If you are like most dog owners, you delight in seeing your dog play with his toys. And most likely, you’ve also seen your dog grab one of his toys and shake it, perhaps gently and perhaps not so gently. Some dogs shake the toy violently, whipping their heads back and forth and also growl as well. 

What’s going on here?

Well, the most common explanation for this goes back to your dog’s ancestral heritage. Canines are descended from wolves and they are hunters by nature. This “shaking” in wild animals is known as the “kill shake” and is designed to snap the neck or spine of the wolves captured prey, which was often a rodent or rabbit.

Your dog is just emulating that ancestral behavior, which is deeply embedded in his genetic makeup.

When your dog is playing with a toy, shaking it seems to add an extra layer of fun and enjoyment to the play. If you then engage with your dog, perhaps by getting the toy and throwing it in a game of fetch, your dog will likely retrieve the toy and then shake it as he brings it back to you, as if inviting you to continue to play. In this way, the behavior is reinforced.

There is no reason to be concerned about this behavior, or to try to prevent it, as long as it’s carried out only on toys! 

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