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What do "shivers" and "shakes" mean with a dog?

There are various ways an experienced dog handler can read and understand the behaviour of a dog. The obvious ones are their tail, eye contact, body language and verbal cues to how a dog is feeling and reacting. But did you know that if your dog has a quick shake or even trembles these are also behaviour cues that you can use to try to understand a dog all the more with.

A "stress tremor" or "stress shiver," is a physical response seen by dogs in situations that cause them anxiety, fear, or stress. During a "stress tremor," the dog's body may shake or tremble involuntarily, similar to you shivering when very cold. This behaviour is often accompanied by other signs of stress, such as panting, pacing, lip licking, avoidance behaviour, or cowering. Stress shivers can occur in various situations, including visits to the veterinarian, exposure and hearing loud noises, unfamiliar and new environments, encounters with unfamiliar people or animals, or during thunderstorms,fireworks and loud noises.

It's essential for dog guardians to recognise signs of stress in their pets and provide comfort and reassurance to help alleviate their anxiety. If stress tremors occur frequently or severely, consulting with a professional dog behaviourist may be beneficial to address the underlying causes of stress and develop behaviour and training strategies for managing it. If their behaviour is confident and fair it maybe a health issue that is causing stress or even pain to which a visit to the vet is suggested.

A "de-stress" shake is often overlooked with the majority of dog handlers and guardians.

It is a quick shake of the whole body, often done in a quick 1-3 second shake, so you can see why it is easilly missed! Often when a dog is coming out of a high-anxiety moment, for example meeting a new dog or person, then walking away from them they will have a quick full-body shake. The shake relieves the dog's "pent-up" energy and helps the dog unwind and shake off any anxiety it may have briefly had to deal with. It helps release the tense muscles and emotions the dog had been experiencing. Another example is going to the vet, once the vet visit has finished and the dog is walking out the vet centre door or the consultation room, you may see your dog do a quick de-stress shake to loosen up the muscles and free the mind of the anxious experience they just had.

A "time-out shake" is often seen after energetic play with other dogs. When dogs play and interact with each other, they use energy, engage their brain and generally give their body a good work-out. Once play is finished or the energy drops between the dogs, you will more than likely see a shake to loosen everything up. The shake serves as a means of releasing both physical tension in their muscles and emotional tension. It's common to observe a dog shaking off after vigorous play with other dogs. Although rough play is typically harmless, there are occasions when it escalates to a level that one or both dogs find unsettling. In such cases, they stop, assess each other, and perform a quick "shake-off." This serves as a brief pause in play and enables the dogs to moderate their play or stop it altogether. So these shakes also serve as communication to other dogs too.

So next time you see your dog do a quick shake, try to understand what the shake is telling you by quickly analysing the activity the dog was doing immediately before the shake. The more you recognise and observe these shakes the more you get to understand your dog's state of mind and behaviour.

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