Does your dog kick when he’s sleeping or lying down? Here are five of the most common reasons for this behaviour.
It’s common for a dog to flick or twitch their back legs when lying down though. If you’re in the way, you’ll probably get a kick!
Most of the time, kicking is due to dreaming or a dog’s scratch reflex, but it can also be a sign of a medical condition. Let’s take a closer look at why a dog might kick you when lying down.
5 Reasons Why a Dog Might Kick You When Lying Down
Dogs have vivid dreams during the rapid eye movement (REM) sleep stage. These dreams can cause the dog to twitch or bark.
For example, if your dog dreams about chasing a squirrel or sprinting through a field, he might kick you with his back legs as he “runs”.
This behaviour isn’t conscious, as your dog isn’t aware that you’re there. That doesn’t make it feel less like a kick though!
What exactly do dogs dream about?
We can’t know exactly, but scientists have used MRI scans to watch a rat’s brain during sleep.
It turns out that the same areas light up during dreams as in daily activities, so it seems likely that all mammals dream about their past experiences. For dogs, this is likely to be chasing animals, walks, or playing.
It’s worth noting that not all dogs twitch or kick in their sleep though.
An area of the brainstem called the pons stops dogs from fully acting out their dreams (the same is true for humans). This isn’t fully developed in puppies and is less effective in older dogs, which increases the chance of twitching.
Dogs Can Have Nightmares
Did you know that dogs can have nightmares too?
Bad dreams are most common in dogs who have experienced previous trauma. Sadly, the dog may be reliving the traumatic experiences, which can lead to whimpering, crying, growling, and snarling while sleeping.
Never try to comfort a dog when they’re having a nightmare. Being woken suddenly from a bad dream can disorientate the already scared dog, which may lead to defensive behaviour.
Nightmares are one of the many reasons a dog may struggle to sleep. Read our guide to why dogs wake up in the middle of the night to learn more.
Dogs might be domesticated, but they still have some of the same instincts and reflexes as wild dogs. One of these is the scratch reflex.
The scratch reflex makes a dog’s hind legs twitch in response to activated nerves on the belly. In the wild, this reflex could dislodge spiders, ticks, or other parasites from the dog’s body before they can bite.
So, when scratching your dog’s belly, don’t be surprised if she gives you an involuntary kick.
It’s important to understand that the scratch reflex is entirely automatic. Your dog has no control over it, so you shouldn’t be upset if she twitches while you scratch her belly.
The good news is that activating the scratch reflex doesn’t mean your dog hates having her belly rubbed. But if you’re frequently causing this reflex, it may become irritating.
Note: The scratch reflex is nearly always activated via the belly, not other body areas. It’s thought this is because the belly is one of the most vulnerable parts of a dog’s body.
Playful Kicking or Attention Seeking
Some dogs kick with their legs as a form of playful affection. Putting a paw on you can also be a common way for dogs to ask for attention – and this may feel like a kick if your pup isn’t delicate!
You can often tell whether a dog is being playful by looking at their overall body language.
If the dog is relaxed or lying on their back, then they might just want to play or get your attention. But if the dog looks alert and tense, there is probably another reason for this behaviour, such as anxiety.
We’ve already spoken about the scratch reflex, when a dog involuntarily kicks in response to a belly scratch. But dogs may consciously perform a similar behaviour when something is irritating them.
For example, if you’re lying with your dog and petting him in an irritating way, he may twitch or flick his legs as a signal to stop.
This isn’t a sign of dominance or aggression. It’s just your dog’s way of letting you know he doesn’t want to be petted in that way anymore.
Muscle Spasms or Cramp
A less common reason for a dog kicking is muscle spasms. Spasms can affect any muscle in the body, including the legs, and may indicate an underlying medical problem.
Spasms usually look like a tremor or twitch that affects a specific body area. You’ll be able to feel the spasming muscle below the skin by touching it, and the associated limbs may also twitch.
There are many potential causes of muscle spasms. Some of the most common reasons include:
- Muscle, joint, or nerve injuries. Muscles tighten up in response to an injury, as this can protect against further damage. A tight muscle may cramp or spasm.
- Overexertion. Too much exercise can cause lactic acid to build up in the muscle tissue. This can lead to cramps and soreness.
- Distemper. Canine distemper virus affects the dog’s nervous system, which can cause twitching, spasms, and seizures. It’s a serious condition that requires immediate treatment.
- Poisoning. Dogs have an unfortunate habit of eating everything they find – regardless of whether it’s safe. Poisoning can cause muscle spasms, amongst other symptoms, which is why a spasm should always be treated by the vet. Failure to treat poisoning can lead to serious symptoms, such as kidney failure and seizures.
Muscle spasms can be frightening for both the dog and owner. They aren’t necessarily a sign of a serious condition, but you should always take your dog to the vet if you notice a twitch or a spasm.
Note: It’s common for dog owners to mistake a seizure for a muscle spasm, which may delay getting the dog vital treatment. This is another reason why a vet should assess any muscle spasm.
Does Kicking Mean My Dog Is Trying To Be Dominant?
No, a dog who is kicking you while lying down is not trying to be dominant or aggressive.
As we’ve discussed in this article, many of the reasons for a dog kicking are involuntary. For example, a dog’s leg may kick due to an intense dream, the scratch reflex, muscle cramps, or spasms.
Even if your dog is aware of kicking, he is probably just trying to play or get attention.
What Should You Do About a Dog Kicking While Lying Down?
Dogs may kick while lying down for a variety of reasons. It’s not a sign of dominance, but often an unconscious act or attempt to get your attention.
What can you do about a dog kicking, though?
- If your dog is dreaming or kicking due to the scratch reflex, then you don’t need to do anything. This is normal behaviour that your dog isn’t able to stop.
- If you think your dog is having a muscle spasm, then you should contact your vet immediately. It’s often difficult to distinguish between a spasm and a seizure, so a proper diagnosis is essential.
- If your dog is awake and relaxed, he may be trying to get attention. You should never scold your dog for this. Instead, ignore the kicking, and give your dog attention when he is behaving in a way you want to encourage.
We hope this article has helped you understand why a dog might kick you when he’s lying down. Please let us know in the comments section if you have any questions.