dog getting a belly rub

If you have ever tried to touch the hair between your dog’s paws, only to watch them kick their leg at you in response, you may have wondered, “Where else is my dog ticklish?” It turns out that the answer is that all dogs have different areas that tickle their scratch reflex. The most common areas include the belly, ears, neck, back, and paws. And although it is true that all dogs have much the same nervous system response to tickling that humans do, how they react to it can vary greatly. Let’s take a closer look.

What Kinds of Tickles Are There?

Humans experience two types of tickle sensations. The first is knismesis, a very light tickle that doesn’t cause laughter but gives you goosebumps, like when a bug crawls on you. Whenever we scratch the belly of our dogs, we trigger the involuntary reflex, knismesis, that causes them to kick. Researchers have found that knismesis is a natural reflex in mammals, including dogs. As a form of protection and survival, this automatic reflex is triggered by neurological stimulation, making it easy to understand why it is so important. A dog needs a signal to scratch away fleas or other irritants if they have any on them.

Your scratching activates collections of neural pathways under particular areas of your dog’s skin, which send a signal to the spinal cord that causes your dog’s hind leg to kick. During an examination, some vets might even include this “tickle” to determine if your dog has healthy neural pathways and reflexes.

The scratch reflex evolved so animals could protect themselves against irritants on their bodies, such as plant matter that has snarled up in their fur. The knismesis tickle on their skin activates the reflex, allowing them to kick away the source of the itch.

The second is gargalesis, which causes laughter. Despite the fact that gargalesis has not yet been officially proven to exist in dogs, many dog owners believe their dogs laugh when they are tickled or played with. Science has studied laughter in dogs and isolated a breathy sound that dogs only make at play. This sound has been identified as a “dog laugh” and is categorized separately from other dog noises, such as growling, whining, barking, and panting.

dachshund enjoying belly rub on grass
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

Is it Fun for Dogs to Be Tickled?

Although all dogs are ticklish, your dog may not react like they are enjoying it. It is hard to say whether your dog will enjoy knismesis. It varies from dog to dog. Pay attention to your dog’s body language when you tickle them (and immediately after) to find out how they feel. If they wag their tails and present the same body part again, it’s likely that they enjoyed the experience. Another sign to look for is a big stretch followed by an adoring glance up at you!

You can be sure that they didn’t enjoy the experience if they tuck their tails, flinch, or appear disturbed after you have activated their knismesis.

Final Thoughts

Every dog owner knows that one spot on their pooch where their leg starts kicking uncontrollably. As adorable as it is to watch, this “sweet spot” reaction is simply a reflex. All dogs have this reflex, and for most dogs, there are few things in life as satisfying as scratching a persistent itch. If your dog seems to enjoy the feeling of knismesis, go ahead and have yourselves a tickle party!

Featured Image Credit: Mary Swift, Shutterstock