious.
My GSD Schatzi LOVES her skritchins on her multiple kicky spots and desperately BEGS for more when I cease. Sometimes it is "nibblin' good" and she gently nibbles herself or me, or even her best friend, Klaus, another GSD. So, skritchin the kicky spot must feel awesome. I would never deprive my babies of this glorious feeling based on this lame article.
I have to agree with you. My GSD, only 10 weeks old, moves her leg it seems no matter where I rub her or scratch her. I can’t believe another comment I read that says it hits a nerve and really irritates them.
My dog has zero reaction to belly runs other than bliss. However, he gets “the kicks” when we scratch anywhere around his shoulders, specifically between his shoulder blades. And when we stop, wants more. I’d like to see a different explination.
I’m glad to read the article. At least I know now nothing is seriously wrong with my LucyLou!!! She does have these little bumps on her skin that she bites at on back but her hind legs don’t shake uncontrollably when she’s doing that.
It’s like when you try to tickle yourself. It doesn’t work because your brain is the one telling you to do that action in the first place. It’s the same thing just put your dog in the spots it fits in.
I am going to call hogwash on that article! My dog bags me to scratch them in those spots constantly, he loves it!
Mine too ! Whenever I scratch him and take my hand away he reaches for my hand and begs to continue.
Same here. For both of my dogs, if I hit one of those spots the moment I stop scratching they start pawing at me or nudging me hand with their noses to get me to do it again. And thus far, no matter how many times I do it, they still ask for more.
Honestly, it seems like it would wear them out. Especially for one of my dogs that kicks so hard and so fast I’m afraid he’ll hurt himself. But do matter how long I do it, he still asks for more.
Also, my dogs are two completely different breeds, so it’s not like it’s a specific thing in their breed. One is a schnauzer (we think she’s a miniature schnauzer, but she could be a standard. She’s kind of between the size of the two breeds. We got her from a shelter as a pup and the only info they had on her was her birthdate and that she was a schnauzer.) the other is a cocker spaniel mix of some kind. We got our spaniel from a shelter too, and had even less info about him since he was found on the street.
Aside from being roughly the same age, they’re different as can be, but they both love having those sweet spots scratched.
Also, every dog I’ve ever had would make it quite clear if they didn’t like something I was doing. I had a shih tzu that wasn’t a fan of having his belly scratched. He’d roll over on to his tummy after someone scratched his belly and give the person a look that quite clearly said “stop that.” If the person persisted. He’d start making grumbly little growls to say that he wasn’t happy.
Most dogs can communicate quite well with their owners. I highly doubt that the majority of dogs endure something that irritates them with so little expression of this irritation that most people would mistake their irritation for bliss.
I agree that it’s not completely accurate. I liken it to our ticklish spots, it might be irritating to some but everyone laughs even if you don’t like being tickled. Look where animals like being rubbed and more than likely so do humans since we are animals too. Who doesn’t like their back scratched/rubbed, ears played with, stomach lightly rubbed, and for some people, their butts. Most humans think they are special but are animals just like all the others in the animal kingdom except we’re the only ones who can’t survive on what nature provides, only ones that have wars, so maybe we are “special”
My dog will scratch herself with her teeth and it makes her leg kick. The only time we scratch or pet her and her leg will kick is in the late summer, early fall when she has environmental allergies ~ she will chew her paws bloody during this time as well. The rest of the year, there is no kicking while we pet or rub her. So, I’m not so sure how I feel about the information shared here.
I also don’t agree that it irritates the dog, both my dogs love this and the female one kicks her leg no matter which spot of her belly you rub and the male dog will lie on his side and when you scratch his belly, he rolls on to his back. Also, dogs communicate through body language and give off subtle little signs to tell you that they don’t like something e.g. Growling, excessive licking. So if a dog didn’t like this, why wouldn’t they give you a sign?
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.
Thank you for this. That seems like important information to add. I can’t help but wonder if the article here is intentionally misleading. :/
yeah I am still VERY confused so does your dog like it or not?
From what I’ve read, as long as your dog is displaying relaxed, happy behavior, it’s not bothering them. If they stiffen, close their mouth, flatten their ears, or show other signs of discomfort when you scratch the spot they are not enjoying it.
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.
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 (: ]
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.
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
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.
“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. 🙂
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.
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!
You may have liked it but I hated it, so may be the same way with dogs — Some do some don’t
It’s not the same as a belly rub
I’ve always had the feeling it wasn’t enjoyable for the dog!
i always thought you were hitting a nerve when you scratched in just that right place. but if you irritating your dog, then why doesn’t he or she let you know. why do they stretch out and beg for that belly scratch? i don’t think they know what they are talking about. they even say our babies don’t smile, or have real emotions. personally think they are full of crap myself! my little eddie didn’t do the kick, he didn’t have a sweet spot, so i worried about his spine, he had a missing bone in his back, where later he became paralyzed when someone opened the door and hit him in the back, in just that spot. the little one i have now has a lot of sweet spots she wants scratched, both back legs just a getting it and she is making those contented sounds.
