Recently, I was driving a new canine client to the park for a training session. At some traffic lights, I glanced at my four-legged friend and noticed he was trembling. Like, full-body, shaking-the-car, trembling.
In my mind, I began to go through the list of possible causes. Was my short-haired dog pal cold? Was he nauseous riding in the car? Was he afraid of riding in the car or afraid of riding in the car with me, a relative stranger? Or maybe he really needed to pee?
I pulled up to the park and turned around to check out my friend. What had been shaking 30 seconds ago had now morphed into bouncing and pawing at the door handle. I hustled out of the car and extracted the dog from the back. He bounced around, barking at me to hurry up. The mystery was solved. My canine compatriot wasn’t shaking from fear but from anticipation. He was so thrilled to go to the park that his whole body was trembling with excitement.
A shaking dog isn’t always a frightened dog—sometimes joy is the culprit. But if you don’t know much about the subject, your dog’s shivering may seem a little scary. There are, in fact, several common reasons for dogs to tremble. Here, we break down five possible causes and give you some ideas about how to make the shaking stop.
1. Your Dog Is Cold
They may be covered in hair but dogs get cold just like us, especially if their hair is thin. And, like humans (or, like me, at least), they may get cold even when the thermostat is at what’s deemed to be a comfortable temperature. If you aren’t sure if your dog is feeling chilly, try touching the underside of their ear. If it’s cool to the touch, their body temperature may have dropped enough to make them feel cold.
What to do: Never underestimate the power of a good, old-fashioned doggy sweater or vest. My thin-haired Great Dane cross religiously wore a zip-up camo puffer on cold mornings. Inside the house, layer your dog’s bed or favourite sleeping spot with extra blankets so they can snuggle up when needed.
2. Your Dog Is Excited
An excited dog may be so full of anticipation that they literally shake with it. This can happen at any time, whether your dog recognises they’re on their way to the park, if they hear a visitor pull up outside, or spot you filling up their Kong with delicious treats.
What to do: In most cases, there’s only one thing to do if your dog is shaking with anticipation: enjoy watching your pup’s excitement grow and bask in the joy they feel when the waiting is over. If your dog has trouble with over-arousal, regularly getting themselves into trouble at the dog park or jumping on visiting guests, take the edge off of their excitement before allowing them to engage. Try playing tug or fetch, or using a flirt pole to burn off a bit of energy before the real fun begins.
3. Your Dog Is Frightened Or Anxious
Shaking or trembling is a common fear reaction in dogs. Often, when fear or anxiety is involved, shaking will be combined with other body language cues such as a tucked tail, hunched body, and flattened ears. You may also catch your dog licking their lips or nose, yawning, whining or attempting to hide.
What to do: It depends on the trigger, but in most cases, the first thing to do when your dog begins to shake from fear is get them out of the situation—ask the stranger to stop petting them, leave the dog park, or cross the street to get away from the construction noise.
Speaking to your dog in a reassuring voice may also help reduce their stress. If they’re willing to eat treats, this may also make them feel slightly better. Remember, these kinds of reassurances will not reinforce the fearful behaviour or make your dog more likely to shake the next time they are in a similar situation. Instead, it will provide them with much-needed comfort.
If they’re likely to experience the trigger again in the future, you’ll want to begin working with them on a programme of counter-conditioning and desensitisation. These ‘classical conditioning’ training techniques will slowly help your dog become comfortable with ‘scary’ things, whether it’s a car ride or other dogs. Working with a certified professional dog trainer or veterinary behaviourist will help you to understand how best to approach this kind of training.
4. Your Dog Needs To Go Out
If your dog really has to go, their body may let you know. If you haven’t taken your pup out recently or they’ve had a lot of water or a large meal, their shaking may mean they need to go to the bathroom.
What to do: Take your dog out ASAP!
5. Your Dog Is Nauseous Or In Pain
Dogs often do everything in their power to disguise the fact that they’re in pain. That’s why shaking or trembling can be a good indicator that they’re not feeling well—it’s an involuntary reaction that can’t be controlled.
What to do: Before you attempt to address any pain your dog may be feeling, be sure you’ve ruled out other possible triggers for shaking (fear, cold, etc). If you think your dog may have hurt themselves during an earlier walk or play session, gently rub your hands over their belly, along their legs, and between their toes (where a foxtail or stone could be caught). If your dog flinches or cries out, you may be able to pinpoint where the pain is located.
The type of pain that results in shaking, however, often comes from an internal problem and may require X-rays or other tests to identify. Whether you can figure out what hurts or not, it’s important to visit your vet as quickly as possible so that they can make a diagnosis and treat your pup properly.
Armed with these techniques, I hope you’re able to pinpoint the source of your dog’s trembling and address any triggers or issues as soon as possible.
Featured Image: Flickr@BevSykes