13 Surprising Reasons Why Dogs Kick When You Scratch Them

Why Do Dogs Kick When You Scratch Them

You’re in your home and see your pooch lying on the floor.

You see their tummy and dive in…

“Belly rub attack!”

Poochie smiles and their tail wags in happiness from the scratches.

But you notice one thing…

They start kicking!

And they do it so fast they might as well join a martial arts contest.

Or maybe star in Hollywood films and call them “Dogckie Chan”.

You’re left wondering, “Why do they kick when I scratch them?”

You wanna know if there’s more to it than just kicking?

Read on to learn:

  • Why your dog’s brain think you’re a tick.
  • Where your dog’s scratch sweet spot is.
  • 13 reasons why dogs kick when you scratch them.
  • And much much more…

Why do dogs kick when you scratch them?

Dogs kick when you scratch them because it’s an involuntary reflex. They also do this to keep ticks and fleas away from their bodies. Apparently, when you scratch your dog, their brain sometimes interprets it as a bite from parasites. Their skin is also filled with receptors that are sensitive.


13 reasons why dogs kick when you scratch them


#1: It’s a reflex

It’s fun to look at your pooch kicking when you scratch them on their tummy, back, or any spot that triggers the reaction.

But sometimes, this behavior is something that they have no control over.

It’s like when you hit the right spot and scratch, their leg automatically goes wild.

It’s just a knee-jerk reaction from your actions.

Why do they call it knee-jerk, anyway?

It’s because jerking your knee when someone hits it in the right spot is a non-voluntary move.

You don’t control it. It just happens.

And there’s science behind this.

In a book by Kenneth Walker, he briefly discusses how muscles react when tapped quickly.

As a response to this action, muscles contract caused by a two-neuron reflex arc.

This is what happens to your pooch, too.

While the scratching of your dog isn’t necessarily a “tapping” motion, it can still trigger the same response.

Their body is wired to react to you scratching certain spots by kicking.

Good thing they’re not as strong as horses, right?

Or else their kick can send you to outer space.

Who needs Elon Musk when you have your pooch, right?

Read also: 11 Weird Reasons Why Your Dog Kicks His Back Legs Randomly

#2: To keep fleas out

Dogs have several reactions when they know they have fleas.

After all, these parasites do bite and sometimes even burrow under their skin.

When they feel fleas around their skin they do either of the following:

  • Scoot.
  • Scratch.
  • Shake their body.
  • Roll on their backs.
  • Kick to ward off the pests.

“So you mean to say, I might be bringing fleas to my pooch?”

No. Not necessarily.

However, the way you’re scratching your pooch might be sending a different signal to their brain.

They could interpret your nails as fleas that are trying to bite.

The scratching action could also feel like something is burrowing in your pooch’s skin and their brain reacts by making them kick.

Kicking may have been just a survival instinct thing your fur baby does to stay healthy.

It’s also the same as how cows’ skin kind of trembles when there are too many flies on it.

Would be nice if your pooch can use Baygon to ward off these pesky pests and have a restful day.

But they can’t. The next best thing is for them to kick in hopes that the fleas will jump off.

Further reading: 15 Weird Reasons Why Dogs Scoot Their Butt On The Floor

#3: They might have dermatitis

According to research on this condition, canine atopic dermatitis is common in dogs.

It may be passed down through your pooch’s genes and can cause inflammation in their skin.

When they have this skin condition, it’ll make your fur baby become uncomfortable.

They’ll likely feel itchiness and cause them to scratch or even bite on areas that have dermatitis.

Here are other behaviors that might indicate canine atopic dermatitis:

  • Having greasy skin.
  • Licking the affected area.
  • Rubbing their skin on surfaces.
  • Having redness on their skin that sometimes feels tough.

And because of this, their skin might become very sensitive and sometimes even painful to touch.

Kicking may be a reaction from your pooch because of the discomfort they feel when you scratch their skin.

Especially if you touch them in areas where this condition can commonly be found such as:

  • Ears.
  • Paws.
  • Snout.
  • Armpits.
  • Eye area.
  • Stomach.
  • Genital area.
  • Base of their tail.
  • Toes and the crevices between them.

If you suspect that your dog has dermatitis, a vet can treat them to help ease their discomfort.

Here are the possible treatments your pooch can get:

  • Antibiotics.
  • Topical treatments.
  • Antifungal medicines.
  • Hyposensitization therapy.
  • Immunomodulatory medications.
  • Regular bathing with prescription shampoo.

You might also want to read: 9 Reasons Why Your Dog Rubs Against You Like A Cat + Tips

#4: They’re not in playtime mode

We love playing with our pooch.

It helps build a stronger bond with them full of love and trust.

It’s also a good exercise for both our fur baby and us.

One way we do this is by scratching their bellies when they’re lying down.

Or maybe even their back.

However, there will be times when our dogs don’t have the social battery to come play with us.

They might be tired or have had too much interaction with you.

