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Latest health and behavior news and advice from the veterinarians at Tufts University.

Features October 2014 Issue

The Shake Off

What it means when your dog shakes herself vigorously.

Of course you expect, and run from, your dog's full body shake-out after her bath. But what to make of the “shake-offs” some dogs do throughout the day? Is there a neurological component?

Unless your dog’s shaking is restricted to her head, the behavior is most likely strictly behavioral. In fact, if you pay close attention, it will afford you a view of her take on her world, her likes and dislikes. That’s because a dog regroups through the gesture.

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It's easy to figure out why a wet dog shakes.

Let’s say, for instance, that your pet breaks off a play tussle with another dog and, after a full body shake-out, seeks a water bowl or a quiet place to rest, or even pounces back for more rough and tumble. It may be that she has shaken off something she felt was unpleasant — a forceful nip, losing the “game,” or simply fatigue — and then decided she was ready for another go.

Another social shake-out may occur with people. Your dog may enjoy the petting and cooing that come her way while you’re out strolling. But she may not enjoy having her walk interrupted and her time with you monopolized by conversation with her new admirers. So she’ll literally shake off the unpleasant feeling, creating a kind of physical punctuation mark to distance herself from what she doesn’t like.

Clues can be found in all kinds of situations. If your dog willingly jumps into the back of your car for a romp at the park but then shakes out when she jumps from the car into the parking lot, it may be nothing more than an innocuous way of transitioning from the car “den” to the “great outdoors.” But check your rear view mirror to see how your pet manages the ride over. Does she need a pad for more comfort over the road? Does she seem like she has motion sickness? The shake-off in those cases may be to rid herself of feeling any physical discomfort.

Sometimes it’s quite clear what the shake-off is about. If your dog gets caught on the verboten couch and without a word from you jumps off, a shake-out may be her way of dealing with the dissonance of wanting to be in one place but having to move to another. Similarly, a dog may shake out when you tug the leash to move her along even though she hasn’t finished sniffing her umpteenth blade of grass. It’s a protest mixed with resignation that she’s not going to get her way.

Whatever the reason, it’s important to keep in mind that these shake-offs are full body movements. If your dog is shaking only her head, consult with your veterinarian. In such cases, the cause could be anything from an ear infection to a neurological issue.

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