I was working with one of my client’s dog and I noticed something concerning while they played tug with him. Playing tug with your dog is not only fun for us, but it’s great fun and exercise for your dog if done correctly; just like anything else. Like many people, my client loves her pooches and they’re great parents. I give them a lot of credit for adopting such powerful breeds and taking such great care of them. The issue is not that they’re doing something wrong, it’s that they don’t quite understand the subtle nuances of dog body language and behavior. For most people, reading a dog’s body language can be a real challenge so signs of aggression are much too often misinterpreted for play and vice versa because the signs are so similar and subtle.
In the case of my client’s dog, he was latching on to his toy rope, growling, pulling and shaking. All normal behavior for tug-o-war. What causes concern for me is the way the dog played. In this case, it’s not the latching on, or the growling, dogs growl when they play, it’s okay, and it’s not so much the shaking of the rope. This article I found clearly describes why dogs shake their toys. The behavior itself isn’t necessarily bad, but one should be vigilant and pay close attention to how they are shaking the toy and why.
In this article, they go into detail about the different reasons why dogs may do this behavior. Most of them are benign, but I want to focus on the dangerous reason because it is important. If your dog is shaking their toy, you should consult a professional to make sure your dog is not shaking their toy out of aggression. Because as cute as it may look, this behavior can lead to disastrous consequences.
As the article explains, dogs shake their toys because it mimics an old instinct passed down by their ancestor the wolf. When dogs in the wild catch prey, they pick up the small animal and literally shake the life out of them. The violent motion is designed to snap the prey’s neck and backbone killing them instantly. Hunting is hard work and it takes a lot out of the animal during the chase. The action ensures that the prey won’t get away after the hunt.
Domestic animals don’t need to catch prey in the wild, but the instinct is still deep within them and must be controlled with guidance and training because if left unchecked, especially if the dog is shaking out of aggression, the next time that small toy could be a house cat or a smaller pet.
There are a number of training tools you can employ to help your dog keep their instincts in check. I would encourage you to google them and try something that will work for you and your dog. Some of the methods can be really fun. For example, you can encourage the dog to play tug. If and when he shakes the toy, watch for signs of aggression. If you’re not sure, consult a professional. When you see signs, stop immediately and discipline your dog. But for the love of god, don’t ever hit your dog. You’re not punishing it, you just want to let them know that you disagree with what they’re doing.
You should never hit your dog or yell at it. NEVER! You’ll just end up making matters worse. A change in your demeanor is all it takes. Dogs are very intuned to our emotions. If they pick up you’re unhappy with their actions, they will know and most of them will get it. Make sure to reward your dog as he makes progress. That will encourage the right behavior and the dog will make the connection that aggression towards toys is not allowed. Training a dog is not difficult. The system is already in place for us in their psyche. Dogs want nothing more than to please their masters. Use that to your advantage and have fun with it.