Dog kicks can be adorable or downright painful. If your dog kicks its legs when you scratch its belly, it’s cute. If it wakes you up with a kick in the middle of the night, not so much. There are several reasons dogs kick, ranging from excitement to medical conditions. 

Why does my dog kick me with his back legs?

Your dog kicking you with its back legs usually isn’t anything to be concerned about. It can be uncomfortable or even painful depending on your dog’s size and strength. If you are concerned about the behavior or want to stop your dog from kicking, determining the cause is the first step. 

Excitement

Dogs kick their feet when they are excited. It’s often called the “happy dance” because the dog appears to be dancing when it kicks its legs. Some dogs rarely do this, but some dogs frequently use it as a way to express excitement. It’s similar to a child jumping up and down when they are told they can go to the park. 

Marking Territory

Dogs have scent glands on the pads of their feet. It’s common for dogs to dig or kick at the ground after they poop as a way of marking their territory for this reason. They may also do this to mark their toys, bed, or home. It’s possible that your dog is kicking as a way of marking you as belonging to it. The scent from their paws lasts longer than the scent of urine, which makes it an excellent calling card. 

Both dominant and submissive dogs do this. Dominant dogs do it as a way of claiming the area, or human. Submissive dogs will do it to say, “Hey I’m here, but I’m not a threat”. 

Muscle Spasms

Muscle spasms can cause uncontrollable kicking. If your dog seems to be kicking involuntarily and you just happen to be within range, it could be muscle spasms. They can occur for a variety of reasons. If your dog is very active, they can occur from overexertion, similar to a human experiencing a charlie horse. 

Dehydration or electrolyte imbalance can also cause spasms. If your dog doesn’t drink enough water or is in very hot conditions, this could be the culprit. Nerve damage or inflammation and arthritis can also cause muscle spasms. If you suspect your dog is having muscle spasms, you should make a trip to the vet. 

Degenerative Joint Disease

Degenerative joint disease, or DJD, is a progressive medical condition. The cartilage between two bones deteriorates, causing the bones to rub together. DJD of the hip can cause a dog to kick because walking is painful. The first sign of DJD in the hip is an uneven gait or limp. Over time, the dogs muscles may deteriorate. You may notice changes in behavior or appetite if your dog is experiencing significant pain from the condition. If you notice a limp or uneven gait in your dog, you’ll need to get them evaluated by the vet. 

Seizures

The most concerning reason that your dog might be kicking you is seizures. Petit mal seizures will only affect one area, causing involuntary movements like kicking. Grand mal seizures are much more concerning. The dog will lose control of body movements. Incontinence and full body shaking or spasms are common with this type of seizure. The dog will also lose consciousness with Grand mal seizures.  

Feeling Threatened

Dogs will often kick their back legs when they feel threatened. It can be an aggressive behavior, but it’s typically a dominance behavior. It can look like the dog is preparing to pounce, but they are likely only marking with their scent. If it occurs when your dog is in an unfamiliar situation or they are startled, this is a likely cause. 

Why does my dog kick me when lying down?

Does your dog only kick you when it’s lying down? There are a few potential reasons this occurs.  

Digging

Some dogs will dig just before laying down, which is essentially a kicking behavior. In the wild, dogs sometimes dig as a way to make the area more comfortable or mark the area. Even if there’s nothing around but floor or a blanket, your dog can still have this instinct and attempt to dig. 

Play

Kicking can also be a sign of play. Many dogs will kick as a way of saying “play with me”. It can also be their way of getting your attention. It’s often followed by rolling over onto their back for belly rubs. 

Scratch Reflex

It’s common for dogs to have a scratch reflex. If you are petting or scratching them, they can kick involuntarily. This developed as a way for the dog to remove ticks or fleas from the area. When they feel something there, they kick reflexively. The most common area this occurs is the “sweet spot” on their belly. However, other areas including the hips and behind the ears will also trigger it in some dogs. 

Why does my dog kick me when sleeping?

This can be problematic, particularly if you are sleeping with your dog. Getting kicked in the night can be a rude awakening. Remember your dog isn’t trying to disturb your sleep, it’s an involuntary movement. 

Side sleep

Dogs that sleep on their side are more likely to kick when they are asleep than those who sleep on their stomach. Their legs are out to the side, which allows them to move. It takes a lot of trust and security for a dog to sleep on its side, because it leaves its vulnerable belly exposed. 

Active REM Sleep

Some dogs are active during the REM sleep cycle. It typically occurs with puppies and senior dogs, because their sleep cycles are different from adult dogs. Active REM sleep causes the dog to have muscle spasms during sleep. 