And as a result, they start kicking to let you know they don’t like it when you’re scratching them.

This one is no longer a reflex.

It’s voluntary.

“Oh no. What could cause my dog to feel this way?”

Sleep quality

It could be that your dog is tired and is trying to rest during the day.

There might be some problems at night that force them to be awake.

Due to this, they can’t have uninterrupted sleep. They badly need it to help them power through the day.

Here are a few reasons why your dog isn’t getting quality sleep:

  • Noise.
  • Bright lights.
  • Uncomfortable sleeping area.
  • Other animals startling them e.g. squirrels and mice.

Check if they’re experiencing any of this and help them sleep better.

You might also want to know: 5 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Pet Dogs While They’re Asleep

Spending too much time with you

How often do you take your dogs on walks and exercises?

Do you always play with them all the time?

Dogs do love our attention and presence, but this doesn’t mean you have to be there every waking second.

It won’t be healthy for your pooch for you to just hover around like a drone watching their every move.

Let your fur baby run around alone for a while.

Socializing with other dogs and humans can also help them recharge their energy.

#5: They feel ticklish

Dog Kicks You When You Scratch Him Because He Feels Ticklish

Another reason why your pooch almost automatically kicks when you scratch them is because you’re unknowingly tickling them.

It’s almost like another reflex.

Just like how you would squirm like a worm when someone tickles you.

This feeling is very common in mammals and they exist in your pooch, too.

Stanley Hall, a psychologist, and an author coined the terms knismesis and gargalesis to describe two types of tickling.

Let’s get a little bit technical…

Knismesis is the light type of ticklish feeling. It may elicit a few goosebumps here and there.

Or a tingling feeling in our skin. Much like how you’d feel if a bug lands on your skin.

Gargalesis on the other hand is the extreme kind of ticklish feeling. The one makes you burst out of laughter.

I mean…

Remember how it feels when someone tickles your sides and it touches your ribs and it just melts you into a puddle of screams and laughs?

That’s the one.

Humans can feel both, unlike canines who can only feel knismesis or the light kind of tickle.

And whenever they do, they might have reactions like squirming and kicking their legs.

#6: They can’t reach the scratched area

It may be hard for you to do the downward dog stretch in yoga… but your pooch?

It’s named after them for a reason.

However, they’re not as flexible as one might think.

No matter how your dog stretches and folds, there are certain parts of their body that they can’t reach.

An example of this would be their lower back.

And if they can’t reach it, it means they’re not able to scratch, bite, or play with it.

Due to this, those parts of their body aren’t stimulated from time to time.

This can cause that area to be extra sensitive to touches.

And when you scratch your pooch in that part of their body, they might have extreme reactions.

One of these would be kicking.

When they do react like this, always be on the lookout for their body language.

And stop immediately if you see aggressive behavior such as:

  • Snarling.
  • Growling.
  • Showing their teeth.

They may be exhibiting the abovementioned because they feel irritated or annoyed by the scratching.

#7: They like the feeling

You might’ve heard about a dog’s “spot”.

Fur parents may speak of it as something that you discover that when scratched, your dog will be in a state of euphoria.

You might see them lightly smile, close their eyes, and be in a relaxed state when you touch them in their spot.

This will vary from one dog to another but you can try scratching the following:

  • Their belly.
  • Behind their ears.
  • Below their snout.
  • The base of their tail.
  • Between their legs in the front.

These are the typical areas where you might find your dog’s sweet spot.

If you do a quick scratch or tickle in these parts, you’ll surely see a reaction from your dog.

Kicking could be one of them.

Read next: 13 Reasons Why Dogs Like It When You Scratch Their Stomach

#8: They need flea purging

Remember how their bodies might think that they have fleas when you scratch them?

Well, the same reaction will happen if they do have pests and ticks on them.

As part of their defense from these blood-sucking and itchy creatures, they kick their legs to try and shake them off.

As Taylor Swift said, “Shake it off, shake it off”.

Your dog might be influenced by this catchy song and live life according to it.

It could very well be just a coincidence that they’re kicking when you scratch them.

Or the fleas and ticks moved around because your hands disturbed them.

Whatever the reason, your pooch needs to get these pests off their skin.

According to a study by CS Sherrington, the kicking reflex of dogs may have been adapted by dogs to keep parasites away from them.

This presumption is created after he mapped out the “receptive area” which made the dog do the knee-jerk reaction kicking their legs.

However, kicking might not be enough.

But you can help them out.

Here’s an example of a well-reviewed shampoo for your dog.

Giving your dog anti-flea treatment may be time-consuming and to others, it’ll be icky.

If you’re one of these fur parents who can’t bear the sight of a tick, then you can go to your trusted groomer in your area.

Make sure that their scratching didn’t cause any bruises or cuts.

Have your vet check it out or your pooch might get hurt when the shampoo or other treatment hits their open wound.

#9: They think you like it

Your dog loves you. No doubt about that.

Especially if you’ve been loving and caring towards them, too.

