Lately, we've been noticing our younger dog Luna shaking her toys. Particularly when playing with her big brother Brody. It had me wondering, why do dogs shake their toys? I figured the action has roots in some instinctual predatory behaviors. But were there other reasons? So after some research, I found these to be six of the most common reasons for toy shaking:
1. Hunting Instinct
Toy shaking comes from a behavior that dates back to before dogs were domesticated. When wild canines had to search and hunt for prey, they would shake their catch as a way to kill it quickly. Today, shaking toys is an instinctual behavior for dogs that mimics this predatory past. But what was once a hunting behavior is now considered a playful act.
Pro Tip: Try giving your dog toys that look like or match the size of what would have been their prey. For example, a duck-sized toy for large dogs and a mouse-sized one for small dogs. Bonus points if it's a squeaky toy as that will resemble the sound of their prey.
2. Play And Fun
Though shaking toys is rooted in an instinctual hunting behavior, dogs do it for fun. It's often a way for dogs to ask or entice another being - human or canine - to play. For example, our younger dog often grabs a toy and shakes it at our older dog to initiate or encourage tug-of-war play or chase. We've also seen one of Luna's best dog friends shake their ball during fetch, which often indicates enjoyment and a desire to keep going. Dogs may run around shaking their toys as a form of play, particularly when they can't convince you or a sibling to join in. Overall, shaking toys (especially when combined with wagging tails) is your dog's way of saying they're happy, having fun and want to keep playing.
3. Boredom Or Frustration
Dogs are energetic beings that can easily become bored or frustrated if they can't expel that energy, which may lead to toy shaking. If one of these are there reason your dog shakes toys, they may end up destroying it (though many dogs destroy toys out of instinct or for fun as well). Boredom occurs when dogs don't get enough mental and physical exercise for their particular needs. Dogs may then turn to their toys, shaking them to release pent-up energy (much in the way zoomies do). Frustration can also arise when dogs feel as though they are not getting enough attention or not getting what they want. Shaking toys may be a way to get their owner's attention or just a way to release the frustrated energy.
Pro Tip: Make sure your dog is receiving a sufficient amount of physical exercise, mental stimulation and attention. Daily walks, playtime, brain games, puzzle toys, pats and cuddle sessions can all work to alleviate boredom and frustration in dogs.
Another reason dogs shake their toys is because of anxiety. Dogs are sensitive and emotional beings that can develop anxiety, particularly separation anxiety when left alone for awhile at a time. Much like shaking toys releases energy from boredom or frustration, the same can be said for anxiety. A dog may shake its toys to release anxious energy (though they commonly turn to more destructive habits, such as tearing apart household items). Dogs with anxiety typically need more attention and reassurance than dogs without it.
Pro Tip: Exercise can help dogs with anxiety. For separation anxiety, try exercising your dog before you leave them to ease their stress and tire them out. Also give them puzzle toys, feeders or safe chewing bones to keep them busy while you're gone. If none of these help, consult your vet and consider a professional trainer.
5. To Show Aggression
Some dogs do shake their toys as a show of aggression. To determine if your dog's toy shaking is aggressive, pay attention to body language. A dog who is hopping around, relaxed with a lowered upper body is having fun. A dog who raises its head, jumps up slightly or stands over someone while shaking, may be showing preliminary aggressive behavior or prone to developing some aggressive habits. If not addressed, this can lead to dogs acting out on people or other animals.
That being said, toy shaking generally does not mean your dog is aggressive. It's a common and normal behavior for most dogs, so just keep an eye out for body language cues that may indicate otherwise.
Pro Tip: To address toy shaking out of aggression, dog training is recommended. You can consult your vet or turn to a professional dog behaviorist or trainer. Some methods include rewarding proper behavior and removing attention when aggressive stances are taken.
Another reason, though less common, that your puppy may shake toys is because they're teething. During this uncomfortable phase, puppies often grab anything they can put in their mouth. If it's a toy, you may see your pup shaking it to soothe the discomfort.
Should I Stop My Dog From Shaking Its Toys?
In general, there's no need to stop your dog from shaking its toys. This is because the action is most commonly to show enjoyment and excitement or to release pent-up energy. There are a few situations where you would want to interrupt toy shaking:
If your dog has a history of head, neck or back and spine issues. This type of play is not the most gentle and can potentially hurt a dog with neck issues or exacerbate them.
If your dog is playing with a broken toy that poses a hazard. Though rare, there is a chance of accidental ingestion of stuffing or toy parts that can increase the risk of choking or gastrointestinal obstruction.
If your dog is showing preliminary signs of aggression. Toy shaking that is rooted in hostility can lead to problematic behaviors later, so it's best to try to get ahead of it and prevent future issues.