The dog ‘body shake’ – why does my dog shake his body?



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?

Dogs use the body shake (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 doing the body shake 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?”

The doggy body shake can also be 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 this have to do with dog training?

The body shake is something to be aware of when you are working with your dog.

I run with dogs every day through my dog running business. When I show up at the door to take a dog running, I usually expect the dog to sit before I put on his leash. The dogs are typically very excited when I show up, and when I ask for a sit, most dogs will sit but then instantly do the body shake and get up.

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 five or six body shakes, especially if you are in an exciting environment or about to do something really fun.

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 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 defintiely 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.

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 canine stress symptoms such as the body shake, scratching around his collar, excessive yawning or avoiding eye contact. 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 the doggy body shake? When does your dog do this behavior?

My black lab mix Ace with white toes and red collar

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  1. Jen S on March 8, 2012

    Funny timing! Was in the middle of reading this… meandered out to play with the pooch. And he got too excited, I had him lay down and do some simple obedience then said “ok!” as a release from him laying down. He then shook himself off and gave me the “play?” face.

    As always, I learned from just about all posts of yours, this was no exception. You had mentioned this in another post too and I have been watching for it. It’s funny, he always shakes when he wakes up. We know he’s on the move when we hear his ears flapping against his head. I’m not sure if it’s just shaking out the sleepy (though he does stretch just like a cat…), or if it’s “ok done with this… time to find some one to play with”. :)

  2. Sean on March 8, 2012

    My dogs do the body shake often (after playing, when getting up sometimes, and so on).

    When do I really notice? When I get thwapped with a floppy ear during the body shake. Feels like a wet towel slap!

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on March 17, 2012

      Ace gets drool on our walls all the time when he does his body shake.

  3. Aaron on March 8, 2012

    I love watching my dog, Duke, do the body shake. In fact, I feel like doing my own “body shake” whenever I see it or sense it is about to occur. Just like a yawn is contagious, Duke’s body shake is contagious for me!

    Great article!

  4. Marita on March 9, 2012

    I haven’t really thought of this before but my pooch will keep doing the body shake when I put his backpack on. Even during our walk. I was wondering if the backpack makes his muscles tense and he does the body shake for releasing tension or is it because he doesn’t like it and feels stressed. Any ideas?

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on March 9, 2012

      My dog does the body shake constantly when he wears his vest. I think it’s partly because his body thinks he can shake it off and partly because the vest stresses him out. It makes him feel restricted and submissive. I’m not saying this is the case with your dog, it’s just what I’ve observed with mine.

      • Christina on March 11, 2012

        Tarski shakes with his sweater on, and also his jacket, but less so. The sweater fits over his front two legs (just at the top) and under his belly, and has a velcro strap along the back — I don’t think he likes that it surrounds him like that. His jacket, on the other hand, goes over his head, but then has just a strap that goes under his belly, and otherwise just sits over him (like a horse’s blanket). He seems to shake less with it, and I think it’s because he finds it less restrictive.

        • Lindsay Stordahl Author on March 17, 2012

          Makes sense. Ace shakes with his vest on. That fits over his whole body and very snug. He doesn’t shake with his backpack on, which fits more like a horse blanket and is less restrictive.

  5. Kristie on March 9, 2012

    My dog does the body shake right at the start of a walk, right after we go outside. I think maybe going outdoors is stressful for him. He also does it when strangers are close to us (like when a stranger has just passed us, walking from the opposite direction). Since he routinely does it when something mildly stressful happens, I keep wondering if I could capture this behavior and have him do it on command when he’s over-excited. Would it calm him? Or does it have to be “automatic” to have this effect?

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on March 17, 2012

      You could probably capture the behavior with a command. I don’t think it would calm him, though. Dogs do the body shake when they are excited. I notice most dogs shake after we pass someone on walks or right after we get outside.

