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Why Do Dogs Kick When You Scratch Their Belly?


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.

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

40 Responses to Why Do Dogs Kick When You Scratch Their Belly?
  1. Yvonne
    July 24, 2014 | 2:35 pm

    My dog has spots everywhere on her upper back lower back on her belly I feel she loves it
    When I stop she will nudge my hand with her nose and push and lift up where she wants me to
    Continue to I think it’s different for ever dog, some would love it and some would be thinking “no no no don’t tickle me” just like what we do:) some people love a good foot scratch or back scratch and other people can’t stand it…I think ever owner knows what there dog likes

  2. ashling
    May 24, 2014 | 8:03 pm

    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 this good or bad? What does it mean?

    • Tayla
      July 16, 2014 | 5:04 pm

      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.

  3. lilly
    May 12, 2014 | 11:00 pm

    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

  4. margo
    May 9, 2014 | 6:58 pm

    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… 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.

  5. Brian Hartman
    May 8, 2014 | 2:20 pm

    “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. :)

  6. Sharon Landy
    May 8, 2014 | 12:35 pm

    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.

  7. Karli
    May 8, 2014 | 11:31 am

    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!

    • Albert
      May 8, 2014 | 6:18 pm

      You may have liked it but I hated it, so may be the same way with dogs — Some do some don’t

  8. bess williams
    May 8, 2014 | 11:25 am

    It’s not the same as a belly rub

  9. bess williams
    May 8, 2014 | 11:16 am

    I’ve always had the feeling it wasn’t enjoyable for the dog!

  10. Lois R.
    May 8, 2014 | 9:50 am

    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.

  11. […] By Brandy Arnold […]

  12. French Bulldog Times
    May 8, 2014 | 12:29 am

    […] Turns out, …read more […]

  13. Jen
    March 21, 2014 | 10:19 am

    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!

  14. Rob
    March 1, 2014 | 1:27 pm

    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

  15. gina
    February 28, 2014 | 5:17 pm

    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.

  16. Teresa
    February 28, 2014 | 9:44 am

    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! :)

  17. Margery cross
    February 28, 2014 | 9:22 am

    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?

  18. Elaine
    February 28, 2014 | 9:21 am

    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!

  19. […] By Brandy Arnold […]

  20. Vivian Stroud
    January 27, 2014 | 7:09 pm

    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

    • Sandra Depoister
      February 26, 2014 | 2:26 am

      My Doxie does the same thing. Did you ever get an explanation?

  21. Kristy Kruger
    November 12, 2013 | 2:57 am

    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.

  22. DMR
    August 11, 2013 | 6:55 pm

    Ugh, I had no idea! My poor dogs. I thought the kicking meant they loved it. Dumb human!

    • Karli
      May 8, 2014 | 11:36 am

      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.

  23. Louie
    August 10, 2013 | 7:40 pm

    If this is so bad why does my dog smile ? She actually grabs my hand. Hummmm !

  24. Kapi
    August 10, 2013 | 4:59 pm

    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.

  25. Who Knew? Interesting article.
    August 7, 2013 | 9:36 pm

    [...] I can scratch/pet, besides the underside of his neck when he's inverted. Check out the article. Why Do Dogs Kick When You Scratch Their Belly? | The Dogington Post Andy Wylie yellow Male 2/20/13 Rainbow Bridge, Maya 3/23/2003 – 6/8/2013 RIP my girl [...]

  26. HelloBob
    August 3, 2013 | 12:39 am

    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!

  27. dee
    September 12, 2012 | 10:23 pm

    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!

  28. AdoptedMom
    September 11, 2012 | 2:42 pm

    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 kick.

  29. fanny morton
    July 4, 2012 | 1:07 pm

    Thanks for the info I had always wonder why this happened.

  30. Christine Jones
    July 3, 2012 | 9:25 pm

    My Sparkie kicks when he scratch the base(outside) of his ears. Sunshine does it when she scratch her belly.

  31. Kaycee Kennedy
    July 2, 2012 | 5:38 pm

    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.

    • Lyn Scott
      February 28, 2014 | 9:10 am

      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!

      • Lisa
        February 28, 2014 | 9:47 am

        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.

  32. Linda Morris
    July 2, 2012 | 2:56 pm

    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!!

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    July 1, 2012 | 7:17 pm

    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.

    • RB
      July 5, 2012 | 9:22 pm

      I think you should scratch your dogs belly to find out. :)

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