The basic feature of the canine temperament, the rock bottom kernel of canine consciousness from which everything about the dog’s nature arises, is that dogs are endowed with an emotional appetite that far outstrips their physical capacity to consummate it. This has many behavioral implications, the most important one being that they are attracted to each other with a force that can’t be consummated by simple social contact and companionship.
Most dogs shake toys only when they play, but shake their toys to display aggression. If the dog is bouncing around in a playful manner or lowering his upper body as he’s shaking, then it’s not a bad thing. However, if the dog is jumping up slightly, raising its head or shaking a toy over you or a smaller animal, the behavior might be aggressive. This can lead to the dog biting and shaking smaller pets or even young children, so it’s important to stop the aggressive shaking behavior. Work with your veterinarian or an animal behaviorist to create a plan to stop the behavior, which might include removing your attention when he takes an aggressive stance, rewards for proper behavior and appropriate punishments for aggressive behavior. According to Vetstreet, “Evolutionarily speaking, that motion is how dogs would capture and kill their prey — by grabbing and shaking very hard”.
The consensus points to our dogs’ wolf ancestors and the associated hunting instincts. Although our dogs are domesticated, they still have natural predatory instincts; and since they’re no longer are needed for hunting for food, they come through in the play. They’re apparent in behaviors like pouncing, chasing, tugging and others – including shaking, and these are all normal behaviors as long as they are playful.
With regard to shaking specifically, we can look to wild dogs and wolves that kill small prey by shaking the animal in order to break its spine quickly and end its life. It’s been said a dog displays this instinctive behavior in much the same way during play: a dog shakes his toy, or his ‘prey,’ to kill it.
Given that calming endorphins are released when a dog chews on toys and also during play and exercise, perhaps toy shaking causes the release of endorphins as well, making our dogs feel good and releasing stress. There’s yet to be a study on it, but it certainly seems to be the case! It is basically a natural and behavioral instinct that dogs tend to have with their toys, according to a discussion on Quora.
The simplest function of shaking a small prey animal is killing the prey. Dogs are hunters by genetics and history — in the wild, a dog’s survival may depend on his ability to hunt and kill small animals for food. Wild dogs commonly kill and eat small rodents, from mice or rats to squirrels or rabbits. Shaking one of these small animals quickly kills the prey, usually by breaking the neck or spine. Your domestic dog may still have a strong instinct to kill similar small prey animals.
By shaking a toy, a dog is practicing the hunting skills that his instincts tell him are necessary to survive. An adult dog may use a toy to teach puppies this skill. In the home, dog toys provide a safe and appropriate outlet for your dog’s killer instincts. They can also be a great way for your dog to burn off his excess energy, and keep him out of your way while you are cooking or working. Additionally, “killing” a toy builds your dog’s upper-body muscles, works his fine motor skills and coordination and strengthens his jaw and teeth.
Shaking a toy may look like a lot of fun for your dog, and watching her in action can be entertaining. However, the joke is over at the moment your dog transfers this shaking behavior to anything other than a dog toy. Shaking behaviors can become a serious problem if a dog starts picking up and shaking other pets — or even young children — in the home. Cats, babies and other pets could be in serious danger if your dog’s shaking behavior becomes problematic.
Teach your dog from the outset that she can only pick up her own dog toys in her mouth. If she picks up and plays with anything else — for example, your old sneakers or a child’s soft toy — do not allow her to continue this behavior. Tell your dog “no” and quickly retrieve the item, providing her with an appropriate substitute such as a dog toy or chew. You can make this process easier by teaching your dog the command “drop” or “leave it” — when she follows this command quickly, give her plenty of praise. If your dog refuses to drop the item, don’t get into a tug of war with her, as you risk getting bitten. A small water pistol can be helpful in teaching a dog what she may or may not pick up in her mo
Ultimately, dogs end up being attracted to large, dangerous animals or some other type of challenge (these various challenges come through all manner of endeavor, otherwise known of as breed traits) that when overcome does indeed consummate the chronic state of internal pressure that the canine emotional appetite induces. But one of the lesser manifestations of the canine emotional makeup is that dogs can’t just play with a toy, they must make prey on a toy with an intensity commensurate with their constitutional state of frustration and this leads them to shake, rip and tear it into oblivion. Unlike a cat that hunts by instinct, dogs hunt by appetite (emotional hunger) and setting that squeaker free is as close as the dog can get to feeling free when all it has is a fluffy toy to make prey on.
If you enjoyed learning about why dogs shake their toys, you may be interested to figure out why dogs are very hyper after a bath.