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Your pup rolls over on its back, and you can’t resist giving their belly a pet or two. They kick their legs, but you can really tell if you scratched “the right spot” or they’re wiggling around because they’re feeling ticklish.

While dogs don’t giggle and wiggle their bodies to escape the prickly touch, they possess the same nerve endings on their skin. When someone touches the right spot on a dog’s body, they most likely feels a response similar to a feather-light movement across the skin.

How Do You Know if a Dog Is Ticklish?

There’s even a scientific name for the tickling sensation humans and dogs experience. The light touch across is called knismesis, which feels similar to goosebumps, itching, or when a bug lands on human skin.

This twitch on the skin differs from another tickle word known as gargalesis, or the sensation that sends people into fits of laughter. Dogs lack this awareness and don’t double up in hysterics and beg you to stop tickling them.

You won’t know until you find a tickle spot and the dog reacts to your touch. Look for a flick of the ears, a twist in the back, or pulling a foot away. A wrinkled nose provides another clue.

Bullmastiff getting pet at Meet the Breeds.
Stacey Salter Moore

Where Are Dogs Ticklish?

Every dog feels this natural reflex reaction differently. One dog might perceive a twinge on one part of its body, while another pup hardly notices a difference.

“Dogs are often ticklish on their bellies or sides,” says Dr. Mary Burch, Ph.D., a certified applied animal behaviorist and the AKC Director of the Family Dog Program. “All my recent dogs seemed ticklish when I scratched their sides. Some dogs are ticklish on their ears, neck, or back.”

Like humans, tickle spots vary from dog to dog. Some are highly sensitive, and some may yawn as if they’re bored with the test. If you’re trying to elicit a response, common spots include the paws and the base of the tail.

Why Does My Dog Kick Their Leg When I Scratch Them?

Have you scratched your dog’s side, and its leg starts kicking?

This rhythmic jerking of a hind leg is known as a scratch reflex. This message travels from the skin to the spinal cord and back to the rear leg to kick and is a bit different than tickling.

“In dogs, tickling causes involuntary twitching movements where nerve receptors are triggered,” Dr. Burch says. “When I was scratching my dog’s sides, I knew the spot was ticklish when I saw it start to kick a foot. The kicking happens automatically as the dog does not think about this.”

Do Dogs Laugh When Tickled?

Since dogs don’t let out big belly laughs as people do, they might pant or sigh when tickled. Listen and look for an exhale, similar to a human ahh.

Rottweiler rolling over in the grass.

Is Tickling a Dog Bad?

Some humans don’t mind a light series of pokes from a close friend or family member, so long as consent is there, but what about dogs? They can’t express themselves the same way before the sneak attack.

If a dog handled the scratches throughout puppyhood, the pup might feel more receptive to tickling as an adult. If the act is kind, dogs could enjoy a light session as it might show how much you care for your dog. Dogs who never received much tickling or didn’t seem comfortable with it, might feel anxious or grumpy about it later in life.

“Staying in place to accept more tickling is a sign the dog finds tickling enjoyable. Otherwise, the pup would get up and leave,” Dr. Burch says.

It’s best to read your dog’s body language and watch their reaction to your surprise touch. “If you are tickling your dog and they seem tense or tries to leave the area, don’t make your dog come back for more scratching or tickling,” Dr. Burch says.

Medical issues might also affect how a dog reacts to tickling. Some dogs might have sensitive ears, feet, or belly. This refusal to engage in tickling might indicate the need to visit a veterinarian visit. Abdominal pain, an ear infection, a sore paw or broken toenail may influence how a dog reacts to your sensitive touch.

Walking away is your dog’s way of saying, “please stop!” To maintain a close bond with your dog and not accidentally encourage reactive behavior, respect their boundaries.

Related article: What to Do When Your Dog Steals and Guards Items
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