Because of the positive bond you’ve built with them, it’s natural for them to make you happy.

And they’d do anything just to make you smile or even laugh out loud.

“How do they do this, exactly?”

Well, it’s simple.

How do you react when you see them kick their legs while you scratch them?

Do you smile? Or maybe even laugh?

If so, then it shouldn’t be a surprise that they’d repeat the behavior.

Whenever your pooch sees positive response from you, they have the tendency to repeat the behavior that caused it.

According to a study, dogs have the ability to read our emotions.

They know when we’re joyful and they like the feeling that you are in that state.

This is because, on top of dogs being able to read our feelings, they can also mimic it.

#10: You’ve trained them to kick

This can be related to #9.

There are times when we might accidentally train our pooch to do things that we didn’t intend them to.

Well, in this case, most fur parents would probably agree that training your pooch to kick without your knowledge is cute.

I mean, have you seen how funny and adorable they are when they kick their legs?

“Yeah, they look cute but I’m more interested in how I’m training them… accidentally, you said?”

Yep, this can happen.

You see, dogs are very responsive to attention, treats, and other forms of rewards.

And when they receive it, whatever the behavior they’re doing prior to receiving the reward, they’ll repeat it.

These actions can either be:

  • Kisses.
  • Petting.
  • Cuddles.
  • Praising your dog.

If you frequently do these after they kick their leg due to scratches from you, the behavior will be reinforced.

According to Sylvia-Stasiewicz, you don’t need to be harsh when training your dog. 

Positive reinforcement works best when trying to teach them new behavior.

And this is why your pooch easily picks up leg kicking.

#11: It’s a sign of relief

Have you ever sighed so hard it felt like all the stresses in the world just went away?

Well, most people who get a helping hand on scratching their backs do. It’s because this is an area they can’t reach.

Because of this, there will be a lot of times that I’ll be getting help from my partner and friends in reaching parts of my body.

And when they do…

Ohhh… what a relief!

It’s like drinking ice-cold water after a day under the sun.

You might not know it, but you could be giving the same awesome sensation to your dog.

And this would happen when you scratch them.

They might be feeling itchy in the area you’re scratching and you just relieved it.

An annoying and recurring discomfort may also have been removed because of your hands and your dog feels relief from it.

All these things may result in your pooch involuntarily kicking their leg as a reaction of joy.

#12: Their nerves have been engaged

Do you know what increases your pooch’s sensitivity to touch?

Their hair. Specifically their whiskers.

While they don’t have the same senses as Spiderman who can sense danger from afar, dogs can still have increased sensitivity.

Their whiskers can increase the feeling they get when something touches them.

According to VCA, whiskers; the purpose is to help your dog transmit information to their brain when they come in contact with an object.

The whiskers alone do not technically feel anything.

After all, they’re just hair.

However, these are highly important to them.

It helps your fur baby discover the world.

They can also estimate the details of things that are moving around them such as its:

  • Size.
  • Speed.
  • Shape.

It can also detect changes in the way the wind blows and have a fuller view of the world around them.

When you scratch your dogs, especially on areas with whiskers like:

  • Chin.
  • Eyes.
  • Snout.

They might feel a higher level of sensation.

As part of their reaction, they might start to kick their legs.

Much like a jerk reaction when you feel something crawling on your arm hair (if you have some).

#13: They might have medical conditions in their skin

Another reason why your pooch might kick when you scratch them is that their skin is sensitive.

Or worse…

They might be in pain and extreme discomfort.

This can be caused by medical conditions that show on your pooch’s skin.

Examples of these would be:

  • Canine Scabies.
  • Seasonal allergies.
  • Sensitivity to new food.
  • Parasite-induced allergy.
  • Allergies from their surroundings.

Whenever your dog experiences these diseases, they might have a higher urge to kick around in an attempt to scratch the affected area.

If you suspect your dog has any of these, check their skin out immediately.

Make sure that there are no bruises and cuts caused by their constant scratching.

Wounds can also be caused by roughly rubbing their skin against hard objects.

Especially the parts of their body they can’t reach.

Scooting can be a symptom of these conditions and it’d be best to check with a vet.


People also ask:


Do dogs like it when you scratch their sweet spot?

It might be hard for you to find, but, yes, dogs like it when you scratch their sweet spot.

You can easily see it in their reaction when you do find that area and touch them there.

They might kick their legs in enjoyment.

Another reaction would be being relaxed and smiling with their eyes closed.

Why is my dog’s scratch reflex so sensitive?

Your dog’s scratch reflex is sensitive because their body uses it as a survival technique.

It can be used to keep the ticks and fleas off of them and stop them from biting or burrowing in their skin.

You might also have scratched them in areas where they have whiskers.

These thicker and longer hairs are part of how a canine perceives the world.

They use it to navigate their environment by feeling around.

When the whisker notices small changes in the air, they can send signals to the dog’s brain.

Through this process, they’d be able to estimate the size, shape, and speed of an incoming object.