Many people have a love/hate relationship with tickling. Some folks love to be tickled by loved ones while others absolutely despise the sensation. Yet, many dog owners find themselves trying to tickle their canine companions to get a response.
While dogs can't laugh as us humans can, they're certainly capable of showing some unique emotions. Dogs will often squirm around, make noises, or even roll on their back whenever you start tickling them. The response is very similar to what you'd expect from a human.
So, it begs the question: Are Dogs Ticklish?
Types of Tickling
First things first, what does it even mean to be ticklish? Truth is, the entire concept of being ticklish is not widely understood. Psychologists have been researching why humans get ticklish for centuries.
There are still no defined solutions. However, there is some scientific information about the topic.
Essentially, being ticklish is simply to have an involuntary response to certain stimulation. Why some people are ticklish and some aren't isn't yet understood. Why touching different parts of the body cause this reaction is unknown, too.
What we do know is that there are two main types of tickling. The first is called gargalesis. This is that uncomfortable tickling that drives people mad. It involves using high levels of pressure on sensitive areas.
Depending on the part of the body that's being tickled, it can be downright painful. Even still, the gut reaction of most people is to laugh out loud.
While your dog may make some noise when you're attempting to tickle their bellies, this type of reaction has not been observed in dogs. It's safe to say that they don't react at all to gargalesis tickles.
The second type of tickling is called knismesis. This is that light-as-a-feather tickling. It often leads to shivers and goosebumps on top of the skin. Like gargalesis tickling, knismesis sensations affect people in different ways.
It doesn't just affect humans. Dogs and other mammals can experience those chills too! Typically, dogs will react to this type of tickle with an involuntary shake or scratch.
What dogs feel is very similar to what humans feel with knismesis tickles. It's believed that mammals developed ticklish behavior to keep pests off.
Think about how dogs react when they have fleas. Some dogs will instinctively scratch the moment a flea starts making its way through the fur. This is because that movement tickles their skin and causes a reaction.
The Scratch Reflex
Have you ever found seen your dog's leg go haywire when you find that "sweet spot?" This behavior is very common in dogs. It often occurs when you start scratching behind the leg or ear.
A dog's leg will start scratching uncontrollably, leading many owners to believe that they are ticklish in that one spot.
This is only partly true. Yes, your dog is having an involuntary response to that scratching. However, the movement is a reflex rather than a response to tickling. It's a form of neurological stimulation.
Whenever you hit that spot, nerve impulses are sent to the spinal cord. In turn, the signal forces your dog's leg to go crazy without any control from them. In many cases, the scratching will get more intense the harder you scratch.
It's a unique phenomenon that's related to tickling. However, it's not the same as the knismesis tickling response that dogs experience.
Signs that Your Dog is Ticklish
So, how can you tell if your dog is ticklish? Just take a look at their behavior! As you're petting your dog, keep an eye on their movements. Sudden jerks or scratches are a tell-tale sign. The occasional shiver and shake are common as well.
Contrary to popular belief, rolling over or smiling is not a true response to tickling. But don't let that stop you from bonding with your dog! If they decide to roll on their back and expose their stomach to you, that means that they are enjoying what you're doing.
While they may not be ticklish on that spot in the traditional sense, they will take every opportunity they can to get some attention.
Negative Responses to Tickling
Like humans, dogs can exhibit some negative reactions to tickling as well. Tickling sensations can be quite uncomfortable for some dogs. It's a new feeling that they don't typically experience.
On top of all of that, their body did something that they didn't expect. That chain of events can lead to some confusion and fear if you're not careful.
When you're petting your dog, you need to ensure that they are comfortable at all times. If you notice any sign of aggression, it's best to back off for now.
Aggressive responses could include growling or snarling. Your pup's ears may even pop up as the hair on their neck raises. Just give your dog some space until they calm down.
Try Positive Reinforcement
You can try to take that fear away with some positive reinforcement. This might be necessary if the ticklish spot that caused the negative reaction is somewhere common, such as the middle of their back.
The last thing you want is for someone to unknowingly tickle your dog and cause discomfort. Your pup could lash out.
Start out by touching the area softly to get your pup used to the sensation. Read their body language. If they get aggressive, stop petting them. However, the moment that they don't respond negatively, offer up some praise.
Tasty treats work well, too! Repeat this process in short training sessions until your dog learns to get comfortable in their skin. Just be careful not to push things and put your dog in a position where they don't feel safe.
Finding Your Dogs Ticklish Spots
Want to learn where your dog is ticklish? The easiest way to do this is to just experiment. Start off by slowly running your hand over their body. Keep an eye on their reaction. You'll know when they respond to a tickling sensation.
You can try some common spots first. These include the chest, behind the front legs, and the paws. Of course, make sure to exercise caution when you're doing this. If your dog doesn't like the feeling of being tickled, don't push the matter too much.
To sum up, dogs can be ticklish. They respond to light feather touches in the same way that humans do. However, they don't react much at all to deep tickles.
A dog's relationship with tickling is unique. It's more of a protective function than anything else. Whatever the case may be, most dogs won't have a problem with you tickling them. They're just happy to be spending time with you!