Entertainment

Why Do Dogs Kick When You Scratch Their Belly?

kickleg

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?

49 Comments

49 Comments

  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?

  6. alice

    Jun 12, 2015 at 3:13 pm

    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.

  7. Frank

    May 23, 2015 at 1:28 am

    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 (: ]

  8. ashling

    May 24, 2014 at 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 it..is this good or bad? What does it mean?

    • Tayla

      Jul 16, 2014 at 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.

  9. lilly

    May 12, 2014 at 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

  10. margo

    May 9, 2014 at 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…..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.

  11. Brian Hartman

    May 8, 2014 at 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. 🙂

  12. Sharon Landy

    May 8, 2014 at 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.

    • KJ

      May 5, 2015 at 9:48 pm

      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.

  13. Karli

    May 8, 2014 at 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 at 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

  14. bess williams

    May 8, 2014 at 11:25 am

    It’s not the same as a belly rub

  15. bess williams

    May 8, 2014 at 11:16 am

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

  16. Lois R.

    May 8, 2014 at 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.

  17. Jen

    Mar 21, 2014 at 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!

  18. Rob

    Mar 1, 2014 at 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

  19. gina

    Feb 28, 2014 at 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.

    • KJ

      May 5, 2015 at 9:49 pm

      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.

  20. Teresa

    Feb 28, 2014 at 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! 🙂

  21. Margery cross

    Feb 28, 2014 at 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?

  22. Elaine

    Feb 28, 2014 at 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!

  23. Vivian Stroud

    Jan 27, 2014 at 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

      Feb 26, 2014 at 2:26 am

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

  24. Kristy Kruger

    Nov 12, 2013 at 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.

  25. DMR

    Aug 11, 2013 at 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 at 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.

  26. Louie

    Aug 10, 2013 at 7:40 pm

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

  27. Kapi

    Aug 10, 2013 at 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.

  28. HelloBob

    Aug 3, 2013 at 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!

  29. dee

    Sep 12, 2012 at 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!

  30. AdoptedMom

    Sep 11, 2012 at 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 them..no kick.

  31. fanny morton

    Jul 4, 2012 at 1:07 pm

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

  32. Christine Jones

    Jul 3, 2012 at 9:25 pm

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

  33. Kaycee Kennedy

    Jul 2, 2012 at 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

      Feb 28, 2014 at 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

        Feb 28, 2014 at 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.

    • Isda

      Jan 24, 2015 at 8:16 pm

      My dog used to moves his neck to rub there

  34. Linda Morris

    Jul 2, 2012 at 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!!

  35. Kostenloser Gas Vergleich

    Jul 1, 2012 at 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

      Jul 5, 2012 at 9:22 pm

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

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

To Top
Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Join our mailing list to receive the latest dog news, recall alerts, and giveaways!

You have Successfully Subscribed!