When you think about it, dogs kick their back legs a lot. And because it’s a pretty common “feature,” it’s something we don’t often think about. But as people, we barely kick our back legs at all. What’s happening when a dog kicks its back legs? Is it something we should be concerned about? Or could it mean that something is wrong?

Why does my dog kick its back legs?

There are many reasons why a dog could kick its back legs, depending on context, but usually people are talking about sudden kicking. Sudden kicking of back legs usually occurs for three major reasons: scratching a dog’s back, using the bathroom, and sleeping.

Dog Kicking Its Back Legs When Scratching

Many dogs have an automatic “sweet spot.” If you start scratching it, their reflex is to start scratching too.

This isn’t unusual. The primary method a dog has of scratching its back is its hind legs. When you start scratching, it starts automatically kicking the air because it’s mimicking scratching itself. Sometimes, it’s making it itch a little more (even though it’s enjoyable), so the automatic response is to scratch even more.

Not all dogs have an itching spot and they can be in a different place on each dog. But it’s a perfectly natural and not harmless behavior. What you would need to worry about, however, is if your dog ends up with a lot of itchy spots and is kicking its leg when you touch it anywhere.

When that happens, it’s because your dog has some sort of skin issue that needs to be dealt with. Because your dog will kick when you move over an area of its body that itches, it can be a sign that everything itches; in other words, a food intolerance or allergy, an allergy to something outside, or another skin-related issue.

Dog Kicks Its Back Legs After Using the Bathroom

A dog will kick its back legs after using the bathroom (or outside) to “mark” a territory as its own. Both using the bathroom and kicking are ways of dispersing scent that other dogs should pick up on (and, to your dog, hopefully back away). Your dog will be more likely to use marking behaviors in areas that are highly trafficked by other dogs, such as around posts and hydrants.

Dogs have scent glands in their paws as well as other places. When your dog kicks its back legs, it’s triggering those glands. The glands then disperse scent through the air.

A dog may do this just after using the bathroom or may just do it when walking outside. But either way, your dog may look as though its digging or wiping its feet when it’s really just trying to mark its territory.

There are limited things you can do about this besides distracting your dog when it does it. It can be distressing because it can feel as though your dog is tearing up the lawn–and you generally shouldn’t let your dog do this in neighbor lawns for exactly that reason. But other than the potential damage to the grass, it isn’t a harmful issue.

Your Dog Is Sleeping

When dogs sleep, they often run in their dreams. Of course, we can’t ask our dogs whether they are dreaming, so we don’t really know what’s happening. But scientifically, the likely answer is that they are just dreaming about running and their paws are reacting.

This is similar to us moving around in our sleep. We do know that dogs show the same patterns of dreams in the brain, so if your dog is running full sprint in a dream, it’s possible that it’s chasing a rabbit or something similar.

Not only is this perfectly normal, it can be entertaining. You will see this behavior in very young just born puppies as well as elderly dogs. It isn’t harmful to them and usually means they’re having a good, deep sleep.

Why does my dog kick its back legs randomly?

Let’s say nothing is going on at all and your dog starts kicking its back legs against the ground at random. There are a few things that could be going on here.

  • Your dog is excited. Dogs can display a sort of “getting ready” behavior when they’re excited to play, in which case they can take dominant actions, scent mark, or otherwise become active.
  • Your dog is displaying dominance. If there’s another dog around, your dog may be preemptively marking its territory so that the other dog knows that it’s boss! It’s not a bad thing, but keep it in mind, as it may not be entirely happy with the other dog being around.
  • Your dog is marking its territory. As noted, this can happen after peeing or pooping, but it can also happen at random times. Your dog might simply feel like marking or may have gotten the scent of another dog.

Importantly, none of these things are really an issue of concern; your dog is fine and is just displaying ordinary dog behaviors. If your dog is displaying dominance, take note; this could become a behavioral issue later. But taken in and of itself, it’s fine.

Why does my dog kick its back legs while sleeping?

When sleeping, there’s a special part of the brain that makes it so that we can’t move. This is pretty important. When it doesn’t turn on, we end up doing things like “sleep walking.” When it turns on too much, we have things like sleep paralysis. But this part of the brain doesn’t function entirely, which is why we can toss and turn in our sleep.

Dogs have the same thing; there’s a part of their brain that tells them “don’t move when sleeping,” but it doesn’t function entirely. Some signals can still get through, such as the automatic experience of running. 

When a dog is running in their sleep, it’s likely they are experiencing some form of dream. In essence, it’s the dog equivalent of sleep walking. Because we can’t ask our dogs exactly what’s happening, we don’t know what they’re dreaming about. But it’s a harmless reflex and nothing to worry about.

Why does my dog kick its back legs when I scratch him?

That’s the spot! If your dog is kicking, that means that you’ve found a good spot that’s been bothering it, or a space where it can’t normally reach. Most dogs have a special spot that will cause your dog to kick its back legs. Since it could be a sensitive spot, keep in mind that your dog might not want you scratching it all the time. But one good scratch every once in a while is very likely to be enjoyable.

If your dog seems to be very itchy, consider that it may have some sort of illness or skin condition. Dogs that are itchy all over frequently have issues with mites or fleas, which could eventually lead to mange or other health issues. But most dogs are going to kick their back legs once you reach a certain spot; it’s instinctive.

Why does my dog kick its back legs when lying down?

If your dog is wide awake and kicking its back legs, it’s probably just being playful.

Dogs and even cats will often do this kicking behavior because it’s something they might do when taking down prey. Many play behaviors are prey-related drives, because play itself is practice for hunting.

During play, your dog may roll over, kick its legs, put its paws up in the air, and so forth. If your dog is on its back and kicking its legs up, it’s probably being submissive and showing that it’s ready to have fun. Paws up in the air when a dog is on its back is a submissive posture to show that your dog doesn’t mean to challenge you. And it’s something that goofy dogs might do to have fun.

If your dog is asleep, it’s more likely to be a sleep reflex. Dogs can run in their sleep on their side (most common), but if they fall asleep on their backs they can also kick upward into the air. Like side-sleeping dogs, this is a normal reflex when sleeping, and it’s nothing to be overly concerned about. You should only be concerned if the jerks become violent and if they aren’t happening only whe your dog is sleeping.

Author

I created and currently manage Pet Dog Owner, the website you can go to when you have questions about your dog's behavior. It is my hope that you find Pet Dog Owner to be a helpful resource. It is also my hope that it will help you to improve your relationship with your dog. You can read more about me and my website here.