One of the most iconic dog scenes found in movies is the one where the family or person gives the dog a bath. Of course, halfway through said bath, the dog shakes flinging water and usually mud, all over the bathroom walls.

Dogs will shake off water to hasten the drying process and stay warm.

But what does it mean when your dog shakes when he is dry?

A dog doing a “dry shake off” is conveying to you that whatever happened right before was a little bit stressful. The shake helps them cope with being uncomfortable and is a way for them to express that discomfort.

For example, when you eat something tart, you’re likely to shake your head back and forth until the taste dies down. Or after an athlete is knocked down, the coach will tell them to “shake it off”.

Shaking our bodies provides a neurological reset that many other things can’t achieve.

When a dog shakes off, it is a good idea to pay attention to what happened right before the shake-off occurred. It happens after a stressful event and gives important information about what makes your dog uncomfortable.

Here are a few situations in which you may see your dog shake off:
1. Two dogs are playing and chasing each other. The chaser catches up to the chased and knocks him down so he trips and rolls. After standing back up, instead of resuming the game, the chased dog shakes off. The chaser may mirror the chased and shake-off as well.
2. A child starts crawling toward a dog relaxing on her bed. The dog gets up and moves to the other side of the room and shakes off. She may either lay down again or leave the room altogether.
3. A friendly stranger enters a home for the first time and the resident dog goes to greet him. He bends over the top of the dog and pets her on the head. She tolerates the attention, ducking somewhat out of the way. After the stranger stands back up, she shakes off.

All these situations are big signs of what events cause your dog to be uncomfortable. If my dog always shakes off and leaves after my child starts crawling toward them, I would know to be more vigilant in preventing that scenario. If my dog always shakes off after a stranger pets their head, I would tell new people that her favorite spot to be pet is on her shoulder or chest.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Dogs should be able to deal with some stress. Stress and frustration are part of everyday life that we can’t always protect our dogs from.

But, if situations continue to repeat themselves and our dogs feel like they aren’t being heard, they may feel the need to escalate their behavior.

We can let our dogs know that we are there to help by listening to them when they are communicating in these subtle ways. They don’t have to do it on their own.