Have you ever noticed your dog kicking their legs like crazy when you scratch them in their favorite spots? Oftentimes, those furry fun-balls kick your hand away with overzealousness, but they don’t necessarily want you to stop. What you are experiencing is the scratch reflex. It’s perfectly normal and natural, and it could be a sign that you’re annoying your pet.

Allow me to explain...

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  1. What is a Dog Scratch Reflex
  2. How the Scratch Reflex Works
  3. Is a Dog Scratch Reflex Bad
  4. FAQ
  5. Conclusion

What is a Dog Scratch Reflex

The dog scratch reflex is, as the name suggests, an uncontrollable and involuntary reflex. It causes dogs to kick out and scratch with their hind legs when nerve endings on the skin are stimulated. The nerves send a message to the brain via the spinal cord, which then sends a message to the leg, causing it to kick, scratch, or shake.

It normally happens when a parasite, insect, or other irritation lands on the skin; the biologically inbuilt reflex kicks in to make the dog kick its back leg(s) and scratch the irritation away. It can also occur due to human petting, brushing, playing with other furry friends, and in other ways.

Itching in dogs is known scientifically as pruritus, and it’s something to keep an eye out for. Take a peek at the footage from your Petcube Camera and make sure your pets aren’t constantly scratching all day long. If they are, the reflex likely has a medical cause.

How the Scratch Reflex Works

Countless studies have been performed to get to the root of this involuntary reflex in not only dogs but also frogs, cats, and more. Experts aren’t 100 percent sure why this reflex happens, but it’s thought to be a form of protection against parasites and other bugs.

Fleas, ticks, and plenty of other parasites bite and live on the skin of dogs, transmitting potentially deadly infections and diseases to their new canine hosts. When those bugs hit one of the reflex spots, dogs will instinctively, without even thinking about it, scratch to get rid of them.

The most common places to activate the scratch reflex are:

  • Back;
  • Belly;
  • Flanks;
  • Sides;
  • Ears;
  • Paws.

Is a Dog Scratch Reflex Bad

A dog’s scratch reflex can be bad because it could indicate that something is irritating the nerve endings on the skin or that they have an underlying medical cause.

If you’re patting, stroking, or scratching your pup and stimulating those nerve endings, the reflex will naturally make your dog scratch at the area. You are irritating, so it’s a smart idea to move your attention to another area of your dog’s body. Paying attention to their body language and behavior will let you know whether they like the sensation or not.

George the Bulldog goes kick-crazy when the spot just above his tail is patted or scratched, and he also has very ticklish armpits, so any attention there will also cause him to kick and scratch. It’s a sign that he doesn’t like it because he will try to get away whenever it happens.

Not all dogs dislike it, and not all spots work on all dogs. Their reaction will tell you everything you need to know. If they try to get away, they don’t like it. If they lay down on the floor and beg for more, on the other hand, they probably do.

Constant and increased scratching is a symptom of several medical conditions. These include:

According to veterinary studies, ninety percent of all dogs suffering from sarcoptic mange have a very active scratch reflex as a symptom.

If you notice excessive scratching or kicking from your pet, seek advice from one of Petcube’s friendly team of online veterinarians. 24/7 access to expert advice from a licensed vet is just one of the benefits of signing up for the Emergency Fund. For just $29 per month, you’ll have up to $3,000 of coverage per year for emergency pet situations, plus all the vet advice you’ll ever need, right when you need it.


Which dog breeds are more prone to the scratch reflex?

The scratch reflex happens to virtually all dogs in some form. It’s mild for some dogs and more severe in others, but it tends to be more of a problem for those with allergies and other skin complaints.

Do dogs like it when you scratch them and their legs kick?

There is no right or wrong answer to this question because each dog is different. Dogs who enjoy the sensation will stay in position, demand you carry on after stopping, and act in otherwise positive ways. If your pet tries to get away from you, gets snappy and/or agitated, or acts in negative ways, it’s a sign they’re uncomfortable.

Why does my dog push me with his paw when I pet him?

Without taking other factors into account, it’s not obvious exactly why your dog is pushing your hand away. It might indicate that your pet is in pain, grumpy, or not feeling particularly social. On the other hand, it might be a completely involuntary reflex. Your dog has no control over the latter, so you shouldn’t take it personally.


Both common and biologically normal, the scratch reflex in dogs is mysterious, present in most other mammals, and sometimes a symptom of a medical condition that requires treatment. For this reason, it’s wise to maintain routine vet checkups and make a mildly urgent appointment if you notice your pet scratching more than usual.

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