Mystery Solved! This Is Why Your Dog Kicks When You Scratch His Belly
Ever wondered why your dog goes bananas when you scratch him in that one perfect spot on his belly? Never fear, we’ve got the answer!
Unexpectedly, this canine kick reaction is actually a self-protection mechanism for your pooch. Otherwise known as the scratch reflex, this involuntary response is there to make sure your dog is safe from dangerous bugs or irritants.
Under specific parts of your pooch’s skin, there are sets of neural pathways that connect to their spinal cord. When you scratch your dog’s belly in “the spot”, the nerves are activated. Then, they send a message to the dog’s spinal cord, which activates the kicking reflex.
When you think about it, it actually makes a lot of sense: if Fido has fleas, the scratch reflex will likely be activated by the itchiness. In turn, the kicking might knock off some of the pesky critters, thus easing some of the itching.
It’s a lot like human reflexes, really. Think about when you accidentally touch a hot stove — you immediately recognize the pain and jerk your hand back, right? If you waited until your conscious brain recognized you were in danger, you could end with severe injuries or worse. For dogs, the scratch reflex does the same thing: it immediately alerts them that something is off and activates the involuntary kicking response.
In more extreme cases, it can also provide a good way for your veterinarian to figure out if your pup is suffering from nerve damage, in much the same way that doctor taps your knee to test your reflexes.
Another great reminder: just because your dog kicks when you scratch his belly, doesn’t mean he actually likes being scratched there. Remember, the scratch reflex is involuntary — it’s really there for swatting away bugs.
While many dogs do love their belly rubs, it’s important to pay attention to the cues your pooch is giving you — you’ll likely be able to figure out their preferences by simple observation.
Christina Peden is a lifelong animal lover and avid wordsmith. She lives in Toronto with her boyfriend Ryan where they are proud pet parents to puppy, Matilda and cat, Oscar. In her spare time, she can be found enjoying Toronto, Canada's all-too-short patio season, taking advantage of the city's numerous parks or curled up with a good book.
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