6 Reasons Your Dog Keeps Shaking Their Head

If you notice your dog shaking their head frequently, they could just be stressed, or they might have a health issue.

Published February 2, 2023
Woman With Dog Sitting On Floor At Home

It's normal for your dog to shake their head when they get out of the water, but what if they're shaking their head continuously? Dogs shake their heads for a variety of reasons. They may be trying to get rid of an annoying fly or bee, or they may be trying to clear their ears. Our guidance can help you figure out what's going on. If your dog is shaking their head frequently and you aren't sure why, even after you investigate, it's best to have them checked out by your veterinarian or canine behaviorist.

Why Does My Dog Keep Shaking His Head?

Normally, this behavior is nothing to worry about. Head shaking is just something most dogs do, and some dogs do it frequently. A quick head shake is probably not a sign something is wrong. Watch for your dog shaking their head from side to side vigorously. Only when you see frequent, aggressive, or prolonged head shaking should you start to be concerned. Head shaking is different from trembling, where a dog is nervous and their whole body seems to vibrate. It is also different from a whole body shake, known as a "Shake off," like dogs do when they're covered in water and are trying to dry off.

1. They're Stressed

The most common cause of head shaking in dogs is stress. Many things can cause this, but most commonly it's because of the dog being overstimulated by something. The most common reasons for dogs to be stressed are:

  • Being in a new place
  • Being around unfamiliar people or other animals
  • Being left alone in an unfamiliar place
  • Being approached or touched by unfamiliar people or other animals
  • Being picked up and held by an unfamiliar person

2. They're Fearful

Dogs communicate with their bodies, and if your dog is afraid of something or someone, you will likely see it in their body language. If your dog is sensitive to loud noises, then you may have noticed that they're not comfortable around fireworks or other loud sounds.

Dogs can hear much better than humans, and some dogs are known to be more sensitive to noise than others. Dogs with sensitive ears may shake their head in response to the loud noise. Other signs your dog might not like loud noises include:

  • Sudden barking
  • Panting or whining
  • Lunging at the source of the sound
  • Shaking or trembling

3. They're Itchy

It can be hard to tell the difference, but if your dog is shaking their head and you see them pawing at their ears or rubbing their heads, they might have a medical issue. Even allergies can cause the behavior.

Ear mites may be irritating your dog, causing them to shake their heads frequently. Ear infections can also cause head shaking, and this is the most commonly diagnosed medical issue causing the behavior. Foreign objects, such as grass awns or cattails, can bother your dog and lead to head shaking, too.

To figure out what the problem is, check your dog's ears with a flashlight. If your dog sensitive about their ears when they normally don't mind you handling them, this could indicate a medical issue. Look for stickers, dirt, excessive dark brown earwax, or anything out of the ordinary. If you see anything abnormal, it's time to head to your vet for a checkup.

4. They Have Anxiety

If your dog is shaking their head and you can't find a physical cause or outside stimulus that's upsetting them, it could be because they have anxiety issues. It's important to note that this isn't a definite diagnosis. Causes of anxiety can include fear, stress, and excitement. If they have been doing this for years with no other behavioral problems, such as aggression, it's likely that they suffer from anxiety.

Dog with anxiety

If your dog is suffering from an issue like this, try talking to your vet about possible medications. They may recommend an antidepressant or anti-anxiety medication that will help manage the symptoms.

Additionally, you should consider making changes in the way you interact with them. Some dogs respond well to having fewer stimuli around them when they're feeling anxious, so keeping the house quiet would be beneficial in these cases.

If none of these things work, and your dog continues shaking their head frequently after being given medication for their anxiety, speak to a canine behaviorist or your veterinarian about other options.

5. They're Looking for Attention

Your dog may be trying to get your attention. If you're not giving your dog enough attention, they will find ways to get it. Dogs are pack animals and they're incredibly social, so if they feel like you aren't paying enough attention to them, they might be trying to communicate this to you.

This can be problem, because if you offer more attention when your dog is shaking their head, this will further reinforce the behavior. Dogs who learn to head shake to get your attention can make it more difficult to tell if they have a health issue.

If you suspect your dog is shaking their head to get your attention, address the underlying issue. When they aren't shaking their heads, give them extra praise and focus on their routine. The same goes with how much playtime and attention each member of the pack gets from their leader. Set up regular times where all members of the household can spend time together with your dog.

6. They Might Have a Neurological Condition

Although it isn't very common, a neurological disorder can cause your dog to shake their head. Some of these disorders are genetic, and some are caused by an injury, infection, or even a brain tumor. A dog with a neurological problem may have difficulty walking, standing up, lying down, and making sounds like barking.

The most common neurological disorder that causes head shaking is a brain tumor. But don't panic. The likelihood of this being the reason your dog is shaking their head is relatively low. Watching your dog closely can help identify the cause. If you can't figure out why your dog is shaking their head, and they aren't obviously irritated or upset, it's probably time for a vet visit.

Veterinarian holding dog in her arms

Other neurological disorders that may cause head shaking include:

  • Epilepsy. Seizures can cause dogs to shake their heads, but there are other signs of epilepsy, as well. Typically, you won't see head shaking as the only symptom.
  • Cerebellar hypoplasia. This condition affects the brain's cerebellum and causes unsteady walking and balance problems. It can also cause head shaking.
  • Degenerative myelopathy. This disease causes progressive weakness in a dog's rear legs and spinal cord, leading to paralysis and trouble walking. It can also cause head shaking.

Find Out Why

It's good to know that occasional head shaking is a normal behavior for dogs. However, if your dog is shaking their head excessively and you can't get them to stop by redirecting them, it's important to figure out why. If your dog is shaking their head too much, they might even develop a hematoma, or small pool of blood outside the blood vessels. Consult your veterinarian to determine if there are any underlying medical conditions that need to be addressed. If the veterinarian clears your dog, you can then consult with a canine behaviorist to address any behavioral issues.

6 Reasons Your Dog Keeps Shaking Their Head