Do you have a dog who nods? If your dog seems to be shaking their head like a bobblehead, it can look quite worrying. So why do they do it? 

We won’t give you the shake-off at Zigzag. We’re here to help! Let’s get down to it. In this article, we’ll go through the reasons that dogs shake their heads, whether you should be worried about your dog shaking their head, the health conditions that can be associated with your dog’s head shaking, and what you can do if your dog’s head does not seem to want to stop shaking. 
Oh, and you’ll want to hear all about Zigzag. Professional dog trainers and behaviourists created the Zigzag training app to make your puppyhood journey as smooth as possible. We have step-by-step training programmes that follow your puppy through each stage of their development, while also focusing on their breed. We also have a dream team of puppy coaches to help and support you every step of the way…especially when you run into trouble. Download the app and start training today!

french bulldog smiling
Photo by Anima Visual on Unsplash

Why does my dog keep shaking their head?

Dogs shake or nod their heads when itchy, have a headache, or feel pain around their face. But head shaking or bobbing can also be caused by neurological issues, so it could be a sign of something more serious and something you shouldn’t leave until later.

Your dog has itchy ears

Head shaking in dogs is often related to itchy or irritated ears. As you have hopefully noticed, dogs don’t have hands, so they may shake their head, or scratch and paw at their ears to try and relieve discomfort. Infection, grass seeds, mites, fleas, and bacteria can make your dog’s ears itch.

To relieve pain in their head

If your dog has a sore neck or head, they can shake their head as a way of relieving pain. They may feel pain from wearing a collar that’s too tight, or from an injury you haven’t seen yet.

To clear their ears of water

If you have a dog who enjoys swimming, they will frequently have water in their ears after taking a dip. If you’ve had water in your ears before, you know how horribly uncomfortable this is, which perfectly explains why they might shake their head. If you think this is the case, check if the ears are dry since watery ears can cause infections – the most common one is referred to as swimmer’s ear.

Your dog may be stressed

Overarousal and excitement can cause dogs to shake their heads, as well as their whole bodies. Some dogs will even sneeze. It’s a bit of a hectic sight sometimes.  
In our guides on canine body language and how to calm your dog down, you can learn much more about these situations and what you can do if the excitement gets out of hand.

golden retriever portrait image
Photo by Erika Fletcher on Unsplash

Should I be worried that my dog is shaking their head?

If your dog has suddenly begun shaking their head, is shaking their head uncontrollably, or you notice an increase in head shaking, keep an eye on them – don’t join them in the head-banging. Check and clean their ears, look for any signs of injury, and consult your veterinarian if you have any questions.

If left untreated, ear infections can be serious and painful for your dog. If you’ve had them before, you know they’re no joke. Talk to your vet immediately if you suspect your dog has one!

It’s worth noting that lots of breeds of dogs have problems with their ears, whether it’s due to their ears being pricked like French Bulldogs, or needing their hairy ears plucked or trimmed in breeds such as Cockapoos, Cavapoos and other poodle crosses.

Other breeds, such as Labradors, Cocker Spaniels, and other water-loving gundogs who enjoy swimming, can have a buildup of water in their ears, so as long as you keep them clean and dry after they jump in for a dip, you shouldn’t have too much concern.

Conditions associated with head shaking in dogs

Head shaking can be a common symptom in the following illnesses and conditions:

  • Ear Infections – yeast, bacteria and mites can all cause ear infections
  • Skin Allergies – these can be related to having a food allergy. Is your puppy eating the right food and getting the correct nutrition
  • Aural hematoma – we call these cauliflower ears, and it’s where blood or fluid fills the ear flap. It’s definitely as nasty as it sounds.
  • Chiari-like malformation (CM) and syringomyelia – brachycephalic toy breeds (how’s that for a long word?) most commonly Cavalier King Charles spaniels are affected, but Chihuahuas and Brussels Griffons can also suffer from it.
  • Idiopathic head tremors and seizures -These look like your dog is saying ‘yes’ by nodding their head up and down or swaying as if to say ‘no’ by shaking their head side to side. Make sure you see this as an indication of something that’s not quite right – your dog has not developed magic communication powers.

What do I do if my dog keeps shaking his head?

cocker spaniel puppy in garden
Photo by Tobias Tullius on Unsplash

If your dog is shaking their head, you’ll want first to give them a full check over, and add ear cleaning as part of your regular grooming routine just to play it safe and stay on top of things.  

Here are some steps you can take:

  1. Have a look inside their ears. Do they look dirty or smelly, red or sore? Start with cleaning their ears, and if you have a hairy breed, trim the ear hair.
  2. You can use an over-the-counter ear cleaner, like Epi-otic, as it’s a good formulation and works well. We like that one. 
  3. Make sure the ears are not left with lots of moisture in them after cleaning.
  4. Check their head and neck for any sore or hot spots which might be causing them pain and inflammation.
  5. Keep a diary that reports what you feed them and if the head shaking occurs to see if you can spot any patterns.
  6. Take a video of your dog shaking their head you can show to your Vet or our puppy training experts. Watching it back will help us give you the right kind of advice. 

It’s always good to have your Vet’s number at hand for a check-up if you spot any signs of ill health and ear infections in your dog. It might be the case that they require more than just over-the-counter cleaning. Only your vet will be able to diagnose something more neurological and run tests that will pick up on them. 

That’s the end of it. We hope we’ve answered your question of ‘why does my dog keep shaking their head’ by now…hopefully, you’re not shaking your head ‘no’. To sum everything up, when dogs shake their heads it’s often related to ear problems and most commonly ear infections. A regular ear cleaning and grooming routine will help to prevent wax buildup and any other nasty problems like ear mites and bacteria that they can result in. Keep in mind that medical issues are always worth discussing with your vet though – it might be nothing to worry about, but you don’t know until you ask. 

Now that you’re here, how about learning more about those pesky ear mites, or learning some tips for new puppy owners?

Don’t forget we have our team of dog trainers in the Zigzag app ready to answer your dog and puppy-related questions. They’ll hear you out without shaking their heads. Download the Zigzag app today to access a personalised training programme for your puppy that covers each stage of development, and helps you deal with the rollercoaster of emotions.