Why Do Dogs Kick Their Back Legs?
[Everything you need to know]

By kropek2021. • Updated July 6, 2021

If you’ve suddenly noticed that your dog can’t stop kicking their back legs out, you may be confused. Is this normal behavior? Have they always done this? Is this a problem? Well, scuffing is actually very normal behavior for pups, and it’s connected to their instincts. 

Your dog may be kicking out because they’re excited, they may be marking a surface with their scent, or they may be trying to remove something from their legs. All causes are usually harmless, but it’s understandable for any dog owner to be confused. 

We’ve researched the most common causes and explanations for this behavior, but always remember, if your dog is worrying you or acting differently to normal, consult a vet for a professional opinion. 

Why Do They Do It?

Kicking, or also called scuffing, is a behavior shown by most dogs. It’s commonly seen after elimination, but kicking behavior may also show up on other occasions too. Dog trainers are used to dogs kicking their hind legs, and these are the most common reasons:

Marking An Area

Your dog may be kicking their back legs to mark a specific spot. This marks a place for them to go back to the next time they will poop. In their head, it is a safe area. If you notice this behavior, just allow them to kick their legs. This is an instinct for dogs, and it’s no trouble at all. Only be alarmed if the kicking is harming the dog’s paws. 

Excitement

Like humans, dogs show their feelings. When dogs are excited, they often scratch the floor and show it. Sometimes dogs will even kick out their hind legs when excited. Think of this as their happy dance. Dogs can’t communicate through words, so their actions show us how they are feeling. If their leg kicking is combined with a wagging tail, excitement will be the cause!

They’re Leaving Their Scent

When dogs kick their hind legs after eliminating, it’s not to try and cover up their poop. The kicking motion allows them to leave their scent on the area to claim it as their territory. Dogs have scent glands on their paws, similar to cats, so kicking their back legs is a territorial action. The scent from their paws can linger on the spot longer than the smell of their urine; however, we humans can’t pick this up!

In the wild dogs had to protect their food from predators or anyone higher up in the food chain. This is where leaving their scent came in handy. However, in modern times this trait isn’t needed, but dogs still do it instinctively. If you have more than one dog, you may notice one dog doing this more than the other. This could be the alpha dog protecting its pack from any unknown pups. 

Showing Their Dominance

Your dog’s kicking behavior could also be them showing dominance over another dog. If a dog feels threatened, it’ll kick its back legs to mark its territory. The scent from their paws keeps it as their own and serves as a warning to other dogs. 

On the other hand, some dogs will kick to show that they’re submissive. Submissive dogs still kick to spread their scent, this protects them by informing other dogs of their presence. This is hard to decipher at first glance as the behavior is similar to a dominant dog’s. 

Leaving A Visual Mark

While most kicking behavior is scent-oriented, sometimes it’s performed to leave a visual mark. This is so that the dog can see the spot, and they’ll be able to return to it. The disrupted area will bear the dog’s scent, but it will have an additional visual element so that they won’t forget it!

Is This Bad Behavior?

If you are worried about your dog kicking out their back legs, you shouldn’t be. This isn’t troubling behavior. If your dog does this randomly, it’s most likely a scent marking habit that can be ignored. 

However, if you’ve researched the common reasons dogs kick and don’t seem to fit your dog’s habits, you can always consult a veterinarian for peace of mind. If your dog is continuously kicking, looks like they’re in pain, or has a sudden personality/habit change it’s always best to check in with a trained vet to find the root of the problem.

F.A.Q.

If your dog’s kicking isn’t aligning with some of the common reasons, you may have more questions about this behavior. Dog trainers are used to these questions, and most have simple answers. Here are the most commonly asked questions about dogs kicking out their back legs. 

Why Do Dogs Kick Their Back Legs When Scratched?

When dogs kick their back legs while being petted or scratched, it’s usually a show of happiness. It usually means they’re enjoying the scratching sensation. This is another way of them expressing their joy. It’s a widespread canine reaction to any petting, especially when you scratch behind their ears. 

This response is a scratch reflex. It’s an involuntary response much like our own human reflexes. When nerves under the area being scratched pass a message to the dog’s spinal cord telling their legs to kick, this message bypasses the brain making the kicking automatic. This can explain why some dogs look confused at their reactions to petting. 

This behavior shouldn’t be any cause for concern, as long as your pup isn’t showing any signs of anxiety or aggression. Observe your dog’s behavior and learn their habits. Each dog is different and will show different behaviors when happy—kicking or scuffing may be your dog’s happy dance. 

Why Does My Dog Kick While Lying Down?

If you notice your dog kicking while lying down, it is probably a playful gesture and nothing to worry about. Some dogs will kick their back legs out and roll over to show their belly. This is a sign that they’re comfortable with you. If your dog is kicking while sleeping, they may be dreaming and physically acting out the scene. This is also nothing to worry about. 

However, if your dog cannot control their kicking whilst lying down, you may need to consult a vet. Though rare, this could indicate a health problem that will need immediate veterinary attention.

Why Do Dogs Kick After Peeing?

When your dog is kicking after peeing, it’s usually to leave their scent on the spot, not to cover the pee. This is linked to dog’s instincts to protect their territory and to drive away any other animals. The spot is theirs and theirs only!

Kicking their hind legs after peeing could also show that they’re trying to get a little pee off of their back paws. Kicking and shaking is a way to get their urine off of themselves and to clean themselves. 

My Dog Keeps Kicking Their Back Legs On The Carpet

If your dog is kicking their back legs onto the carpet, it’s another case of them trying to mark their spot. This may be more noticeable if you’ve just had your carpets cleaned or have bought a new carpet. They’re just re-marking their scent into the floor since fresh or washed carpet is a foreign smell. 

Be careful, though, as sometimes dogs will go further than marking it with their paw scent. Sometimes dogs will spray urine on it to make sure they’ve kept their territory well. If you know your dog is prone to this behavior, you can try putting a dog diaper on them to save your carpet from unwanted sprays. 

Are The Kicks Caused By Cramps?

Usually, dogs kick for behavioral reasons. However, if you suspect that cramps and muscle spasms are the cause, make sure to phone the vet right away. Muscle spasms can cause leg kicks involuntarily, this can happen if your dog overexerted their legs, or it could also be caused by neurological conditions. 

Another reason some dogs may constantly kick their back legs is that they’re dealing with nerve damage. Older dogs may end up with arthritis from the kicking habit. 

The Takeaway

Some dogs kick their back legs due to a variety of reasons, however, this isn’t behavior to worry about!

Observe your pup to determine whether the kicks are from excitement, marking their scent, or showing dominance.

This habit is usually harmless, but always make sure to visit the veterinarian if you suspect your dog’s kicks are due to an underlying health issue.