    • Rose on November 14, 2012

      What my dog Monk (min pin/chihuahua mix) does seems more like a shiver – like he’s cold. Is that what’s being discussed here? I’ve only had him about nine months – he’s a rescue, about two years old. I got another rescue, Kipp (min pin/yorkie mix), three months ago – he’s about seven months now. Monk definitely shivers more now. He is 9 lbs and temperature sensitive, but it seems to be more than that. The yorkie is rather playful and likes to lay on or near Monk. They play together well, but I will notice Monk shiver after play, after being outdoors and sometimes, seemingly, for no reason. No other symptoms (i.e., vomiting, diarhhea). Is this just stress? If so, what can I do to help calm him?

      • Lindsay Stordahl Author on November 19, 2012

        I was referring to a shake like what a dog does when he jumps out of the water. Not a continuous shake as you describe. Your dog might be fearful or cold or overwhelmed as well. I don’t know what would be causing it. If he seems overwhelmed by your other dog, make sure to give him breaks from him, especially when the playing gets really intense.

        Does he wear a sweater for the cold? You could also consider the Thundershirt to help him feel more secure.

  6. Sharon Wollenberg on March 9, 2012

    Interesting! I have often wondered why a dog named Shane that I walk with a dog backpack will shake with it on a few times. I have to agree with you Lindsay that partly they try to shake it off, but I really don’t want to think it stresses him out. I think it may be restrictive, but my goal is to tire a very high energy young dog. I don’t want to think that I am causing him stress. I will pay attention. You sure got me thinking. Love your dog blogs!

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on March 10, 2012

      I agree! Backpacks are a wonderful tool to help a dog by giving the dog a job to do and helping that dog build confidence. And it also tires them out!

  7. Alison on March 10, 2012

    My pup does the shake when I come home. As soon as I come in the door she races to me, shakes, then gives me a sniff. I call it the happy shake (or welcome home shake).

  8. Dogs on March 12, 2012

    Lars is a body shaker, usually when he gets up from lying down. He starts with his head and ends with his tail. It is hilarious.

  9. Tyler on March 13, 2012

    Hi — great blog. I have been reading regularly since we adopted a dog from the SPCA about a year ago (he looks alot like Ace!). I would love if you could post sometime about teaching a dog to run. I would love to run with my dog, but he is easily distracted. He will run for a few minutes, but often stops to sniff around, or to try to meet another dog, or if he wants to take a different route than the direction I am taking. If I try to pull him along with the leash, he resists. I would love to know what you would do in this situation. Thanks again for the great blog!

  10. Tyler on March 14, 2012

    Wow, somehow I missed that one. Thanks for pointing it out — I will give it a shot.

  11. Brian on March 14, 2012

    Wow, I never realized that there was that much information in a body shake. My Boxer is the king of the body shake.

  12. May Affre on March 14, 2012

    I absolutely love your blog. Also, funny enough since reading about the shake, I keep seeing (being aware) my dog doing the body shake whether during our walk, most often as I ask him to sit. Btw, thank you for your tips and post on how to run with a dog. As the weather was nice today, I went for a jog with Curl. Following your advice, it worked well. I would also suggest you tie a leash to your waist. I did this today after searching for a running leash (too pricey). It worked just fine, tying leash around my waist and it definitely made a difference.

  13. Star on March 15, 2012

    My dog doesn’t do the doggy shake so much as the scratch around the collar. Well…she doesn’t even do that…she just swings her hind leg towards her front half like she’s attempting to scratch without ever making contact. We always just thought she was a little uncoordinated until our recent agility class with her when she did the scratch in the middle of a routine. Of course I stopped to let her scratch and that was when the instructor told me to push through with her and that it wasn’t that she really needed to scratch, she just knew that scratching would let her stop what she was doing. Very interesting and something I’m sure most people don’t know about their dogs!

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on March 17, 2012

      Your example is perfect! Thanks for sharing. That’s exactly what I was referring to.

  14. Christina on March 16, 2012

    By the way, I love how nicely groomed Ace’s paws are in this picture!

