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by K Marie Alto March 03, 2023 8 min read
Dogs are fabulous furry children full of love, energy, and antics, and if there's one thing we pet parents know, it's that they love pretty much any kind of affection we give them.
There is one action that seems to stand head and shoulders above the rest, though, so much so that some dogs even demand it from their parents. What is it?
The butt scratch!
Oooh, that's the spot. Right there, above the tail, get it just right. More than ear scritches, more than belly rubs, more than pats, dogs love the butt scritch.
Have you every wondered why? Well, the wait is over. Today we’re going to go over some of the reasons your pup loves to have their butt scratched!
Think about your own body for a moment. How flexible are you? Some of you reading this can probably contort yourselves into a shoebox with room to spare, but most of us aren't nearly that flexible, either from age, anatomy, or weight.
The good news for us humans is that we have nice long arms, so when parts of our bodies itch, we can scratch them. An itch on the face, on the arms, on the legs, on the stomach; they're all easy to reach and take care of without much trouble.
What about the back, though? Most of us have at least one spot up there between the shoulder blades, where it's basically impossible to scratch without either having someone else do it for you or using a tool like a back scratcher to do it.
Luckily, we people don't have very many nerves in our backs. Sure, there are enough there to be sensitive, especially to things like sunburn, but it's way less dense with nerves than some other areas on our bodies. Itches aren't as common there as they are elsewhere for that reason.
Now think about dogs.
Dogs are, in some ways, much more flexible than we are. They can curl up, they can nibble on their toes, they can lick their nethers, and more. All that flexibility is mostly in their spines, though; their limbs on the other hand (or should I say paw) aren't all that flexible because they're single-purpose. They're meant to carry and move the dog from place to place, not be multi-purpose tool-using limbs like our arms are.
Of all the places on a dog's body, the back along the spine – and especially back at the base of the tail – are nearly impossible for them to reach on their own. Areas near their neck they can at least get with a hind leg, but rear-end itches? Well, those are just going to linger and drive them batty until they can be handled.
“What is it about that area that makes dogs demand “scratchies”? “The reason most dogs like their rears scratched is because that is a very hard area for them to reach themselves.” - Dr. Bonnie Beaver, professor of veterinary medicine at Texas A&M University
Dogs are also at a severe disadvantage in that they don't have hands with thumbs, so they can't use tools to scratch that itch. They are clever though and they can certainly scratch their itches on the corner of the sofa or underneath the coffee table, but nothing is quite as good as human hands at scratching away those pesky itches.
So, I slipped this into the previous point a bit, but let's dig in a bit more.
Think about different parts of your body. Some areas are very sensitive. Your tongue, your face in general, your fingertips, and so on. Other places, like the backs of your hands or the outsides of your arms, or your back, not so much. In some places, you can feel a tiny scratch or a pinprick like it's a huge deal; in others, you wouldn't pay much attention.
“The part of your brain that receives information from your sensory neurons doesn't treat all parts of the body equally. The reason you are more sensitive on your fingertips than your elbow is that there are many more sensory neurons on your fingertips. When an area has more sensory neurons there is a larger brain area devoted to receiving their signals, meaning more sensitivity.” – Scientific American
Well, dogs, of course, are the same way. They just have a different distribution of nerves throughout their bodies. In fact, they have a ton of nerve endings around their rears. Why you ask?
Well, a bunch of reasons. For one thing, butts are a big deal in the dog world. Scent – from scent glands and from the anus, as well as natural skin oils and musk – is like a big banner showcasing a dog's unique identity and their recent story to all other dogs in the area. Sniffing one another's rears is a big way dogs greet one another and get to know each other.
Dogs also like to butt slam one another as a way to help establish who is the bigger and stronger good boy and as part of play. The sensitivity of their rears helps out with this.
There are also some connotations with mating. Male dogs mount female dogs (and, well, just about anything they can if they haven't been neutered), and female dogs use all those nerves to sense what's going on back there.
Of course, that's a whole other issue and isn't truly related to their mutual love of butt scritches.
There's another reason why dogs love butt scritches, and it has a little less to do with their anatomy and a little more to do with their health.
You know how hard it is to reach those hard-to-reach areas? Just like how you might have trouble scrubbing your back without a tool, so too does your dog have an issue washing and grooming themselves. You're certainly there to give them a full rub-down when you give them a bath, but you aren't – or shouldn't be – giving them a bath too often.