OK this will sound weird but my legs and feet itch and sometimes its pretty bad. On those occasions I beg my mom to scratch them. She has the perfect touch! When she hits a specially itchy spot I will actually shake my hands which are bent as if I am scratching! It feels that good!!! I think maybe that is what the dogs are feeling. It itches so good they got to scratch! The look on my fur baby’s face is utter blis when I hit the right spot. She contorts and the feet go!
My beagle Jethro rolls on his back everytime I walk into a room he is in wanting a belly rub. He grunts and groans while kicking his leg and seems to love it and smiles. Not sure this is really bothering him at all
I find it hard to believe that dogs don’t like their belly rub.
My dog wants me to rub his belly all the time.
That is not what the article is saying. The belly rub is different than the “spot” the article is referring to that makes the dogs leg kick. My dog loves his belly rubs – they dont make his leg kick… a little lower and to the side – makes his leg kick and that is the region that the article is saying irritates the dog.
My voice sometimes makes my dog kick his leg…I used to think it was because it made him happy… Now you’re telling me it’s because I’m torturing him! Thank you for ruining my day! 🙂
You compared it to the reflex a cat has when you pet or scratch their back by their back hips. My cat tries to get us to scratch there so do their reflex reaction not irritate them?
We had a dog once that did this to himself! He liked to get on the pavement and lie on his back and wiggle it to scratch himself and he would sometimes hit that “sweet spot” and kick both legs. The neighbors would even come out on their porch to watch because it looked so funny!
Our dog (yorkiepoo) actually kicks us and the other dogs.She backs into us and kicks us.Never seen one do this….Funny stuff…anyone know why she would do this
My Doxie does the same thing. Did you ever get an explanation?
I have to be honest. I think my dog really enjoys this. He just lays in my arms and never resists. He constantly paws me, so I know he likes the way I scratch him. Hmmm…he has never moved away from me or tried to push me away at all. If you do read on in the original article that they took this quote from, in the following paragraph, they state that you are not irritating the dog. They are just referring to it as an “irritant” because this is a reflex that dogs may have developed in response to pests, such as fleas, etc.
Ugh, I had no idea! My poor dogs. I thought the kicking meant they loved it. Dumb human!
I think we all need a second opinion before the belly rubbing stops! It may be a reflex, but they compared it to a kneejerk test. That is not a reflex towards an irritant, just a reflex. Period.
If this is so bad why does my dog smile ? She actually grabs my hand. Hummmm !
My rottie boy Tucker(RIP) would tap his foot when I scratched his chest, he would raise his nose in the air and close his eyes and lean into the scratching. He liked this so much that he would rub up against the short wall we have to scratch his own chest 🙂 He was a silly boy, I miss him so much.
My Lili Koi (Pyrenees) kicks her legs everywhere when I scratch just below her rib-line. Duke (lab) grunts, grumbles and snorts and Sitka, (Alaskan Klee Kai), will squirm about and howl and pin her left ear back while sticking her tongue out! Funny dogs! Love them!
my pittie stamps her feet up in the same manor but when she’s standing and having her butt/hip area rubbed. i know for a fact that she LOVES it because she will purposely back herself up under peoples feet and wait until they start rubbing her butt and even lines herself up under the towel rack where the towels dangle down and effectively rub her butt for her!
I was also not aware the dog finds this an irritant. I would never consciously do anything to the dog to cause him discomfort (except maybe a strong no when barking starts to irritate Mommie) so i will also look for a new spot for his tummy rubs. He loves them..no kick.
Thanks for the info I had always wonder why this happened.
My Sparkie kicks when he scratch the base(outside) of his ears. Sunshine does it when she scratch her belly.
One of my dogs kicks while the other one doesn’t kick at all. I also had a horse who would stick out and curl his upper lip when I scratched his withers.
My horses did exactly that as well, but it must have been something they enjoyed. If I stopped and stepped back,my big boy Solitaire would side step to me for more scratches. He had the knack of getting me into a corner and the only way I could get out of the corner was to shove him out of the way. He made some funny faces with those lip curls!
Totally different in horses. You will often see two horses “chewing” on each others’ withers. It is mutually pleasurable, non-threatening, and bond-inducing. The reaction you see in your horse – stretching his neck and curling his lip – is a clear indication of pleasure. Some horses will even turn to “mutually groom” their human.
My dog used to moves his neck to rub there
I avoid my dog’s “itchy spots” because I knew it was a reflex. I love it when Bart lets me rub his chest, as he hated it when he was a puppy and I don’t want to wreck it by bugging him.
But thanks for the explanation.. love reading about different topics!!
Hey I know this is off topic but I was wondering if you knew of any widgets I could add to my blog that automatically tweet my newest twitter updates.
I’ve been looking for a plug-in like this for quite some time and was hoping maybe you would have some experience with something like this. Please let me know if you run into anything. I truly enjoy reading your blog and I look forward to your new updates.
I think you should scratch your dogs belly to find out. 🙂