Shake it off, Baby!

We’re all familiar with the classic dog trick of offering a paw for a “shake”. But there’s an even better version that you can teach your dog… one that will actually have a very nice side benefit. I’m talking  about the full body shake!

Dogs shake their entire body to dry their coat after a swim or after coming in from the rain, but the most common reason they shake it all out is to relieve inner stress. I’m not talking about “shouldering the burdens of the world” type stress… just the tiny little things throughout the day that cause a bit of pressure. 

Wow, that happens a lot!

Start watching for it in your dog and you’ll see just how often it occurs! If you play tug or wrestle with your dog, see what happens when the play stops. Boom! There’s a shake off! Sometimes, if you hug your dog a teensy bit too long… boom…another shake off. When two dogs meet and sniff, then go their separate ways… yup!… shake off!

Dogs are absolutely genius in this way. They get rid of little stresses as they occur rather than letting it all build up, as we people are so adept at doing. Sometimes though, your dog might find him or herself in a situation that is a bit more stress inducing than usual, (like finding themselves in a crowd, or meeting a stranger for the first time) and they “forget” that they have this tool at their disposal. In those cases it can be very helpful to have the full body shake on cue, so you can remind your dog what they can do to feel better.

Put it on cue!

A method called “capturing” is one way to get this behavior on cue. Capturing simply means that you wait for the behavior to happen on its own and reward it handsomely when it does. You can do this fairly quickly if you know when your dog is likely to shake ahead of time. If you know he or she does a shake off when you pause in a game of tug, take frequent breaks and give your verbal cue or hand signal right before you know the behavior is about to happen. (Don’t use the word “shake” if your dog already thinks that means to offer a paw!)

Be sure to praise lavishly or better yet, have really high value treats on hand! Try keeping some non-perishable but very yummy treats in your pocket each day and see how often you can “catch” your dog doing a full body shake. How often it happens will surprise you! You will also get better at seeing the tiny indications your dog gives right before shaking – that’s the time to give your cue! After about three weeks, you can test your cue and see if your dog shakes in response. If so, BIG celebration and lots of rewards! If not, no big deal! Just keep at it and test your cue again in another few weeks. It can take up to several months for your dog to catch on, depending on how often you are able to capture the behavior.

Once you have this cool new tool, you can help your canine friend shake things off if you find yourself in a tense moment. (Shaking can also help YOU! Just try an Internet search on “stress relief shake off” and see how many human self-help gurus are recommending the practice!) 

Happy shaking!

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