Search Menu
mayalain/Getty Images Plus

You’re taking your dog for a walk, and suddenly it’s pouring. When you get back to your front door, you have a dripping wet dog. You walk into the house, and the first thing they do is shake off from head to tail. Water goes everywhere, including all over you. How many times has this scenario happened to you?

There’s a command you can teach your dog to prevent this situation that is quite simple: teach the “shake” command. And this doesn’t mean asking for a paw. In this case, “shake” means to shake off that water before coming into the house.

The Wet-Dog Shake

Why do dogs shake off when they’re wet? It turns out shaking is a very effective way for a dog to get dry. Researchers at the University of Tennessee and the Georgia Institute of Technology observed videos of wet dogs and other wet mammals. They concluded that to avoid hypothermia, furry mammals will dry themselves off within seconds by shaking their bodies efficiently from head to tail. This lets them to conserve the energy it would take to carry around a water-logged coat and wait for the moisture to evaporate. Dogs have somewhat looser skin than humans do, which helps them shake off effectively. They call this behavior the “wet dog shake.”

German Shepherd Dog shaking water off on a hot summer day.
rogercm/Getty Images Plus

Have you ever noticed after your dog goes for a swim, they immediately run to your side and then shake off? Unfortunately for the humans who love them, wet dogs prefer to be close to their pack members — including their owners. Maybe they can’t wait to greet you, or perhaps they feel vulnerable when they’re wet and about to shake. It feels safer for them to shake next to their pack member. “The most affectionate creature in the world is a wet dog,” said poet Ambrose Bierce.

How to Teach “Shake”

I’ve always had swimming dogs: a Labrador Retriever, a Curly-Coated Retriever, a Portuguese Water Dog, and now a Lagotto Romagnolo. They’ve all lived up to their heritage by loving to swim. My first was my Lab, who would swim all day in the lake behind our yard if I’d let him. When he came back in the house, water flew off the big guy and soaked the immediate surroundings. That’s when I decided to teach him to “shake” the water off before we came inside.

Here’s how you can teach your dog to shake outside — whether they’re wet from the rain, snow, or a dip in the pool.

Step 1: Capture and Mark the Behavior

Shaking off water is a natural behavior and not one that you can convince your dog to do unless they’re wet, so keep a close watch when your dog is wet. Be prepared to capture, mark, and reward the behavior you want.

As you walk in the rain, your dog is likely to shake several times along the way. As soon as it happens, click or offer a “good dog” response. Timing is everything, so be prepared and consistently recognize the behavior each time it happens.

Dog shaking off water in the yard.
sduben/Getty Images Plus

Step 2: Reward the Shake

Whether you’re using a clicker or verbal praise, you also want to offer your dog a high-value reward for shaking off outside. Carry treats or a favorite toy and give it to them immediately after they shake.

Step 3: Name the Behavior

Once you’re sure your wet dog understands exactly what behavior leads to them receiving a reward, you can use a cue word to name it. I use “shake” with my dogs. It’s an easy, energy-packed word to say. But if you’ve already taught your dog that shake means to hand over a paw, then you probably want to call the behavior something else. Keep it simple. Words like “fling” or “splash” are easy to say.

Step 4: Ask for the Shake

Now that your dog understands what you mean by the word “shake” and has learned to associate that word with a positive payback, you’re ready to ask for the behavior before you go in the house. However, it’s important to ask your dog to shake only when they’re actually wet because that’s when they’re feeling the need to do it.

When you’re outside the door to your house or your car: pause, look your dog in the eye, and say “Shake.” On the rare occasion when the command alone doesn’t work to get your dog to shake off, try following the voice command by running your hand lightly across the length of their back. That usually does the trick. Once they shake, you can go inside and grab a towel to dry yourself off, too.