by M. Schenk on April 25th, 2012 at 12:27 pm
As countless YouTube videos prove, people are enthralled with funny canine behavior. Some dogs seem to talk and play basketball. Others fetch far more than a stick. But what’s the science behind this behavior?
Kicking While Getting Scratched
Every pet owner has watched in amusement as his or her dog has kicked its back leg uncontrollably. This happens when the owner scratches the dog’s belly. The spot being scratched is usually between the hip and belly, and the reaction ranges from a twitch to a full kick. According to the Animal Planet TV channel, this phenomenon is called the scratch reflex.1
There’s even more to this phenomenon than people might think. For example, MentalFloss.com says: “The dog’s spinal nerves pass all the way to their chest and abdomen, and stimulation of these nerves will cause a feeling of ‘itchiness’ (similar to the irritation of a flea) somewhere on their body, causing the rear leg to involuntarily attempt to scratch it.”2
Kicking Grass After a Morning Constitutional
Most pet owners are familiar with a certain routine from dogs. After doing its business, a dog will promptly turn around and kick grass over the evidence.
This isn’t random behavior. “… the behavior is also a way to mark territory,” says Dr. Patty Khuly in her article for Shine, a Yahoo Web site.3 “All dogs have glands in their feet that secrete pheromones, and a couple of backward scratches into the earth releases those chemicals.”
Twitching and Barking in their Sleep
Often, when sleeping, a dog will start to act a little strangely. It might kick its legs, twitch, and even make small barking sounds. Why?
“It’s pretty similar to human physiology,” says Sarah’s Dogs, a blog. “… the only difference is that dogs undergo an additional phase, the SWS (short wave sleep).”4
The blog adds that in this sleep phase, dogs dream and sometimes twitch as a result.
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- Shanna Freeman, “Why Do Dogs Shake Their Legs?” Animal Planet.
- Mental Floss Inc., “Tickle a Dog’s Tummy, and You Could Get a Knee-Jerk Reaction,” MentalFloss.com.
- Dr. Patty Khuly, “Why Does My Dog… Roll in Poop? Eat Poop? Kick Grass After Pooping?” Shine from Yahoo.
- Sarah’s Dogs, “Why Do Dogs Twitch in Their Sleep?” SarahsDogs.com.