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Why Dogs Kick When You Scratch Them

People have all sorts of funny names for the rapid kicking a dog does when he is being scratched – “thumpers,” “schroedering,” “sewing machine leg,” etc., but why does your dog do it every time you scratch that certain spot? For most dogs, the spot is somewhere on their lower chest, belly, or flanks (upper back leg). Though I have seen dogs kick when their side is scratched near their spine as well.

Medical Explanation

There is a biological reason for your dog’s tick. When you go to the doctor, they often check reflexes by hitting your knee with that rubber hammer. Your knee involuntarily jerks, as long as you don’t have any type of neurological issue. Well, when you find “that spot” on your dog, it’s the same as what the doctor does to you with the rubber mallet.

Dog’s respond with a rapid leg kick when you hit a nerve in certain spots on their body, it’s an involuntary reflex.

Are they Enjoying It?

It’s interesting how many people see their dog do that and exclaim “Oh I found that the spot! That feels good, doesn’t it?” And they proceed to scratch in that particular spot harder and longer. But, if he could talk, your dog may answer “No” to that question.

Think about it this way. Would you want that doctor to hit you over and over with the rubber hammer, possibly even harder and faster than before just because it was making you respond by kicking your leg? Probably not. So why do we assume our dogs want us to continue to scratch in a spot that makes them do something involuntarily over and over again?

I’m not saying that every dog does not like it, there may be some that do, but we should stop and look at our dog’s body language to see if they are really enjoying the scratching or not.

Bennett uses this image series to show how a dog tells you what he is feeling by his body and facial expressions
Bennett uses this image series to show how a dog tells you what he is feeling by his body and facial expressions

How You Can Tell If Your Dog Is Enjoying IT

Robin Bennett, CPDT-KA, has written a learning series for Dog Daycares (All About Dog Daycare) that includes how to read dog body language. In it, she shows the difference between a dog that is truly enjoying your attention and one that is just tolerating it.

“Sometimes I think of the analogy of when people tickle someone,” Bennett says. “At first, it’s kind of funny, but then if you continue to be tickled, it actually starts to become painful.  I have no idea if that’s what dogs are experiencing, but that’s what it sometimes reminds me of.”

She goes on to explain that the most important thing is to read your dog and look at whether or not he seems to be relaxed whiles it’s happening or if his body changes and he stiffens.

For example, was your dog on his back, enjoying a belling rub, but then when you hit that spot does he stiffen, close his mouth, flatten his ears and/or try to roll on to his side or stand up? If so, he probably is not enjoying having that spot scratched. However, if your dog remains in the belly up positing, mouth open, tongue hanging out, them most likely, for whatever weird reason he likes having you hit that nerve.

About the Author

Based in Tustin, Calif., animal lover Kristina N. Lotz is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer – Knowledge Assessed (CPDT-KA) and works as a full time trainer. She also owns her own custom pet products company, A Fairytail House, where she makes personalized collars, leashes, beds, keepsake pillows and blankets, and anything else your imagine can think up. In her spare time, she trains and competes in herding, agility, obedience, rally, and conformation with her Shetland Sheepdogs.

 

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Written by Kristina Lotz
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