Tickling is a funny little thing – pun not intended – and you might often find yourself doing this to your dog. But you have likely also noticed that your dog doesn’t respond the same way a human friend or family member would to tickling, and it may lead you to wonder, are dogs ticklish?
Well, that depends on what your definition of tickle is. Dogs don’t seem to experience the same sensation that humans do when we are tickled.
When humans are tickled, they experience two separate sensations, discovered and their terms coined by a pair of psychologists in a publication in The American Journal of Psychology named G. Stanley Hall and Arthur Allin.
So Are Dogs Ticklish?
The first sensation is the one that makes you feel like you have goosebumps or causes the skin to twitch, and it is known as knismesis.
Knismesis happens mainly with light tickling and doesn’t typically cause a squirming, laughing response.
The second sensation is one that refers to heavy tickling, where something digs a little further into the skin and often causes belly-laughter. It’s known as gargalesis.
Dogs are likely to experience knismesis, as knismesis doesn’t just happen with tickling.
It can happen when a light object ghosts against the skin – like a strand of hair, a thread, or even an insect – and we have seen many dogs being quite aware of light things brushing past them.
Knismesis is common in many different mammals. But dogs – and mammals in general – don’t usually experience gargalesis.
Some studies have been finding that rats may experience a similar sensation to gargalesis, but as far as modern science knows, dogs don’t, and that’s why their responses to tickling are rarely severe.
There’s also a clear difference between a human being tickled and a dog – dogs don’t squirm away or start giggling, and for the most part, dogs seem to like being tickled while most humans aren’t particularly fond of it.
It’s worth noting that there are lots of things we don’t understand about how tickling works, how long knismesis lasts or if it lingers, or how neurological pathways control the sensation of knismesis.
We also don’t know why some people are more ticklish than others, but this likely applies to dogs, too.
Some dogs may have a stronger knismesis response while others may not experience it at all, and different dogs may have different knismesis responses in different areas of their bodies.
What Are Tickle Spots And How Do They Work?
Have you ever scratched a certain spot on your dog and noticed their back leg beginning to flail around? Dog owners are used to referring to a dog’s sudden kicking or shaking of their leg as them pup being ticklish.
It’s not an actually ticklish response; instead, it’s an involuntary reflex to your touch in certain areas and is known as the scratch reflex.
Still, there’s no harm in calling this place a tickle spot.
There’s no one specific spot that is considered the prime tickle spot. The belly is the most common, closely followed by the chest, the spot near the base of the tail on the back legs, and in between the front legs.
It can also be on the sides or head in rarer cases.
If you are trying to find it, keep scratching or tickling away until your dog starts thumping their foot on the ground or twitching their leg – then you all know you have hit the right place!
The scratch reflex takes place when the skin’s nerve endings pick up on a nerve signal and transmit it through the spine, heading straight to the leg muscles.
This act of transmission skips the brain entirely, which is why it’s a reflex.
It’s the same response that humans get when they are tapped sharply beneath the knee, otherwise known as a knee-jerk reaction. In fact, it’s so similar that veterinarians may use the scratch reflex to test for nerve or spinal damage.
Does My Dog Like Being Tickled?
This completely depends on the individual dog. As with anything else, you should keep an eye out for clues that show whether your pup enjoys the sensation or not.
Try to compare it to your own self-being tickled. Between close family, tickling might be fun or amusing, but when done suddenly by someone you are not familiar with, it can become uncomfortable.
Similarly, you can be fine with tickling one moment and find yourself struggling to get away the next. These experiences might be similar to what a dog will or won’t like.
When you are tickling your dog, look for signs of them pulling away, flinching, or trying to escape and stop immediately once you notice these reactions.
If your dog seems to shake off the sensation after the tickle is over, it may be a sign that they are not very into it.
Because dogs can’t verbally tell us when they are done with enjoying the tickle, it’s important to notice small cues like this, as going too far can turn your dog off tickling for good.
Is There Anything I Should Look Out For When Tickling My Dog?
As with anything, keep an eye out for changes in behaviour that deviate from the everyday norm.
If your dog seems especially ticklish in a larger way than usual, there could be an underlying skin problem, such as allergies, a rash, dry skin, or even flees.
If your dog used to be ticklish but suddenly stops responding to tickles at all, this could be a sign of a neurological issue. In either of these cases, you should speak to your vet immediately for advice.