Why Your Dog Gives A Leg Kick When You Rub Their Belly?

Every dog owner knows that their dog has its own ‘special spot’ on the tummy, where if you give it a good scratch, Fido has an involuntary leg kick. It’s such a cute thing to see, and also quite funny. But why do they do this? And does it bother them at all?

Read on to find out why your dog gives a leg kick when you rub their belly.

why your dog gives a leg kick when you rub their belly
Why Your Dog Gives a Leg Kick When You Rub Their Belly

Why Do Dogs Kick Their Legs When You Scratch Them?

Dogs have a reflex that is referred to as the ‘scratch reflex’.

They have no control over this it is completely involuntary.

Have you noticed that when you give your dog a belly rub and his leg starts to kick, he looks a bit puzzled by it too?

So scratching your dog’s belly and activating their scratch reflex, may be irritating to him. 

My Dog Kicks Its Leg When Scratched!

This is because when you do it, it activates the nerves that are attached to the dog’s spinal cord. To get rid of the thing that is irritating him, which is your belly rubs, then he will kick out involuntarily.

You will know when this happens because it looks like your dog is making a bike-riding or swimming motion.

You know when you go to the doctor and they tap your knee with that little hammer and your leg kicks out? It is the same principle at work. And you know how annoying it feels right? So perhaps even though dogs love a good belly rub, don’t do it in a spot that triggers their scratch reflex, as this may not be enjoyable for them, even though it looks like they do. When we blink our eyes when a bug flies near them, this too is an involuntary reflex, just to help illustrate the point further.

If you are a cat owner as well as a dog owner, you may have observed this same behavior when you scratch the base of their tail. They jerk and turn around as if they are thinking “What on earth is going on back there?!”

The positive of the scratch reflex is that it can help your vet to uncover possible health issues with your dog. If there is nerve damage occurring in certain areas, then this can help your vet make a diagnosis.

So if you are used to giving your dog a belly rub, then you don’t have to stop. It is a good bonding time for you both. But just be aware that if you trigger their scratch reflex, this is irritating to their nervous system, so scratch their tummies in a different spot so that they do not experience irritation.

Related Reading: Many Ask Why Do Pugs Sleep So Much

Other Reasons Why Dogs Kick Their Legs

Sleep Cycles

When your dog is in his active REM cycle, he may exhibit twitching and leg jerking. This is perfectly normal, and it is best to leave them be. It is more common in pups and older dogs. It usually starts about 20 minutes into sleep and lasts for around 2 to 3 minutes.

Muscle Spasms

Some poor dogs have uncontrollable spasms that are rhythmic. This will affect one area of their body. This can be caused by electrolyte imbalance and dehydration. Make sure your dog always has access to plenty of fresh and clean water to drink.

Marking Their Territory

They do this when they are out for a walk after they have taken a toilet break. It is so that they can spread their smell around to other dogs as if they are saying “Yes I was here!” So when your dog stops to sniff the ground when you are out walking, it is picking up another dog’s scent.

Problems with the Hip and Knee Joints

Such as hip dysplasia, degenerative joint disease, and medial patellar luxation.

Prevention Of Kicking Back Legs In Dogs

Do not over-exercise your dog, this will help to prevent muscle spasms. Make sure you keep your dog hydrated. If you are exercising, warm up and cool down with them, just as you would if you were exercising yourself.

Take your dog for an annual vet check-up, to keep an eye on any problems like degenerative joint disease. Even though this cannot be prevented, if caught early it can be treated with medication. 

Don’t let your dog jump up or down from high places.

If your dog is having leg muscle spasms then they may benefit from you giving them a very gentle massage of the affected area.

Good nutrition is important too, so make sure you are feeding your dog good quality dog food with all of the essential vitamins and minerals for optimal health.

Try to identify things that may be causing your dog stress, and try to minimize those factors. For example, is there another pet in the house that they do not get along with? Could you keep them separated?

why dogs give a leg kick when you rub their belly
Why Dogs Give a Leg Kick When You Rub Their Belly

A Summary Of Dog Leg Kicking and Belly Rubs!

When you give your dog a belly rub in a particular spot, it can trigger a reflex called the ‘scratch reflex’. Whilst it may look cute and funny to see your dog making this bike-riding motion, it is uncomfortable for them because it irritates their nerves, and they have no control over it. So rub their belly in a different spot!

Other reasons why dogs kick their back legs include marking their territory when out for walks, spreading their scent, and at night when they are in the REM cycle of sleep. It is best to leave them to it, as these are both normal behaviors.

Other back leg kicking that may need care from you include muscle spasms due to overexertion. Try more gentle exercise, get your dog to warm up and warm down, and offer them plenty of water so that they do not get dehydrated.

If you suspect that your dog is having trouble with their hip or elbow joints, take them to your vet for diagnosis and a course of treatment.

Related Reading: Dog Rolls Over On Back When Approached: 7 Most Common Reasons

stuart and his dog

Family Dog Expert Author

Hi there! I’m Stuart, a devoted dog lover and family dog expert with over a decade of experience working with our furry companions. My passion for dogs drives me to share my knowledge and expertise, helping families build strong, loving bonds with their four-legged friends. When I’m not writing for SirDoggie, you’ll find me hiking, playing with my beautiful dog, or studying music.