Let me preface this article by saying that not all Shake Offs are alike. Dogs shake off when they are wet or when they wake up, so looking at the context in which your dog is shaking off will let you know if she is stressed, anxious or aroused.
Paying attention to how often your dog does the “Shake Off” may show you how stressed, aroused or anxious they really are. When dogs shake off, they are telling you that they are uncomfortable with what just happened. Some things are obvious, while others, not so much. I translate this body language in my Dog Decoder smartphone app, using illustrations by Lili Chin of Doggie Drawings. There are 60 different poses and scenarios. Each pose features three parts: The Pose, The Info and The Details. The app’s star is Diamond.
In the image below, you see Diamond leaving the veterinary clinic, shaking off outside the building. Even though it may have been a routine exam, many dogs are stressed when they go to the vet. Other more subtle situations could be playing with other dogs, greeting new children and adults, being in busy places, at the dog park, riding in the car, in training. You might be surprised to notice that your dog shakes off a lot. Knowing this, you’ll be able to reassure them by taking it more slowly in trigger situations.
Buffet does the Shake Off
Recently, I worked with a pup who was from the shelter in Oroville, California, where the damn broke and everyone was evacuated. He was brought into the shelter, very sick and starved. His rescuers weren’t even sure if he was going to survive. Survive he did, and now he is growing leaps and bounds, in mind and body. His name is Buffet, and as we began training, I noticed that when we work in the house without a leash, he has a blast, but as soon as I put a leash on him, he began to show signs of stress.
He starts barking, grabbing the leash and all of a sudden he becomes deaf. Ha! At least he wants me to think he is deaf. Noticing this behavior, I took the leash off, and he immediately did the Shake Off as if to say, “Phew, that was intense, and I didn’t like it at all!” I knew I had some desensitizing to do in this area to make him more comfortable, training with the leash on. I’m happy to say that tonight, after one week, he is his goofy self while training with the leash on, in our front yard and on the street. No, barking or biting at the leash, and no Shake Off when we were done. YAY for both of us. I read his body language, and he was glad I did.
So, think of the Shake Off as how we feel when something very stressful just happened but it all turned out well. We take that deep breath, a sigh of relief. I often refer to it as a rebalancing of energy after being stressed, excited or anxious about something. Dogs do this behavior to regain a sense of balance or peace, and it literally changes their energy. We do know that there are chemical changes in our body when we are stressed. Well, this is also true in animals. That said, when a dog is relieved of stress, there would be chemical changes in the body as well, and I’m certain the Shake Off is a dog’s way of relieving and rebalancing these chemical changes in their body, just as that deep breath of ours, is.
The image below, is typical of some dogs who are approached by dogs that they don’t know.
Even though dogs love to play and wrestle with each other, there are times when it gets a little intense and you’ll see them separate themselves while one or both dogs does the Shake Off. They may resume play after they regain some balance, or they may not. Noting this behavior can help you realize that this playdate may need to come to an end. Not doing so can be the cause of a fight. Dogs need breaks too, so it’s critical that you learn how to read their body language, especially one as subtle as this one. It can mean the difference between a friendly, playful dog or one who becomes aggressive because we didn’t step in soon enough to relieve them.
Dogs are reading each other all the time and it would behoove us to learn to read their language so that we can be their best advocate to keep them safe and happy.
For more insight, download the Dog Decoder smartphone app via iTunes and Google play. You can also learn more from Sarah Kalnajs’s DVD The Language of Dogs as well as from the book Decoding Your Dog: Explaining Common Dog Behaviors and How to Prevent or Change Unwanted Ones by John Ciribassi, Debra Horwitz, and Steve Dale.
About the author: Jill Breitner is a professional dog trainer and dog body language expert. She is a certified Fear Free Professional for Puppies and Kittens, as well as Certified in Animal Behavior and Welfare. She is the author of Dog Decoder, a smartphone app about dog body language. Join Jill on her on her Facebook page.
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