Dogs have their own ways of reacting to the various methods of petting that their owners use on them. Some people may not have noticed, but when you scratch or rub the belly of a dog, it starts kicking its hind legs. For some people, they may think that the dog is just being playful, which is why it is kicking its legs. However, this may not be the case, and this has a scientific explanation that people should know about.

The Dog Scratch Reflex

Dogs are not able to detect and react to irritations the way humans do. The usual irritants that affect dogs are fleas and ticks. In the physiological structure of a dog, there are clusters of nerves that are connected to the spinal cord found under its skin. When the action of scratching or rubbing activates these endings, a message is sent from these nerves to the leg muscles of your dog. The message being transferred is a signal that there are irritants affecting the dog, and the legs need to start kicking in an attempt to dislodge or remove these irritants. This basically shows that the kicking motion is an involuntary reaction to the scratching or rubbing on its skin.

Dog Scratch Reflex Works on Certain Body Parts

Considering that a dog is covered with skin all over its body, pet owners may wonder why this involuntary reaction does not happen when they rub or scratch the rumps or the heads of their dogs. Based on a dog’s anatomy, the nerve clusters are found in an area that is shaped like a saddle, which is its belly. This makes its belly the most sensitive area to the irritants affecting its body. With this high sensitivity, dogs enjoy the feeling it gets when its belly is rubbed or scratched.

Various Stages of Dog Scratch Reflex

This involuntary reaction looks adorable or cute to some pet owners. However, there may be questions about how this reflex action is processed within the body of the dog. It has been found that the dog scratch reflex goes through 4 stages:

  •       The first stage is called the latency period. You may notice that it may take some time before the dog’s legs start kicking even if you are already playing with its belly. This is actually because it takes some time for the signal from the clusters of nerves to reach the dog’s brain before a message is sent to the leg muscles of the dog to start kicking and try dislodging any irritants that are affecting its body.
  •       As the message is received by the leg muscles of the dog, it starts out by kicking its feet slowly. This is called the warm-up period. The intensity of the dog’s kicking eventually gets stronger or faster as you continue to scratch or rub its belly.
  •       When you suddenly stop playing with your dog’s belly, its legs may still continue kicking. This is a normal occurrence, and you should not feel worried. This is because there may still be signals that are still being sent to the leg muscles of the dog. This is the after discharge stage. The dog should stop kicking when there are no more signals sent from the nerves.
  •       The last stage may be visible if you keep on playing on the same spot of your dog’s belly for too long. This is the fatigue stage. The specific area also tires out and needs some time to rest. This can be seen when the kicking of your dog’s legs suddenly slows down. After the nerves from the specific area have finished resting, the intensity may increase after some time.

Be Gentle and Wary When Playing With Your Dog’s Belly

Even though your dog may look cute when it starts kicking its legs when you play with its belly, you should still make sure that you do it gently. Sometimes people may get carried away and aggressively scratch and play with their dogs’ bellies. You should also be wary if your dog is in the mood for its belly to be rubbed. Once you see your pet putting its ears to the back and you feel that its muscles are getting tensed, this is a sign that it may not be in the mood or it has some skin problems and is feeling pain instead. Also, if your dog does not kick its legs when you are playing with certain parts of its belly for a period of time, you may need to have your pet checked by a veterinarian as there may be damaged nerves underneath your dog’s skin.