Dog Shaking: What It Means & What to Do

dog shaking

Have you noticed your dog shaking and aren’t sure what it means or what you need to do to help him? As a dog owner, it can be perplexing when you begin to see your dog acting abnormally and aren’t sure what is triggering the behavior or what steps you should be taking to get him help. Trembling or shaking in dogs can be symptomatic of a number of different causes and determining the underlying condition is essential in making sure your dog receives proper treatment. Below is an introductory guide that will walk you through shaking in dogs and discuss the possible underlying causes.  

Shaking in Dogs: What It Can Mean

Shaking in dogs can be indicative of a number of different potential factors ranging from completely normal behaviors to serious medical conditions. In order to deduce which of these may apply to your dog, it’s vital to be observant of his symptoms and the context. Below are a handful of potential causes of shaking in dogs.

Shaking Off Water

Have you ever seen a dog come out of a swimming pool or a bath only to do a powerful full-body shake? Dogs harness the force of their bodies to vigorously shake the water off of their coats. As a human being, this action can sometimes appear wild as their cheeks shake back and forth and their entire coat appears to move side to side aggressively, but for dogs, this is a survival mechanism that helps to prevent the onset of hypothermia from a wet coat.

Since dogs don’t have blow dryers or towels, they rely on this powerful shaking mechanism to quickly and efficiently dry their coats, which for some dogs are incredibly dense. Wet dogs can actually shake off seventy percent of the water on their fur in roughly four seconds. If your dog has wet fur and is shaking much more than normal, it’s a behavior that is learned over time and adapted to help them stay dry. Your dog should stop shaking once he has dispelled the excess water from his coat. If the behavior persists, there may be another cause for their shaking.

Controlling Body Temperature

Just like humans, shivering may occur when dogs are cold or hot. Shaking in dogs may also be a sign of thermoregulation, which is how the body controls its temperature. Just like shivering helps to control the body temperature of human beings, it serves the same function in canines. Shivering helps the body generate body heat and is triggered when the body recognizes that its temperature is falling outside the range of its desired threshold.

This reaction can occur when the body temperature is becoming too high and the dog has a fever or when his temperature is dropping too low and the body is warding off hypothermia. Think of shivering as the body’s way of helping get its temperature back to normal, similar to how you would adjust your thermostat if a room became too hot or cold. Once your dog’s body temperature returns to normal, the shivering should cease. If the behavior continues, veterinary intervention may be required to determine if any type of treatment is needed.

Shaking with Joy/Excitement

One of the most well-known characteristics of dogs is their ability to have fun and express joy. For some dogs, their expression of joy and excitement may include shaking and trembling. Dogs can’t show emotion in the same way that a human does so they have to utilize other means to convey what they are feeling. A dog may shake with excitement at the prospect of a long walk with his owners or a playdate with a fellow pup. The shaking and/or trembling should be temporary and subside when the excitement wears off. If it persists, there may be another reason for the shaking and a physical examination by a veterinarian may be needed.

Shaking Due to Stress/Fear

Just as dogs can shake when they feel joy and excitement, they can also display shaking as a response to stress and fear. This type of shaking will present very differently than joyful shaking and is an indication that the dog is feeling anxious or stressed about something around them or happening to them. Common triggers for stress-induced shaking include fireworks, thunderstorms, their owners leaving for an extended period of time, and going to the vet.

Depending on the dog and his unique personality, there can be any number of potential triggers for stress or fear-induced shaking. These periods of stress-induced shaking may also have other accompanying behaviors, such as being destructive to items in the dog’s immediate surroundings, canine crying, or aggressive behaviors. Some breeds are more prone to anxiety, but it also depends on the personality and behavioral traits of the individual pup.

Some dogs may be able to overcome stress-induced shaking by working with their owner and a trainer to find other methods for dealing with stress and anxiety. However, depending on the severity of the stress and shaking, some dogs may require an appointment with a veterinarian who will examine them and recommend any medications or treatments that may help to ease the stress that is triggering the shaking.

Ear Infections

All dog breeds are susceptible to ear infections, whether they are bacterial or yeast canine ear infections. Some dog breeds are more prone to developing ear infections based on the structure of their ears. Dog breeds that are susceptible to these infections include Basset Hounds, Labrador Retrievers, Cocker Spaniels, and Golden Retrievers. One indication that a dog may have an ear infection is persistent head shaking. Head shaking can also be indicative of a number of other conditions, but ear infections are one of the most common causes.

When dogs are suffering from an ear infection, their ears can appear inflamed, irritated, red, and may have some type of discharge. To alleviate their discomfort, they will often shake their heads vigorously back and forth, which can cause further issues to develop due to trauma or injury. Repeatedly shaking their heads back and forth can cause the delicate blood vessels in the ear to break and blood to pool, forming a hematoma inside the flap of the ear. If you think your dog may have an ear infection that is causing them to shake, visit a veterinarian so that they can perform an exam, inspect the ears, and conduct any tests to make a diagnosis and form a treatment plan.


Distemper in dogs is a condition that is caused by a virus and commonly occurs in puppies or younger canines that have not received all of their vaccinations. Symptoms of canine distemper include fever, canine coughing, eye and nose discharge, and tremors, as well as other symptoms. Depending on the severity of the symptoms and the dog, a variety of different treatment methods may be used, such as prescription antibiotics, physical therapy, airway dilators, and fluids to prevent dehydration. If you are concerned that your dog may be suffering from distemper, it is vital to visit a veterinarian