We’ve all scratched that oh-so-good spot on our dog’s back and seen them kick their leg with glee. But what exactly is happening there? Is it a reflex, or is your dog ticklish?
Well, that depends on how we define ticklish. Dogs respond to scratches behind their ears, on their chest, along their belly, and at the base of their tail. But oftentimes, a “tickle” is nothing more than an involuntary movement as a response to touch. Read on to find out which spots are the sweetest for your dog, what could signal an underlying health issue, and whether you should be tickling at all.
What are the tickle sweet spots?
Like their human counterparts, the belly is a go-to spot for a quality tickle. Other spots include the chest, right between the front legs; the belly; and on the back legs near the base of the tail. Keep scratching away until you’ve hit a spot that garners a positive response, like a grin and a thumping foot. That’s how you know you’ve found it.
That response is called the “scratch reflex,” which is an involuntary reaction to an irritant, like a bug. The scratching activates nerves under the skin, which are connected to the spinal cord and send a message to the muscles to fire. In fact, this is how veterinarians diagnose neurological issues. If there’s no muscle movement when prompted, that could signal nerve damage or neurological trauma.
Why does my dog roll onto his back when he’s tickled?
It depends — sometimes it’s a move of submission. Other times, you’re playing and tickling, your dog is comfortable with you, and he rolls onto his back because a belly rub sounds so good. If you’re giving him lots of good pets and he wants that belly rub, he’ll often drop to the floor and roll over for prime access. It’s a feel-good spot for your dog, and he won’t be shy about letting you know.
Do dogs like being tickled?
For humans, tickling isn’t always that much fun. In fact, in some cases it’s even been used as a form of torture. How do we make sure our dogs are enjoying it and not in distress? Keep an eye on the dog’s body language. The big ol’ stretch and side smile is generally a pretty good sign that your pooch is all about the serious scratching going on.
If he shows any signs of being upset—raised hair, snarling, snapping—recognize that the touch makes him uncomfortable, and respect his boundaries. It’s just like humans, really. Tickling might be funny and tolerable for a minute, but it can get painful quickly.
What if my dog gets overstimulated?
If your dog shows signs of anxiety after being tickled or even just petted, consider strategies to help her relax. Let her come to you, rather than imposing a tickling or petting session on her. Anxious dogs benefit from your calm, loving presence. Low-tech interventions that help include:
- ThunderShirt or other pressure wrap
- Exercise (get help from a dog walker if needed)
- Sentry calming collar
- Rescue remedy or aromatherapy
Do dogs laugh?
According to some, yes! In their own special way, that is. Konrad Lorenz, a Nobel Prize–winning ethnologist says this:
“…an invitation to play always follows; here the slightly opened jaws which reveal the tongue, and the tilted angle of the mouth which stretches almost from ear to ear give a still stronger impression of laughing. This ‘laughing’ is most often seen in dogs playing with an adored master and which become so excited that they soon start panting.”
While recording dogs in playing with each other at parks with a parabolic microphone, researcher Patricia Simonet discovered something amazing. What sounds like panting to the naked human hear is actually dogs “laughing.”
Is he ticklish, or is there another issue?
If your dog seems particularly ticklish, it might be a sign of a bigger problem, like a rash, fleas, allergies or dry skin. If your dog responds sensitively to touch, or gets in the habit of licking or scratching certain areas, be sure to check in with your veterinarian to rule out anything serious.
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