Dog with ruffled ears from shaking

Why Dogs SHAKE (3 Reasons)

Introduction: A Difficult Behavior To Pin Down

Shaking is one of those ubiquitous dog behaviors that most of us don’t even notice. However, for the responsible dog owner who wants to make sure that their dog has the best care possible, it pays to notice everything.

Shaking can be one of the most difficult dog behaviors to explain, just because it can have so many different causes. A shortlist of the possible causes would include fear, pain, anxiety, cold, or fatigue. And those are just the common causes.

With a little help and a little research, it is possible to pin down the reason for your dog’s shaking habit. Bear in mind that this behavior does not always indicate a problem. In many cases, it represents only a small and temporary problem.

Different Types Of Shaking

Big dog is shaking

Some experts might disagree, but it has been my experience that dog shaking behavior can usually be classified into three categories.

1. The Air-Dryer:

This is one of the most common dog behaviors known to man. When a dog is wet, they can shake off up to 70% of the water that their coat is holding. Of course, it’s not so good if they do it indoors, but it’s a normal behavior nevertheless.

If you see your dog shaking, and you are concerned about it, check to see if they are wet. Also, this kind of shake will not be a shiver or a tremble. It will be a forceful and deliberate shake. This one is easy to recognize and warrants no concern.

Bear in mind that water can get into your dog’s ears, and they may shake their head vigorously to remove it. The ears of a dog are very sensitive, so don’t be surprised if they shake a while after taking a swim.

2. The Tremble

This is a steady shiver which appears to be an unconscious movement. This makes it the opposite of the air-dryer. This kind of shake might involve the entire body, or it might involve specific limbs.

Unlike the other two types, this one can actually indicate a serious health problem. However, it can also indicate numerous minor problems as well. To tell the difference, you have to look at the entire situation and take the information in context.

3. The Attention-Getter Shake

Although all dogs do not do this, it is typical behavior that warrants no significant concern. Sometimes, a dog will shake their head for no other reason than to get your attention. This is usually accompanied by pawing and whining.

Your Dog Could Have An Ear Problem

Excessive head shaking should be looked upon as a potential problem. In many cases, this is the most obvious sign of an ear problem. Of course, if you want to be sure about your diagnosis, you need to learn about some of the other signs of canine ear trouble.

Physical Blockage

First, there is the danger of physical blockage. Dogs are rowdy animals who tend to get themselves into all sorts of messes and trouble. In the course of all this, it is not unheard of for the dog to end up with something lodged in their ear.

Most of the time, this will just be dirt or plant material. If you suspect that your dog has a foreign object in their ear, make sure you do not use cotton swabs. Chances are, you will only push the intruding object further down the ear canal.

This kind of problem will likely be accompanied by a lot of pain and irritation, so you will probably see more from your dog than just a shake here and there. When you consider how important a dog’s hearing is, this is a serious problem.

Allergic Reaction

Dog is shaking near the sea

Most canine ear problems are allergic. Since this is by far the most common cause, it warrants a little more attention. Most of these problems result from airborne allergens or food allergens.

Airborne allergens are virtually impossible to avoid, but there are things that you can do to minimize their impact. One important step is to bathe your dogs frequently and keep their environment as clean as possible.

In the case of a serious allergic condition, you may have to take extreme measures. Keeping your dog in the house at all times is one option, though it is not an easy one. Walking your dog on concrete and avoiding the grass can also help to minimize exposure.

Antihistamines (anti-allergy medications) are available for dogs, but they are not usually prescribed without a serious need. This is where you need the guidance of your veterinary professional in order to decide if this option is right for your dog.

Food allergies are, thankfully, much easier to handle. If you suspect that your dog is having a bad reaction to the food you give them, switch brands. Try an entirely different kind of dog food, and try to avoid both the cheap stuff and the fancy stuff.

Bacterial/Fungal Infections:

If you see any strange discharge coming from your dog’s ears, combined with a lot of irritated head-shaking, it’s a good bet that a biological infection will be the culprit. There are many opportunities for exposure.

Most of the time, antibiotics are required to deal with these kinds of problems. However, if this becomes a chronic problem, you will need to employ non-antibiotic solutions as well. Otherwise, the pathogens will build up resistance before long.

Thankfully, some herbal solutions have been successfully used to treat canine ear infections. Although there is not a lot of research on the subject at this point, you will find a study in the sources (below) that addresses the issue nicely.