  15. Ashley on May 5, 2012

    I’ve just recently noticed how often my dog does the body shake. I notice more because I have a newborn, and when my dog (Chloe) does the body shake it startles my newborn. The body shaking has gotten irritating. One time, she did it 3 times in 5 min. Can it be allergy related also?

    • Fae on March 19, 2013

      My dog shakes all the time….he had an ear infection and they told me they do that when their ears ache…now I wonder if he’s still got ear infection?
      And scratches a lot…………….can’t find fleas…..he’s 1 and a half years old…

  16. Kirsty on May 11, 2012

    Great article :)

  17. Susan on July 30, 2012

    Thank God someone could say something about this… thank you! My dog Kisa I adopted last week from the shelter and it seems to me that she does this all the time, she even wakes me up doing it! I have never in my life seen a dog do the body shake as much as this one does. I thought something has to be neurologically wrong with my dog.

    • Lori Barnes on September 5, 2012

      I was amazed something popped up from the search engine because i didn’t really know how to word my concerns. I was glad to read the comments because i was worried, about 2 months ago my dog Chloie (pug) started messing with her ears n shaking her head so i figured it was a ear infection so the vet give her some ointment, that didnot work so she prescribed a antibiotic to go in her ear seemed like it got better but during this time is when i noticed when i took her out to walk she would shake like they do when their getting water off their body n i thought it was stange she shakes her body a couple of times while i have her out walking.

      • Lindsay Stordahl Author on October 10, 2012

        Just a stress reliever for them! Not necessarily a bad thing. Kind of like a sigh of relief. We do it all the time, without realizing it, even when the “stresser” is very slight.

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on October 10, 2012

      It helps to take their collars off at night so they are less noisy when they are flapping their ears around like that.

      • Fae on March 19, 2013

        Yes that’s what bothers me the most the collar jingles every time…..drives me crazy because he does it a lot……….

  18. Heidi on October 10, 2012

    We have noticed our Lab giving just a light head shake when we correct her and tell her not to do something … she’ll stop, look at us and sorta shake her head in protest as if saying, “oh, alright” and then go on to something else. She does always shake when she gets up though. Or after a good roll in the grass (or dirt >:o(

  19. Robin on October 10, 2012

    In obedience class tonight, Pete did the shake, the yawn and the jump up and hug my leg tonight. Ugh! Do you think he was a little stressed, he also whined through most of it! It was one of our worst nights.

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on October 11, 2012

      Yeah, he could’ve been a little stressed. But that’s why you’re there, to help him feel more comfortable. I’m sure you are both doing great!

  20. Nikki on October 14, 2012

    My dog Baby girl is a pit and lab mix. We live in apartments so she’s mainly an inside dog. She either just started the body shake or I just haven’t noticed. But she always shakes as soon as I take her outside. Like shake, pause shake pause. I don’t know why she does that and I’m just curious. I also have a small chihuahua named Ducky, he always shakes. Somebody told me that its normal for them to shake. Something about it runs in their breed? Is this true?

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on December 5, 2012

      Lots of dogs shake once they get outside. Seems to be out of excitement!

      With your Chihuahua, does he shake out of fear? Or being cold? Or is it similar to the behavior your larger dog does?

  21. Carlos Calderon on November 15, 2012

    My 1 year 4 month Maltese, Mischa, does a lot of body shaking, specially at night. I absolutely loath this because this wakes my baby up! Is there a way to stop this?

  22. Lindsay Stordahl Author on November 19, 2012

    I wish there were an easy way to stop it! I usually don’t have my dog sleep in my bedroom because his shakes wake me up. We call it ear flapping. It helps if the dog has his collar on. I try to tell my dog no when I anticipate his shakes during that time when I am awake but my husband is still asleep. I do think they can learn not to do it in certain situations but it’s difficult for them since the shaking is such an automatic response. They don’t even know they’re doing it, kind of like when we stretch or yawn or sigh. It can be automatic.

