Are Dogs Ticklish?

are dogs ticklish

Are Dogs Ticklish? Can You Tickle Your Dog? Do Dogs Like Tickling? Let’s Find Out!

Have you ever tried tickling a dog?

Building a relationship and bonding with your dog is all about finding ways of playing and having fun together.

And for us humans tickling is often an instinctive part of that.

Consider our approach to meeting human babies – as soon as we’re sure their parents won’t mind, we tickle their cheeks to try and raise a giggle, and make a connection.

But what about puppies and dogs? Are dogs ticklish? And if not, why aren’t dogs ticklish?

Do dogs have tickle spots that give them canine giggles?

This article answers all these questions and more.

Can dogs be ticklish?

In 1897, psychologists G. Stanley Hall and Arthur Allin took to The American Journal of Psychology and coined not one, but two excellent new words to describe the sensation of being tickled.

are dogs ticklish?The first, knismesis, is the sensation of very light tickling which gives us goosebumps.

For example, knismesis is feeling when an insect lands on our skin and makes our skin tickle and twitch.

Importantly, knismesis doesn’t make us laugh.

The second kind of tickle sensation is gargalesis (I told you these words were good!).

Gargalesis, or heavy tickling, is the feeling when fingertips dig into our ribs or the soles of our feet and reduce us to hopeless laughter.

Can you tickle a dog?

Yes and no. Or perhaps yes and maybe.

Knismesis is widespread in mammals, including dogs.

In fact it’s easy to imagine how that tickly sensation when an insect lands on skin would be an advantage for detecting the presence parasites like fleas and brushing them away.

But as far as we know, dogs don’t experience gargalesis in response to a vigorous tickle attempt from their human.

We know some other primates experience gargalesis, and at Washington State University Professor of Neuroscience Jaak Pankseep is building up evidence that rats experience something, if not the same, then analogous to gargalesis.

But as far as we know, tickling dogs does not elicit a sensation like laughter for them.

That’s not to say that your dog won’t enjoy having your fingertips ruffle through their coat.

It won’t give them that gargalesis response, but it will massage their skin and probably feel pretty good!

Tickling a dog

So we’ve ruled out making your dog laugh, but we’ve still got knismesis (light tickling), so let’s look some more at that.

Can all dogs feel it, and do they like it?

Now here’s another funny thing about tickling (because let’s face it, everything about tickling is inherently a bit funny).

We still don’t fully understand the neurological pathways that control knismesis. Including, for example, how it ends.

Have you ever felt an insect crawl across your skin, and still felt the tickle from it for a few seconds after it’s gone?

We have no idea why that time lag happens.

Nor do we know why some of us are more susceptible to tickling than others, but it’s safe to assume that the same is true of dogs.

So some dogs might not be ticklish at all. Others might twitch at the lightest touch. And still others will fall anywhere in between.

Where are dogs ticklish?

The sensation of being lightly tickled starts with nerve endings under the surface of the skin. Those nerve endings are all over our – and our dogs’ – bodies.

But we’re rarely ticklish all over. So how can we tell which areas are tickle-prone and which aren’t?

I have ticklish ribs. My sister has a really ticklish neck.

The places where we’re ticklish are the idiosyncrasies that make us all different and unique.

And the same is true of our dogs.

Your dog might have ticklish ears, and your neighbor’s dog might have a ticklish tail. Every dog is different.

Is there a dog tickle spot?

You might have noticed your dog react in a very specific way if you scratch or tickle a certain spot on their body.

It changes from dog to dog, but there’s often a spot on their back, sides, or tummy, which makes one of their legs twitch rhythmically when your scratch it.

Their reaction makes it seem like finding your dog’s own dog tickle spot.

So what’s going on?

You’ve found your dog’s scratch reflex, that’s what!

Ticklish dogs: the dog scratch reflex

The scratch reflex is when nerve endings under the skin pick up a signal and send it straight to the leg muscles via the spine, completely missing out the brain.

It’s a bit like tickling, in that it’s an involuntary reaction.

But a better analogy is the knee-jerk reaction in humans, when a sharp tap just below our knee bone makes us straighten our leg.

In fact just like doctors use the knee-jerk reaction to test our reflexes, vets can use the scratch reflex too to check for signs of spinal damage in dogs.

Whether your dog likes it or not is entirely down to the individual experience. In a minute we’ll look at how you can use his cues to tell whether he’s having a good time or not.

Are dogs’ feet ticklish?

Does your dog’s paw twitch and pull away if you pick it up?

Perhaps wiping their paws after a muddy walk turns into a game of speed and quick reflexes to get the job done.

When this happens your dog probably is feeling that knismesis sensation of tickling on their paws.

And when they jerk their feet away, it’s an involuntary reflex just like when someone tickles our feet.

But not all dogs’ feet are ticklish. Just like ours, some dogs’ feet are more ticklish than others.

If ticklish toes do make cleaning your dog’s feet difficult, a specialized paw cleaner like this one from Dexas might help.

It has good reviews from owners of dogs who previously resisted the sensation of having their feet cleaned.

Do dogs like to be tickled?

Tickling, as we’ve seen, is a funny old business.

It makes us giggle, but a lot of us would say we don’t enjoy the sensation. Especially as we get older.

Charles Darwin believed there was an important social component to tickling.

When I play tickle games with my daughter I like the sensation of being tickled.

But if someone I’ve never met tickled me without warning, I’d recoil, and probably feel quite upset by it.

And it is likely to be the same for your dog.

A playful tickle from someone they know as part of a game, or during grooming, might illicit a happy tail wag.

But catching them unawares might be altogether more startling and unpleasant.

How to tickle a dog

The actual mechanics of how to tickle your dog are hardly rocket science.

But just like humans, not all dogs feel the same about being tickled. And a tickle that starts out as fun can turn into a nuisance quite suddenly.

Our dogs can’t use words to tell us when their patience has run out. So it’s up to us to look out for the behavioral cues which show they’re done being tickled.

Watch for signs of irritation or that they didn’t really enjoy it, such as flinching or pulling away during the tickle, or shaking off afterwards.

And when your dog begins to lose interest, always call it a day and let them have their own space for a bit.

Are dogs ticklish?

So what’s the conclusion?

Tickling is made up of two components, light tickling called knismesis which makes us shiver, and heavy tickling called gargalesis which makes us laugh.


Dogs feel light tickling, but not heavy tickling.

How sensitive they are to tickling, and how they feel about it varies from dog to dog.

Finding your dog’s ticklish places is a fun and satisfying part of feeling like you know them better than anyone else in the world.

Just be sure to watch their behavior closely during tickle games and be respectful of signals that they’re losing interest.

Is your dog ticklish?

Does your dog like to be tickled? Are they ticklish in a surprising place?

Please tell us about their dog tickle spots in the comments section below.

Want to find out more about your Labrador?

Then check out the amazing Labrador Handbook. A complete guide to raising and caring for the world’s most popular dog breed.

The Labrador Handbook

References and Further Reading



  1. When I pet my dog lightly, or massage his ears or scratch him like all my other dogs have enjoyed, he starts a low, loud, “jerky” and threatening sounding growl. He doesn’t challenge me and he doesn’t move away until he can’t take it anymore. At that point he seems agitated. It does remind me of being tickled when I was a kid, and not really liking it, but laughing uncontrollably. He is a very vocal and sensitive dog otherwise, so I can only attribute his strange growling (and not like that gentle moaning sound) to a uncontrollable, forceful dog laughter related to tickling. He will stop when I put firm pressure on his tickle spots. Such a funny dog!