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Are Dogs Ticklish? Here’s What Science Says

Are Dogs Ticklish? Here’s What Science Says

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If you’ve ever scratched that one spot on your dog’s back you’ve sure seen how they start kicking their leg. In that moment, one must wonder: Are dogs ticklish? If not, what is that movement? Is it just a reflex? And does your dog even enjoy it?

Can you tickle a dog?

First of all, let’s define what a “tickle” is. Most often, a tickle is nothing more than a involuntary movement as a response to a touch.

When it comes to humans, there are two different types of tickle sensations. The first one is knismesis. It happens with very light tickles, that don’t make you laugh, but may give you goosebumps. The second one is gargalesis, which can make you burst into laughter.

Dogs obviously can’t burst into laughter, but they can react in other ways.

Are dogs ticklish?

Scientifically seen, knismesis is common in dogs as a natural reflex. Not only dogs, but other mammals as well. It’s an involuntary response as a result from neurological stimulation. Reflexes like this one are a form of protection or survival. For example, if a dog has fleas, they need an alert to scratch them away.

Gargalesis hasn’t officially been found in dogs. Like we already stated, dogs can’t burst into laughter in a conventional way. Although, some dog owners and dog behavior specialist believe that dogs have a different form of laughing.

Golden retriever dogs are ticklish
Dogs do feel tickles! But they are quite different from the ones we experience

Patricia Simonet of Sierra Nevada College explored laugher in dogs specifically. After categorizing growls, whines, barks, and pants, she identified a breathy sound that dogs only made at play as a “dog laugh.” So even though dogs can’t actually laugh, they do have a different way to express what we feel when laughing.

Why does my dog start kicking it’s leg?

We all know that our dogs have that one spot on their back that’s sure to make them kick it’s leg if we scratch it. This kicking reaction when we scratch their “sweet-spot” is actually just a reflex.

Just like in human reflexes, all the scratching activities is a collection of neural pathways that then send a message to your dog’s spinal cord. The spinal cord then sends a message back to the dog’s leg and the kicking starts. That’s why the harder you scratch, the harder they’ll be kicking their leg. Vets often do this during their examination to see if your dog’s neural pathways are functioning.

Reflexes are a normal part of the body’s physiology. Your dog reacting with a kicking reaction after you scratched his “sweet spot” isn’t something to be concerned about. It’s just proof that your dog’s neural pathways are working the way that they should.

Where is my dog the most ticklish?

The best spot to tickle to your dog is without a doubt their belly. Other “sweet-spots” include: chest; back legs; their back near the base of the tail.

These are the places where your dog will appreciate the scratches the most. The skin in these areas is very sensitive to touch and will react even to the smallest amounts of pressure.

Keep scratching until you’ve hit a spot that your dog positively reacts to, with a grin or a thumping foot. That’s how you know you’ve found it. Dog’s can have many different “sweet spots” on their body. However, just because your dog reacts to that particular spot, doesn’t mean that it’s his favorite place for scratching. It basically just means that you’ve hit a nerve and activated a reflex.

Golden retriever kicking it’s leg after being tickled
If your dog starts kicking it’s leg while you scratch him – you’ve hit the “sweet spot”

Now that we know that dogs are ticklish – Do they actually like it?

We know that for us tickling isn’t always the most enjoyable experience. In fact, some people absolutely despise to be tickled. But what about our canine friends? How can we make sure then that our dogs are enjoying it?

The easiest way to do this is to read their body language. If your dog is showing any signs that they’re upset, like snarling or snapping, respect their boundaries and stop it. Just like for us, tickling can get painful for them too.

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