  23. Annette Romero on November 29, 2012

    One week ago today my 3 year old Maltese, Lui, was groomed. His hair was quite long and he was groomed down to almost nothing. I have a groomer come to the house to minimize his stress. I noticed that since then he has been body shaking excessively, more than normal. I thought maybe he had an ear infection, perhaps water in his ears so I checked it and nothing they’re pristine. He does not seem to be uncomfortable or in any pain. I can’t understand why he is doing this? It happens when he gets up to do anything, its been a week now and like I mentioned earlier it started after he was groomed last week. He has had the same groomer ever since I’ve had him for the past 2 years and the same cut.

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on November 29, 2012

      Lots of dogs do this, and I wouldn’t be too worried about it. My dog shakes his body every time he gets up from lying down, even time he stops playing, every time he comes in from outside and so on.

      If something seems off with him, you could take him to the vet just to be sure, but it sounds like typical dog behavior to me – as annoying as it might be!

  24. Vicky on December 5, 2012

    My dog is part dachsund and part….corgi??? Anyway, she is extremely active and athletic and appears to look “fat” to some people, but I think it’s the corgi in her. Recently, the vet told me to reduce her food intake by 1/3. She was nibbling all day, but considering how active she is, I think she was doing okay. For about 2 or 3 wks, we have noticed her doing the body shake very often. No fleas, no scratching, took her to the vet and they gave her ear drops. Now after reading this, I’m wondering if it has to do with her not getting enough food? I think she is hungry, but that doesn’t make sense. Any thoughts?

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on December 5, 2012

      Yes, or maybe it’s because her routine is off. When my dog is ready to eat, he will start “acting busy” by chewing very loudly on a bone or scratching himself at the collar very intensely and then shaking himself. It seems to be a way to try to get my attention and also his way of trying to transition to mealtime.

  25. Nyla on December 10, 2012

    I have two small poodles. Both of them shake after I have given their little bodies a massage. They both love to be scratched and rubbed all over but as soon as they get up they shake.

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on December 10, 2012

      Sounds like they are transitioning from a relaxed massage mode to a different mode. Like letting out a sigh.

  26. kristine florendo on December 12, 2012

    hi! why does my dog shakes his body everytime i go near him?

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on December 13, 2012

      Not sure if you mean your dog is trembling or your dog shakes as though he has just gotten out of a lake?

      There is a difference. Trembling constantly is often nervousness or fear or just being cold.

      The other is out of excitement, stress or just as a way to transition from one thing to another.

  27. Sonya on December 13, 2012

    Years ago, when my (now 30 year old) son was about 3-4, he pondered why a dog’s skin was so loose. He came up with the idea that if it wasn’t, when they shook, they’d fall over! Although we never scientifically proved this out, he could have been on to something!

  28. John on December 15, 2012

    Muffin, my 7 year old pekingese gets real excited when I take him outside. Just when I reach down to put his leash on he has to have a real good shake. I often wondered why he did this, now I know.

  29. Erika on December 29, 2012

    This was a really interesting post!

  30. Maxine on January 28, 2013

    I would like to know how to train my dog to do the body shake. They come in with snow on them and don’t always shake it off.
    thanks,

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on January 29, 2013

      You would probably have to capture the action when they naturally shake, like when they get up from lying down or when they transition from one thing to another. Use a clicker to mark the behavior and eventually add a command. It would be a challenging behavior to train, but I think you could do it if you put in enough time.

  31. Laura on February 4, 2013

    I feel much better after reading this! I have had my rescue dog Rufus a Shiba inu x Shar-pei mix for a year now (at a guess he’s probably 2 years old) and I’ve never known a dog shake so much! I thought he must have some sort of ecto/endoparisite infection but his skin is fine and there’s no scratching with it. He gets up he shakes, out for a walk he shakes every 5 mins or so, after dinner he shakes and when we play he has a good shake, I’ve never met a dog like him!

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on February 4, 2013

      He sounds like quite the character! :)

    • Anna on March 3, 2013

      when my Lexi shakes in house I tell her “no shake” she is starting to realize that if I am around i don’t want her doing it..so when we are outside brushing her after I am done I tell her “shake” she almost has it down and does it almost immediately..I am hoping it teaches her that shaking outside is ok.

