Many dog owners have witnessed their dogs shaking their fur at some time or another, but what makes these dogs shake their bodies in the first place? As with other doggy behaviors, the reasons why dogs may engage in a full body shake may vary based on context. We often see dogs shake their bodies when their coat is wet or when they get up after a nap, but sometimes these body shakes may seem to occur for no reason at all, but there may be possible explanations that are worthy of discovering.
1) To Get Rid of Water
It’s one of those classic scenes you often see portrayed on newspaper comic strips or in movies or commercials. A dog is given a bath and right upon coming out of the tub he scrolls his fur vigorously with an accomplished look on his face. Those who know their dogs well often prepare in advance for it by taking precautionary measures to avoid the ubiquitous droplets flinging off the dog’s fur. Those who are caught unprepared instead get to enjoy a complimentary shower.
We know that dogs shake their bodies to get rid of the excess water on their coats, but what makes them scroll their fur in the first place? The famous doggy rinse cycle, stems from an innate instinct and dogs didn’t have to take a Dog Drying 101 class to master it. This behavior is adaptive, meaning that it’s productive and has therefore contributed to the animal’s individual’s survival or reproductive success. In the wild, when furry animals get wet in cold weather, there are high risks for hypothermia to set in should they not be able to dry themselves quickly. Thanks to the full body shake, animals can use a mechanism that is similar to shivering so they can effectively dry themselves within minutes, explain Andrew K. Dickerson, Zachary G. Mills and David L. Hu in a study published in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface. This fast and energy efficient doggy rinse cycle therefore allows dogs to conserve energy as carrying a heavy coat and generating heat to allow it to evaporate can be quite consuming from an energetic standpoint.
Did you know? Allowing a wet 60-pound dog to carry an extra pound of wet fur and allowing it to evaporate would take approximately 20 percent of his daily caloric intake!
2) To Get Rid of Debris
You’re familiar with the drill: your dog wakes up from a nap, stretches, then takes a step, slows down and then engages in a full head-to-tail body shake. Afterward, the dog goes back to his usual activities. Why do dogs scroll their fur after waking up?
Again, this behavior is reminiscent of a dog’s past, but this time dogs aren’t getting rid of excess water, rather their focus is to remove anything that could have clung to the dog’s fur while sleeping. Before dogs were allowed to sleep on sofas, couches or Kuranda beds, their sleeping areas encompassed grass, dirt and other natural surfaces. It is therefore instinctive for dogs to shake their bodies after lying down so they could remove any dirt, awns, dust and debris from their coats.
Deprived from opposable thumbs, dogs must find alternate ways to rid themselves from an annoying itch. Sure, they can use their legs and teeth to scratch certain spots, but for those few areas that are hard to reach, dogs must rely on other ways to get relief. A nice body shake will often suffix when dogs feel something odd on their coats and attempt to get rid of it. A dog’s coat has several hair follicles supplied with nerves that relay sensory information to the brain which in turn elicits the dog’s fur shaking behavior just when something doesn’t feel right.
This type of body scroll is often seen in dogs after being groomed, which can upset the owners who have worked hard on creating fancy hairdos. Sometimes we must put ourselves in our dogs shoes and realize that back in time, there were no groomers, therefore subjecting dogs to stylish hairdos can make their fur feel weird which may trigger a body shake to get things back to normal. It’s therefore quite normal for dogs to scroll their fur after cleaning their ears or to get rid of that annoying bow on the head that has your dog wonder whether there’s some odd bug crawling on his skin. Other triggers for shaking the fur include the presence of pesky parasites, skin irritations and itchy ears. So should your dog be scrolling his body or his head repeatedly, consider that some sort of irritation such as an ear infection or bad teeth may be the culprit, claims veterinarian Rick Huneke at Washington University School of Medicine.
We often associate shaking the fur with removing water or some other irritant from the coat, but in some cases, it may be indicative of something going on at an emotional level. When shaking the fur occurs out of context, such as when the dog is not wet or waking up from a nap, it can a sign that the dog is shaking his fur as a sign of relief.
You may stumble on this type of fur shaking after the dog is suddenly pet from a stranger or after encountering another dog that perhaps was a bit grumpy. It’s almost as if the dog says “phewww, glad that’s over!” and by scrolling the fur the dog is getting rid of stress and tension. So it doesn’t hurt to watch in what context the fur shaking behavior occurs as it could be telling us something about the dog’s interaction and how he may feel.
“When I am training dogs, I often look for them to give that quick shake at some point because training can be stressful for them.” ~ Cis Frankel
- Urban Dog: The Ultimate Street Smarts Training Manual, By Cis Frankel, Willow Creek Press (September 1, 2000)
- MadSci Network, Why do some dogs sometimes shake their heads vigorously after waking up?, retrieved from the web on May 19th, 2016
- The Royal Society Publishing, Wet mammals shake at tuned frequencies to dry, , , .