It’s an age-old question: Are dogs ticklish? We can tell that when we pet, scratch, or rub our dog in a certain way, they react in a way that shows they enjoy it. But is that tickling, or something else? The answer is a little more complicated than yes or no – read on to find out whether dogs can be ticklish.
Can dogs be ticklish?
To answer this question, we first have to figure out what it means to be ticklish.
To be ticklish is to respond to certain stimuli in a certain way to produce an involuntary reaction. The stimuli causing the tickling sensation can be another person’s hands or fingers, a creepy crawly, or an inanimate object that happens to touch the skin in just the right way.
Scientists actually differentiate between two different types of tickling sensations, gargalesis and knismesis. The word gargalesis comes from the Greek word for tickle, gargalizo, and describes the kind of tickling that makes you laugh or smile. Scientists hypothesize that gargalesis evolved as a way to promote social bonding between individuals.
The word knismesis comes from the Greek word for itching, knismos, and describes the type of tickling that makes you feel itchy or makes you squirm or shudder. A feather lightly stroked across your arm or a ladybug crawling on your neck can induce this type of ticklish sensation. Scientists believe that the evolutionary benefit of knismesis is to alert us to bugs or parasites on our skin so we could get rid of them.
So, what does this all mean when it comes to answering the question “Can dogs be ticklish?” Well, gargalesis has been observed in many primates (including humans, of course) but not in dogs. Whereas knismesis has been observed in many different species, including dogs. If the reason for it is to alert to the presence of an insect or other unwanted visitor, then it makes sense that lots of animals would have evolved to exhibit knismesis.
In short, yes, dogs are ticklish in one way. You can’t expect to tickle your dog in a way that will induce laughter, but you can tickle your dog in a way that will induce itchy feelings, squirming, or shuddering.
What are common dog tickle spots?
Just as in humans, individual dogs may have particular spots that are more ticklish than others. Common ticklish spots on dogs include the belly, the spot right between the front legs, the neck, near the base of the tail, and behind the ears. Some dogs are even ticklish on their paws and their back. It’s all about the sensation of the touch and your individual dog’s preferences. So you’ll need to experiment to find your dog’s tickle spot.
How do dogs react to being tickled?
If you tickle a dog the right way, you can expect to see your dog react to the tickle. This could be the famous scratch reflex, when your dog repeatedly kicks one of their legs involuntarily. Harder scratching tends to intensify the reflex, making your dog kick even more. But you might have more luck with some lighter scratches on other dog tickle spots like the fur between your dog’s paws. Some dogs end tickling sessions by “shaking off” the feeling, another sign they experienced the tickle sensation.
But some dogs may not like being tickled, especially if they’re hesitant to be touched at all. As always when interacting with a dog, keep a lookout for body language and behavior that’s a warning sign for you to stop, such as snarling, growling, tensing up, pulling back, walking away, or even excessive yawning. Don’t tickle a dog that doesn’t enjoy it!
Bonding with your dog
Even though scientists think knismesis didn’t evolve primarily for social bonding purpose, a tickle session with a dog who enjoys being tickled is a fun, easy way to bond with your pet, so get tickling!