Seizures

Seizures can occur during sleep. This will appear similar to the involuntary kicking of active REM sleep. The difference is that you won’t be able to wake your dog until a seizure is over. When they wake up, they will likely be confused and uncoordinated. 

Dreaming

Watching a dreaming dog sleep can be adorable. They seem to be playing or chasing prey. Because their legs are moving in the dream, they also move in the real world. Humans do this occasionally as well. While watching a dog have a good dream can be amusing, just like humans, dogs can have nightmares. They don’t invent imaginary scenarios like humans. Instead, they replay a traumatic moment from their past. If your dog is kicking and whining, it’s likely having a nightmare. As difficult as it can be to watch, experts say that you shouldn’t wake your dreaming dog, even if they are having a nightmare. It’s best to let sleeping dogs lie. 

Hot

A dog that’s hot may kick to distance himself from you during sleep. It’s similar to you kicking the blanket off your body during sleep. It’s an unconscious movement that is based on instinct. When a dog gets hot, he will kick to distance himself from other heat sources. 

A dog may also roll onto their back when they are hot. This is a very vulnerable position, so it indicates a great deal of trust in you as its owner. Leaving their belly fully exposed makes them an easy target for harm and makes it difficult to get to their feet quickly. However, it also allows heat to dissipate. When a dog is rolling over onto their back, they may kick to get into the position. They may also kick when sleeping this way, simply because the legs have more freedom of movement. 

Cold

Ironically, your dog may also kick in its sleep because it’s cold. Your dog’s muscles will spasm when they are cold, The movement helps warm them, just like shivering in humans. If your dog kicks when sleeping, check the thermostat. Some dogs are more sensitive to cooler temperatures. This usually occurs with small breeds. 

How to stop my dog from kicking me with his back legs?

How you stop your dog from kicking with its back legs largely depends on the reason why it’s occurring. The good news is there are things you can do for nearly every cause. 

Observation

You should start with observing your dog. When does the kicking occur? What was your dog doing before it happened? Does it occur after they’ve been active? When they are sleeping? When they are excited? Observation is particularly helpful if there’s a medical cause, because you can pass the information onto your vet. However, it can also be helpful in decoding the issue to determine the cause if it’s not a medical condition. 

Vet Appointment

If you have any concerns that your dog may have a physical issue, you should visit the vet. If it turns out to be something benign like excitement or dreaming, you’ll have peace of mind. If it’s a medical issue then you will have help determining the cause and treating your dog. 

Muscle Spasms

If your dog is experiencing muscle spasms, they may be caused by dehydration or too much exercise. Give them plenty of water. Before intense exercise, give them a warm-up period. You can play with your dog or take them for a gentle walk. Give them a cool-down period as well. Some light play works well for cool down. You may need to keep them inside during the hottest part of the day. Heat and cold can provide pain relief, and you can also massage the muscles gently if your dog allows. 

Arthritis can also cause muscle spasms. You can help your dog by giving them glucosamine, chondroitin, and fish oil. It can take a few weeks to see improvement, but many owners have found these supplements helpful for their furry friends.  

Kicking in Sleep

If your dog is kicking in its sleep, there are some things you can do. Adding a nightlight or white noise is helpful for some dogs with sleep difficulties. Check the environment. Is it too noisy? Is there too much stimulation? Are there pests that keep your pet awake at night? You’ll also want to make sure the house is a comfortable temperature for your dog. 

Seizures

Petit mal seizures don’t typically require treatment because they don’t pose a danger to your dog. However, you’ll still need to get an evaluation from your vet, because there could be a serious underlying cause. Grand mal seizures must be treated by your vet, because they can cause lasting damage to your dog. 

Excitement

If your dog kicks because they are excited, you’ll need to redirect the behavior if you want him to stop. Sit is an effective command when they are over-excited. You can also direct them to a toy that can provide them with a way to release their excited energy. If your dog is kicking you, then you may want to keep a little distance when they are excited. This keeps them from getting into the habit of kicking you. 

Dominance

Some owners warn against allowing a dog to show any signs of dominance. They claim that your dog will no longer respect you or look to you for leadership. Their philosophy is that kicking as a dominance behavior is unhealthy and potentially dangerous if allowed to continue. 

This is an extreme view and really depends on your dog and the situation. Are they kicking you affectionately as a way of saying “You’re my owner” or is the message “I’m the boss around here”? If you look at your dog’s overall behavior and body language, it’s fairly easy to tell the difference. 

Regardless, if you suspect it’s a dominance behavior, it’s best to curb it. The easiest way to do this is with a firm “no” or “stop”. Then move away from them or ignore them until they settle down. 

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.