Dogs shake themselves (the same shake they do when they get out of the water) to ease tension or to signal they are moving on from one thing to another.
It’s like a re-set button.
You’ve probably noticed your dog shaking his body immediately after meeting a new dog, after ending a play session or after returning from a walk.
If you watch two dogs at play, the wrestling and tumbling and chasing might escalate until one lets out a growl or a yelp. Then, both dogs will do the body shake. Play might end completely as they walk off to find something new. Or, they might start to play again but with less energy.
In many cases, the body shake is a signal that says, “Well that was fun, what’s next?”
Dogs shake themselves as a stress reliever
If a dog is faced with something overwhelming or confusing and he’s not quite sure what to do, he’ll offer the body shake.
The body shake is not necessarily a conscious behavior; it’s more automatic.
Humans do similar behaviors. It’s the same as letting out a sigh of relief after meeting a new person or taking a deep breath before plunging into something a bit scary.
For me, a good comparison is in sports. I was a competitive swimmer in high school. Before stepping up to the starting block before a race I would take a deep breath and actually do a slight body shake. It was my own little transition or re-set button to enter into race mode – a way of coping with stress.
Or, as another example, if I’ve been staring at my computer for 90 minutes I might lean back in my chair, brush my hands over my face or actually wiggle my head and shoulders a bit – “Whew! Time for something else!”
So really, we’re not that different from dogs. We have our own versions of the body shake.
So what does a dog shaking himself have to do with dog training?
If your dog shakes himself, it’s important to be aware of it when you are working with your dog.
For example, you tell your dog to sit, he does. But then he does “the body shake” and instantly breaks from sit.
You tell him to sit again. He does. Then he does the body shake again and gets up.
What the heck is up with your dog? Why isn’t he listening?
Often, it’s just because the dog is distracted or overly excited.
So, when you are training your own dog, be aware of this.
When your dog does the body shake after you’ve told him to sit, all you have to do is gently push him back into a sit.
It’s totally normal for a dog to attempt three or four body shakes, especially if you are in an exciting environment or about to do something really fun or if you’re challenging your dog a little too much.
I wouldn’t consider the body shake deviant behavior. I’m not sure dogs are even aware they’re doing it.
However, you can teach your dog some self control.
Teach your dog that sit means sit. No matter what. You can’t get up just because you wiggled your body around. You get up when I say OK (and if you don’t have a release word or signal for your dog, you should).
I am hyper aware of the dog body shake. I see it every day with a number of dogs. If you look for it, you will see it too. Watch for it at the next dog obedience class you attend or the next time you visit the dog park or the next time you ask your dog to sit when something “exciting” is going on.
My dog Ace shakes his body every time he gets up from lying down.
He will also shake his body if he breaks from the stay position before I have released him.
For Ace, one of the hardest moments to remain in a stay is when someone comes to the door. He will almost definitely do a body shake and then get up as I answer the door.
If Ace doesn’t do the body shake, he will likely scratch himself around the collar, which is another behavior dogs will do in order to release themselves form the task at hand.
I have even noticed Ace will do the body shake on a walk to release himself from heel! I’m learning to catch him when he does this and tell him “no.”
Be aware of your dog’s level of stress
On the other hand, I also have to be aware of my dog’s stress levels. The body shake is often a calming signal meant to show other dogs they mean no harm or even an attempt to defuse some energy.
If Ace keeps doing the body shake, it could be that he is a little too stressed and needs to take a break from what we’re doing. I can be pretty strict at times. I expect too much.
It’s one thing to push your dog a bit in order to increase his self control. It’s another to push him so far he is feeling overwhelmed, stressed or even fearful.
Ace is a sensitive guy, and it’s up to me, his owner, to be aware of his stress levels. Doing the body shake, scratching around his collar, excessive yawning or avoiding eye contact are examples that he might be mildly stressed.
Dogs tell us a lot. We just need to pay attention!
Sometimes we could stand to do our own body shakes and move on to something more fun!
Do you notice your dog shaking himself? When does your dog do this behavior?
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