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.

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?



  1. Sandra

    Aug 22, 2016 at 4:52 pm

    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.

  2. James

    May 25, 2016 at 3:22 pm

    I am going to call hogwash on that article! My dog bags me to scratch them in those spots constantly, he loves it!

    • Jacqueline Solis

      Jun 11, 2016 at 12:43 am

      Mine too ! Whenever I scratch him and take my hand away he reaches for my hand and begs to continue.

    • Annie

      Jul 19, 2016 at 3:51 pm

      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.

  3. Carron Rodriguez

    Nov 18, 2015 at 11:48 pm

    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.

  4. Jennifer Kelly

    Nov 4, 2015 at 9:49 pm

    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?

  5. Mary

    Aug 20, 2015 at 11:49 am

    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.

    • Annie

      Jul 19, 2016 at 3:54 pm

      Thank you for this. That seems like important information to add. I can’t help but wonder if the article here is intentionally misleading. :/

      • cathy

        Sep 29, 2016 at 7:31 am

        yeah I am still VERY confused so does your dog like it or not?

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