That means, in between baths, there is plenty of time for them to get into something they shouldn't, get dirty, or just get something caught up in their fur and skin. A bit of matted fur, some dirt or oil or grease or something on the skin; it can all irritate and cause itching, and it can be difficult to get rid of when you're a dog.
There are all kinds of issues that can cause itching on a dog's skin. It could be dirt. It could be some kind of chemical irritating their skin. It could be an allergic reaction to something leading to dry and flaking skin that itches. It could be a bug bite – since dogs can't reach their rumps, those are prime, juicy targets for flies and mosquitos – or a hot spot. It could be fleas or mites, even, though often those live in places like the neck and the ears instead.
You can usually tell the difference by how insistent your pup is that they get their scritches and how frequently they ask for them. Most dogs will beg for scritches – or get up in your face and demand them – periodically, but not constantly. If the itch keeps coming back, like a pesky bug bite or a rash might, they'll want them more and more often until you basically can't do anything without one hand scratching.
If your fur baby seems to be having an issue that goes above and beyond wanting a little affection, it's worth giving their rump a closer inspection. Feel for bumps, check for bugs or bug bites, and look for flaking skin, red spots, hotspots, or other signs of something going wrong.
If you see signs of something that might need a little medical intervention, it's time to give your vet a call. The good news is, it's very likely not cause for an emergency vet trip. More likely, all you need to do is get a prescription for a skin cream or shampoo, at most.
So, here's the question: do all dogs love butt scritches? Are there differences between breeds, genders, or other factors?
The answer, to put it simply, is no. Not all dogs love butt scritches. Some love them so much they'll come demanding them every day. Others treat them as a welcome but occasional treat. Some ask for it but don't demand it. Some will accept them if they're offered but never really seek them out. Others actively dislike them. Where does your pup stand on the spectrum?
In fact, if you try to give a dog some butt scritches and they shy away, snap, or grimace about it, chances are they aren't actually interested in being touched on their rump like that, and you're better off finding some other way to show them affection. Sometimes the dog will warm up to you over time, and other times they just don't like it.
What about gender? Do female dogs love butt scritches more than males or vice versa? Again, not really. Anecdotal evidence points to no real distribution. Some male dogs love it, while others don't. Some female dogs love it, while others don't. It really comes down to individual personality.
What about other factors?
Breed may play some amount of a role into it. Some breeds are more flexible and more able to address their own itches. Some have coats that are more prone to trapping debris or irritants, and others have oilier skin or skin more prone to drying out, which may lead to them wanting more scratches.
Unfortunately, no one seems to have done any surveys to put together a study on the subject. So, why not tell me your story in the comments below?
As you may know, dogs aren't the only critters who love a good butt scratch (when they're in the mood). Cats are also generally pretty fond of it, though they may get a little nibbly if you keep scratching for too long.
For that matter, our domestic animal companions aren't the only creatures who love a good scratch. They are, however, some of the only ones we can scratch safely.
Before we close out for the day, it's worth making a note of one behavior that decidedly isn't what I'm talking about.
Itching is one thing when it's the top of the rump, by the base of the tail. It's a very different thing when it's around the back side, around the anus and the scent glands.
If that's the place that itches, your fur baby probably isn't coming to demand scritches. Instead, they're going to be scooting. Scooting is a worse behavior, not just because it can leave trails around the house, but because of what it means.
Possible causes of dog scooting include:
Luckily, there's a pretty big difference between scooting and scratching, so if your dog is comfortable, healthy, and just a little itchy, all you need to do is give them a scratch.
Don't forget to leave me a comment with your dogs and their stories! I'm really curious if there are trends with different coats, breeds, or other aspects of our furry friends. If you know of any studies that have been done on this subject, feel free to leave a link down below as well. Give your fur baby a scritch for me!
K. Marie is an animal lover, wife, kitty mom, dog auntie, writer, and co-founder of Toe Beans, a proud American family-owned online boutique pet supplies store focused on the improvement of the life of furry family members via pet parent education, better products, and advocacy. She has over 20 years of experience as a pet momma. She loves sharing her personal journey and experience as a pet parent via her blog and Facebook page where she currently has more than 40K followers (@furrytoebeans) and counting :-).
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