Your Dog Could Have Parasite Issues

Big red dog is shaking

Sometimes excessive shaking can be the result of parasite infestation. Fleas are the most obvious problem creature, but mites should not be ignored. They are smaller than fleas and almost invisible to the naked eye. Their effects are far from invisible.

Mites are the main cause of mange in dogs, so they should not be taken lightly. If your dog has ear mites (a common problem for dogs who live with cats), you need to deal with the problem immediately, before it becomes a much larger problem.

Fleas are a little easier to detect, and thus a little easier to remove. You can part the hair on their body and see where the fleas are concentrating. Like humans, fleas will tend to congregate in certain areas. This is where your flea poison goes!

Parasites can irritate a dog and make them constantly shake as they seek relief. All of these parasite issues will require insecticidal medicine to deal with them. Frequent bathing and regular application of preventatives are the cure for this.

It should be noted that there are some herbal solutions to these parasite issues for those who are nervous about bringing insecticides near your pet. Although the traditional methods are usually safe, your trepidation is perfectly understandable.

One little note: You will, of course, want to get a dog shampoo that is intended to kill fleas. When you use it, make sure you do not get any shampoo in your dogs’ ears. This is never a good idea, even if their ears are infested. You can, however, apply the shampoo around the ears.

Your Dog Could Have Muscle Weakness

One problem that can affect your dog is myasthenia gravis. This is a health condition in which the muscles become progressively weaker and weaker until the dog is unable to engage in most physical activity. Thankfully, this problem is uncommon.

To explain this problem simply, it is a breakdown of communication between the nerves and the muscles. When the muscles do not respond properly to the instructions from the brain, difficulty in moving will be the normal result.

If you suspect this condition, understand that it can affect a dog’s ability to breathe properly, and is thus a serious threat to their health and safety.

If your dog has muscle weakness, you may notice a muscle tremor in one or more limbs. Before you rush to the vet, however, look for the other signs and symptoms. If your dog is regularly active and energetic, you can probably rule this problem out.

Also, bear in mind that your dog may experience a slight muscle tremor after engaging in strenuous physical activity. So, if your dog runs around in the yard for four hours straight, don’t be worried if you see a little shaking from his muscles.

Consider The Dog’s History

Cute dog is shaking

A dog that shakes a lot could simply have issues with fear and anxiety. When this seems to be the case, you need to think about the dog’s history. Chances are, there will be a reason for their anxiety, though this is not an absolute rule.

When dealing with a dog that you did not raise, this can be difficult in the extreme. There may be cases where the owner simply has no way to know what sort of trauma a dog might have experienced with their previous owners.

In any case, you still have an animal to deal with, and a fearful animal isn’t usually a happy one. You need to figure out two things above all else: Triggers and comforts. So, let’s explain what I mean by that.

Sensitive dogs will usually have certain events that trigger memories of trauma and cause fear, aggression, or perhaps both. For instance, I once had a dog that would go crazy at the sound of a weed-eater. Learn your dog’s triggers, and you can learn to avoid them.

As for comforts, you need to figure out the things that soothe your dog. Their favorite treat combined with some petting and gentle talk might be a good way to begin if you are dealing with a neurotic and paranoid canine.

Once you have learned these things, you should be able to put a stop to your dog’s fearful shaking with an easy step or two.

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Should I Take My Dog To The Vet When This Happens?

Dog is shaking

This is a difficult question. In the end, only your best judgment can answer this one. However, I will give you a few guidelines by which to judge whether or not your dog requires medical attention with regards to a shaking problem.

First, think about how often you are noticing this shaking behavior. If it only happens once in a while, it’s probably no cause for alarm. Sometimes, dogs can become anxious for small reasons just as humans can.

However, if you see a whole lot of shaking, and if it appears to be a persistent issue, a visit to the vet might be in order.

Second, consider the intensity of the shaking. A light, lazy shake of the head is likely to mean very little (if anything) concerning your dogs’ health. However, if they are shaking their head violently and vigorously, you could have a problem.

Third, consider everything that has happened to your dog lately and consider the possibility that there might be a logical explanation for this behavior.


As you can see, this is a behavior that can mean many different things. However, you can narrow down the list considerably by knowing your animal and understanding their activities. When the ancients talked about “understanding the tongues of animals,” I believe this is what they meant. When we learn to read the subtle body language of a beast, we are truly speaking the language of the beasts.

"If you think dogs can’t count, try putting three dog biscuits in your pocket and then give him only two."
-- Phil Pastoret

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