Veterinarian-written / veterinarian-approved articles for your dog.

Are Dogs Ticklish? Why Do Dogs Kick Their Leg When You Rub or Scratch Them?


When you rub a dog’s chest, side, or belly (the location can vary from dog to dog) it causes an itching sensation. This creates a nerve impulse that travels to the spinal cord, which in turn activates nerves that move the adjacent hind leg. The leg kicks rhythmically, as if to scratch the itch. The location and intensity of the itch dictates the location and intensity of the scratch. Amazingly, this response is all programmed within the spinal cord, and so is beyond the dog’s conscious control. Vets and scientists can use the scratch reflex to assess nerve and spinal cord function. Dog owners use it to amaze their friends.

Are Dogs Ticklish?

As to whether dogs are ticklish like humans, the answer is that no one knows. Some dogs flinch when touched around the feet, tail base or ears. While this may indicate pleasure, it’s safer to assume that if your dog recoils, you’re annoying her. Try scratching a more neutral spot, such as her head or upper back.

Finally, a dog that seems more "ticklish" than normal may have a skin problem, such as fleas, allergies, or dermatitis. If your dog is habitually scratching, licking, or kicking at her ears, or seems unusually sensitive to the touch, be sure to consult your veterinarian.

"Happiness is having a scratch for every itch."
- Ogden Nash

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