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When adorably pudgy puppy tummies are exposed, it's almost a pet parent rule to initiate soft tickles. Oftentimes, doggie belly rubs will make your pooch wiggle and jiggle with excitement, and rubbing a specific spot on your dog can make a hind leg happily kick out. With this in mind, you may be wondering: Are dogs ticklish? And can dogs be ticklish just like humans?
Many dogs respond positively to gentle finger movements on their skin and fur — but are the squirms from internal laughter and joy? Do they like the sensation? And, most importantly, where are the best spots to give your dog extra tickles for maximum enjoyment? Let's find out.
Are Dogs Ticklish, and Do They Laugh?
Studies examined by Stanley Coren PhD, DSc, FRSC in an article for Psychology Today discussed that animals can indeed be ticklish, and they may even laugh during the experience, just as humans do. But when dogs laugh, it's a bit different. They make more of a panting, breathy sound (without barking) created with a slightly open mouth that resembles a smile.
Dr. Marty Becker, DVM at Vet Street says during a pet exam in his office he will purposely tickle dogs along their sides, back of the rib cage and on the belly. A healthy dog will respond with an uncontrollable movement with their leg known as the "scratch reflex." You might notice this reflex combined with dog-style laughing during a tickle session with your pet.
Dogs do enjoy this attention, as long as they're feeling good overall and not injured or exhausted. So, tickle away! But, be warned: If you tickle a dog with a full bladder, you might see some happy dribbles of urine.
Which Parts of a Dog are Ticklish?
Any part of your pet can be ticklish. Surprisingly, dog feet are even more sensitive and ticklish than human feet, according to Caroline Springs Veterinary Hospital in Victoria, Australia. They say this explains why many pups don't care for nail trims. It's not the clippers, but the touching of their ticklish paws that drives the pets crazy.
To find the ticklish spots on your pup, give them a gentle petting head to tail. Don't forget the belly and behind the ears — two top pleasure spots. Does one particular area make your dog respond with swaying head movements, tail wags, leg movement and the breathy laughs mentioned earlier? That may just be the this-feels-good tickle spot.
Still, just like people, not all dogs enjoy being tickled. If your pet turns away from you, pins their ears back, stops smiling or begins to nip, stop touching and verbally let the dog know that they are safe.
So, can dogs be ticklish? Can they laugh? They sure can. Before you get your tickle on, be sure your pet is in the mood for this activity. If your pet isn't feeling well or is tired from a long hike, let them rest. You wouldn't want to be tickled in those situations either. But if your dog is making eye contact, rolling around and inviting playtime, let the tickling fun begin!
Angela Tague is a pet mom and writer living in the Midwest. When she's not making a mess in the kitchen, exploring nature trails with her dog, or attending a yoga workshop, she's writing full-time for multiple lifestyle and technology brands. You can find her on Twitter and LinkedIn @AngelaTague.