Going Places: How Much Itch Can a Dog Scratch?

Bella considers her latest itch
Bella considers her latest itch, Photo: Dan Rattiner

Sitting around the house this morning with nothing to do, I watched my little dog trying to scratch an itch. It was apparently in the middle of the top of her back. She could turn her body and head in such a way as to be able to bite and nibble at it with her teeth, but she couldn’t hold the pose long. Then she tried to get at it with one of her hind legs, gave up on that and just tried rolling around on her back to get at it. That did work, at least for a while, but then she was at it with her teeth again.

Eventually, I decided to help. I walked over and gave the spot a good scratch, not only there but all around the spot, and that kind of did it for her. After a while with that, she turned over onto her back and offered up her stomach for a scratch, and I did that, too. You never know where itches may strike on a dog, although dog trainers say that when a dog lies on its back and puts its legs up, it’s a sign of respect for you.

Anyway, this got me thinking about how it is with humans. In some ways, we are better off than dogs, in other ways not. We have arms and fingers, which they don’t. But then we can’t be biting ourselves in many places other than our lower arms.

What I have learned over long experience, for me anyway, is that I can get to an itch almost everywhere on my body except on a particular square of the upper right shoulder blade of my back. I think it’s square. But I’m really not sure. I just know that forever and ever, unless I ask my significant other to help out, that part of my back remains scratch-free and sort of open to the elements for any itches that might come along every day, though a scrub brush does get it when I bathe.

Why it is only on the upper part of my back on the right I can’t get at, I do not know. Perhaps it’s because I am right-handed. I have more flexibility in my right arm than my left, so my right arm can get to places (on the left side of my back) that my left arm can’t duplicate on the right. Does that make sense?

As I said at the beginning of this, I am just sitting around the house thinking of things. I think further on this topic. If you made a three-dimensional drawing of me, you’d have to say that about 95% of me is scratch accessible, and 5% not. As for the dog, I’d say she’s only about 70% accessible. And I think from my vast experience with dogs, it’s probably true for almost all dogs.

Their mouths, paws and legs can only do so much. They can’t get at most of the top of their back. They can’t easily get at their underside. I think the top of their heads might have iffy spots. Their tails, if they have tails, could be a problem if they unconsciously swish them this way and that making them hard to get at.

And so, in conclusion, I’d say that as far as scratching goes, it’s no fun being a dog. On the other hand, they never complain. No, they don’t.

I’ve been thinking about other creatures and how they make out in this department. Hippopotamuses are about 5% accessible to scratch where they itch. Giraffes—well, I’d have to see one in action. If you’re a lobster, forget it. In the primate department, the hard-to-get-to spots are scratched by their friends. You see gorillas and baboons doing that, almost always happily. Friends is friends.

After a while of thinking about my dog, the cat crept in. Normally the cat and the dog get along. In this case, though, the cat began washing herself from stem to stern all over with her tongue while doing a wide variety of very impressive gymnastics. After a while, the dog got up and goddamn chased her out of the room.

And I know why.

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