Dog Shaking Head - What Does it Mean?

Dog Shaking Head - What Does it Mean?

Author WDF Staff


Understanding our dog’s behavior is vital if you would want to be a great dog owner. Dogs might act unusually sometimes, and it doesn’t necessarily mean they have any issues. One of these behaviors is shaking their head. This is typical dog behavior, and occasional head shake is no reason for worrying.

However, if this sort of behavior keeps happening, it could be a reason to visit the vet. You must understand the difference and what you should keep an eye on. Make sure you notice your dog’s strange behavior because detecting a potential problem early can make a significant difference.

What does it mean when a dog shakes their head?

Like we said, dog shaking their head is nothing unusual. There are several reasons why they might do that, and the most common reasons are;

  • They have a piece of grass stuck in their ear canal
  • They have water stuck in their ear canal
  • They are itchy
  • There is an insect that shouldn’t be there.

The force the dog generates while shaking their head is pretty impressive, and if you were ever hit by a shaking head or by a flapping dog ear, you know what we are talking about. If this is the problem your dog is experiencing, one or two shakes will take care of it. You should start worrying if they start shaking their head a lot.

maltipoo shaking head

Why is my dog shaking their head a lot?

Constant head shaking can be a clear sign of ongoing discomfort. There might be a foxtail stuck in their ear or a particularly determined insect, and you should check your dog’s ears. If you can take care of the problem - great. If you can’t see any clear sign of why your dog might be shaking their head, it is probably one of these reasons;

Ear infection

One of the most common reasons dogs shake their head is some sort of infection. It can be a bacterial or yeast infection, and the dog can be pretty irritated by it. Luckily, this type of ear problem is easy to spot. If you check your dog’s ears, there will most likely be swelling, redness, or discharge. All of these symptoms are clear infection signs. If you want to learn more about ear infections, check out this article - Dog Ear Infection - Causes, Treatments & Prevention.

Allergy-induced itchiness

Allergy-induced itchiness can cause your dog to shake their head. Dogs can get a reaction inside their ear canal, which will be relatively irritating, and the dog will do the only thing they can to get rid of it - a head shake. They can be allergic to their food or something from their environment. Whatever it is, there are a few options available to get rid of the reason for your dog’s head shaking.

Vets should first determine what the dog is allergic to. Intradermal tests can determine environmental allergies, but food allergies will require a longer process. Your dog will be put on a limited ingredient diet, and slowly more ingredients will be added until you confirm the allergy. If it is a case of environmental allergy, your vet will advise you to give your dog allergy medication, and the excessive head shaking will stop.

dog shaking head

Water in their ears

One of the most common reasons dogs might shake their head is if they have water stuck in their ear canal. For this to happen, your dog will have to be close to water, which means you can easily prevent that from happening by putting a cotton ball in their ears before a bath or a swim. Water will cause them some discomfort, but head-shaking should take care of that problem. The problem with water in your dog’s ear is that it creates an ideal environment for bacteria and yeast production.

Ear mites

If your dog shakes their head a lot, one possible reason would be ear mite infestation. This is usually pretty easy to notice since ear mites feed on the dog’s skin. They typically cause inflammation, redness, and a bad odor. They also incite wax hyperproduction, so your dog’s ears will be covered in black or red-brownish discharge. Ear mite infestation will cause your dog to shake their head, scratch their ears, and paw at them. Make sure you take your dog to the vet for a check-up as soon as you suspect they might have these parasites. You can read more about these nasty parasites here - Dog mites and how to treat them.

Aural hematoma

An aural hematoma can cause your dog to excessively shake their head. Aural hematoma happens when a tiny blood vessel bursts, and the blood pours in the area between the cartilage and skin. It usually occurs after a trauma like a bite, scratch, or, ironically, excessive head shaking. This is a serious health concern, and if this hematoma is not treated immediately, a permanent disfigurement can occur. Dogs with long ears are particularly prone to this problem, and the treatment requires a surgical procedure.


Ticks love dog ears. They are secluded and often overlooked. Dogs cannot scratch them easily, and they provide moisture and shelter for ticks to drink the dog’s blood. When the tick attaches, it will cause irritation and itchiness, which will cause the dog to shake their head excessively. Ticks are problematic because they carry different viruses and diseases. You should check your dog regularly for ticks and as soon as you spot one, remove them. You can read more about these parasites here - Ticks on dogs.

Neurological disorders

Dogs can suffer neurological disorders caused by nerve issues. These disorders can cause tremors, and some dog owners can confuse them with “traditional” head shaking. Dogs with neurological disorders can develop serious health problems. They can be triggered by different things like tumors, injuries, parasites, viral and bacterial infections, hypothyroidism, and even some cancer medication. Make sure you keep an eye on your dog and contact your vet if you think anything suspicious is going on with them.

Now you know different reasons a dog might shake their head. If your dog is doing that, keep an eye on them and remember, head shake every now and then is nothing to worry about, but if the behavior continues, make sure you pay your vet a visit.

World Dog Finder team

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