By John Plichter
Some canine behavior is so ordinary that we fail to even question it in the first place. If you’re enjoying dinner with the family, odds are Fido has positioned himself in hopes of catching a rogue scrap. Scrappy may drag his buttocks across the floor because…he’s having a hard time reaching a particular itch. And he may shake his fur because that’s just what dogs do.
But why exactly do dogs shake their fur? It’s such a common occurrence that if you’ve ever questioned it, odds are it was chalked up to being cold or drying out their coat. Aside from the obvious answers, here are a few possible explanations for one of the most common canine actions.
The expression “shake it off” doesn’t only apply to humans, as dogs who feel stressed by a situation will typically shake their fur as a defense mechanism. “A stress shake off, also called an adrenaline flush, can often be seen after a dog has experienced a certain amount of stress,” notes Karen Deeds, a certified dog behavior consultant and founder of Canine Connection in Fort Worth, Texas. “It often happens after stress has built up in the system, and the shake off helps to reset the dog’s physical and mental state a bit.”
Dr. Stefanie Schwartz, a member of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists and founder of PetBehavior.org, agrees that stress could be a contributing factor. “If a dog stands still while you’re petting him, but shakes his body after you stop, this could mean he was a bit stressed from the contact,” Schwartz says. “Perhaps the dog found you intimidating, and the shaking would be an anxiety-releasing mechanism in this case.” A stress-free lifestyle is encouraged for every pet, so try and promote an environment where he feels calm and relaxed as best you can.
They’re Winding Down
Have you ever noticed your dog shake his fur after a rigorous play session, or after he’s completed an activity? While a fur shake can sometimes signal stress, the flipside suggests he’s calm and winding down. “In certain circumstances, a fur shake can actually relax the muscles and even signal that he’s feeling friendly, but less interested than before,” Schwartz suggests. “It’s not uncommon to see your dog shake his fur to let friends know that playtime has been fun, but he’s done.”
Has your dog been having skin issues? Are his ears bothering him, or has he been favoring one more than the other? If not emotionally uncomfortable, being physically uncomfortable could be a reason why a dog may shake his fur. “If they’re shaking while scratching, it could be allergy related or something irritating their skin,” Deeds says. “But it could also be a sign of a foreign body in the ear, such as debris, mites, or ticks.”
Schwartz also believes that shaking while scratching could be due to irritation or an ear issue. “It could be an ear infection, water in the ear after a swim, or possibly an insect,” Schwartz says. “Sometimes you can see what’s bothering them by looking into their ear, but it’s usually best to have your veterinarian use an otoscope to get a deeper look.” If you’ve recently gone on a doggy-date to a wooded area, be extra cautious to make sure your dog didn’t bring anything home that might make him uncomfortable.
When to Be Concerned
While a dog shaking his fur can be attributed to a few different reasons, it’s important to remember the difference between fur shaking and general trembling. “The body shake is a normal behavior in dogs, but shaking is not,” Schwartz warns. “If generalized shaking and trembling persists, your dog should be seen by a veterinarian to rule out any anxiety issues.”
Pet owners should always be on the lookout for changes in behavior, and take notice when their dog might be shaking and why. “I think it is important for owners to always be aware of what their dogs are doing and how they are behaving,” Deeds says. “If the dog is shaking off due to stress, it would be important to identify what was happening before the shake off so that you can modify the situation, or work to make the dog feel less stressed.”