Why Do Dogs Shake Their Toys?

golden short coated dog with a dog toy on head

Have you noticed that your dog adores shaking their dog toys?  If so, you’re among good company. Many dog owners notice their dogs will shake their toys back and forth, growling at the same time, when they are playing.  They could be playing on their own, or with a furry or human companion.  So, why do dogs shake toys?  What’s going on in that canine head?  Let’s take a look. 

Why Dogs Like to Shake Their Toys So Much?

       There are a variety of reasons why your dog shakes their toys.  Sometimes it could be a combination of those factors, too.  It depends mostly on the dog itself, the family’s situation, and other environmental factors.  Here’s what you’ll need to know about the main reasons why dogs shake their toys:

  • Instinctive hunting nature: Why dogs were domesticated and their redesign “watered down” many years ago, there are still primal instincts in their brain. One of those, derived from the wolf, is an instinctive hunting nature.  While they have plenty of food and treats, there is still that part of their brain, known as the prey drive, that requires them, biologically, to hunt.  So, they hunt their toys.  Shaking their prey is how they incapacitate it and “make the kill”.
  • Grinding their teeth: As a puppy teethes and grows, there is a need to work their teeth down. Dogs will shake their toys back and forth, particularly the ones that feel “good” on their gums, and will help them feel as though they are taking proper care of their teeth.  This is similar to how babies will chew on things when they are teething.
  • Playful: As you most likely already know, a dog’s mouth is its hands. They will also shake their toys back and forth when they are playing and try to engage others around them to play with them.  This is often combined with other play activities such as a wagging tail, panting, and more.  As they get “hyper”, this shaking may be vigorous.
  • Boredom: If a dog is feeling bored, their shaking may take on a whole level. Dogs are naturally pack animals are very social.  If they are left on their own, or their attempts to play with others are ignored, they’ll shake their toys back and forth simply because they are bored and want to amuse themselves.  They may even wander around shaking their toys back and forth in an effort to get someone to play with them or otherwise alleviate their boredom.
  • Anxiety or fear: Some dogs are prone to separation anxiety or just anxiety and fear. If this is the case, the shaking and licking of their toys can be a self-soothing exercise that helps them take charge of those emotions and find some comfort.  It can also be a sign that they need some comfort from a furry or human companion.  In these cases, you’ll find other signs of anxiety, such as destruction of toys (more on that next), and whining, and other signs that your dog is in distress.

Why Do Dogs Like to Destroy Their Toys?

       If you notice that your dog can often end up totally destroying toys instead of simply shaking or licking them, then there are a few factors that can be causing this.  Some of the main ones include:

  • Boredom and pent-up energy: Most likely, your dog is just plain bored. They aren’t getting enough stimulation from playing and shaking, so they decide to entirely rip the toy apart instead.  When they don’t get enough exercise, this is very common in those dogs with a lot of intelligence or physical energy.
  • Anxiety and fear: When dogs get anxious, they turn their attention to taking control of something -- like destroying their toys. This is a classic sign of separation anxiety, and it means that your dog is struggling with how much he or she is left on their own.  This is something that you can address with treatment or even with toys designed to stimulate their attention when you are gone (effectively distracting them).
  • Dedicated attention from humans: Last but not least, some dogs will destroy their dogs because they know it is going to get dedicated attention from their humans. Sure, it might be bad attention, but it’s attention.  If your dog is feeling unloved or neglected (even if this is not really the case) then they will lash out just to get attention. 
       It can be challenging to try to figure out which of these causes is behind both shaking and destroying toys, but the important thing is that pet parents understand what the behavior can mean, and what it can indicate is going on their canine heads.  As far as the details themselves, or how you wish to deal with the issue, it’s entirely up to you and your family, as well as professionals like vets, to decide how to address the concern.

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