  32. Rae on February 6, 2013

    OMG….My dog is an autralian shepherd and she shakes CONSTANTLY!! Everytime she gets up, everytime she does anything… it drives me crazy because when she shakes all her fur flies alllll over the house, even on my counters and tables! I even shave her now but now it is little pieces of hair everywhere in the house. I would love any advice on how to get her NOT to do this. She just started doing this about a year ago and she is 7. PLEASE HELP!! I am going crazy…

    Thanks
    Buried in dog hair.

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on February 7, 2013

      Good luck getting her to stop shaking! I wish I could get my dog to stop as well because it’s noisy and annoying when he flaps his ears, jowls and drool everywhere.

      It’s hard to get them to stop because it’s so automatic for them. I don’t think they even know they are doing it. We have similar behaviors ourselves. For example, I noticed I let out a small sigh pretty much every time I transition from one thing to another – similar to the dog’s shaking.

      You could try catching her in the act and saying “no” and rewarding instantly for standing still. I think it would take a lot of patience and time, though.

  33. Anna on March 3, 2013

    I never thought this would be the reason why my Lexi shakes so often. I just assumed she was bored, it was starting to annoy me especially now during her big shed!!! I have said “no” to her right before I notice she is going to do it and she does stop. Thanks.

  34. Mary on June 22, 2013

    I just picked up my Coton de Tulear two days ago from two months of boarding between houses, so we are in a different house…he’s an very calm, happy,gentle easy going type of dog. Follows me around everywhere. He only barks when someone comes to the door, until we open it, or when we’re playing as normal. He was a little freaked out by a rabbit in the yard, but other than that… I haven’t seen any adverse behavior from boarding, but he’s constantly doing this whole body shaking thing, like they do after a bath. He does have some mats that are going to have to be addressed, though they don’t seem to bother him, could that be why? He’s never done this before. Everything else seems normal. I have two cats, but they’re still in one room, they’re a little afraid to come out and explore the entire house. Maybe that’s a little different for him.

  35. chris on August 16, 2013

    I have a Border Collie-Blue Heeler mix, named Panda. He constantly shakes when he is indoors. This causes his fur to constantly shed. I know he is a dog and he does what is natural to him but its getting rediculous! Is there anything I can do to stop him from shaking his body every 10 min?

  36. Michelle on September 8, 2013

    My 6 month old puppy does not shake his body at all, he is happy and seems healthy, but when he gets out of water he does not shake it off? I’m a little concerned about this, does not seem normal.
    Michelle

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on September 8, 2013

      He probably just doesn’t mind being wet. I’m guessing he’s just a silly pup. Not much to worry about in my opinion.

  37. Kathy on October 13, 2013

    So glad I found this blog. I have a rescue Chihuahua that is not quite 2 yrs old and when I walk her, she stops and does the body shake a lot. I have only had her 6 wks and she has had to learn leash walking, her new environment and living with my 12 yr old Corgi all in that time. When I walk the two together, she does not shake as much as when I walk her alone. She also scratches in the collar area, although that is not as frequent as it was at first. I thought she had fleas but after bathing and flea treatment, she still did it. This explains a lot! Thanks!

  38. Jonny on January 29, 2014

    My boxer does the body shake all the time when out walking whilst on her harness unfortunately I have nowhere to let her off the lead to run free from other people or dogs and is so excitable when approaching other people jumping up at them. Is there any way I can limit the amount she body shakes ?

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on January 29, 2014

      It’s tough because the shaking is an automatic response. You could look for ways to help her feel more calm around other dogs on walks. Maybe by carrying treats and teaching her to “watch.” You could also try a different type of collar. It could be that the harness itself is annoying to her and she shakes a little more often in attempt to shake the harness off.

      Just some thoughts.

  39. Shawn on February 5, 2014

    I just brought a rescue dog home, she is 7 and seems to do the body shake a lot. She also has been scratching some around the collar and yawns a bit as well. Is there anything I can do to ease her stress level?

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