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Head Bobbing and Shaking

Boxer Dog Head Shaking

Overview

We've discussed many Boxer dog behaviors, and one that seems to keep popping up for a suggestion for us to write about is the question of, why do Boxers shake their heads? Some may appear to have a habit of doing this… with others, owners wonder why a Boxer that never previously did that suddenly begins to.

There are actually a few different reasons for why a dog - and in particular a Boxer puppy or dog - does this and we'll dive into the various reasons.

While some explanations are completely harmless, there are some medical reasons for this happening - including some rather serious ones, so if your Boxer puppy or dog does display this behavior, be sure to keep reading on.
In this section, we will discuss the following types of behaviors and what could be referred to as an idiosyncrasy in some cases:
  • Head shaking as a harmless behavior 
  • Head shaking as a sign of medical issues 
  • Head shaking tremors

Is it Just a Harmless Behavior?

In many cases, this is just a matter of attention seeking behavior, which in and of itself is completely harmless and often amusing. Boxers learn quickly what gets your attention. They are swift students when it comes to figuring out what will wake you up or what will bring about a smile or a laugh. Some behaviors and actions are a way of saying, "Hey, do you see me here? Say you see me!" 

And even if you jokingly toss a pillow at your Boxer, he/she will get the answer that they are seeking. And be assured, your dog WILL ask again later in the day!

Once your Boxer has learned that shaking his head at you either wakes you up or gets you to talk to him, that's it! He or she will keep doing it. Many Boxers will make this a daily ritual. You're snoozing away. Your dog is awake and wants you to be up too… And it starts. He'll crawl up close and starting shaking his head into your face.

For dogs with natural, un-cropped ears, this is compared to having a miniature helicopter in your face, as the quick back and forth motion creates a whirling bird of ear leather slapping at you! What can you do but learn to love it!

The only time you would want to instill training to stop this is if a dog shakes his head into the face of a young child and it is either causing the child to be fearful or is a discomfort to them; however this is very rare since this breed has a natural instinct to protect his human sibling counterparts… The Boxer breed is terrific with children and most naturally do not act out in a way that frightens or causes harm.

One thing is for certain, the Boxer breed expresses their emotions and when all is said and done, that's a great element to have with your canine family member. So many Boxers do this that one could almost list it as a breed trait.

Some Boxer dogs will shake their heads as a signal for special action. It is not uncommon for this to happen if a dog needs to go outside for bathroom needs, so do pay attention to see when this occurs and if it is a sign.

For others, this may not be done for attention, but rather as part of the sleeping process. A Boxer may shake his head when he wakes up (a physical manifestation of 'shaking your brain awake') and less frequently, this may be done before falling asleep.

As long as you do not see any signs of medical problems (discussed ahead), consider this to be harmless.

Quick note: In multiple dog households, it is not uncommon for one dog to quickly pick up the habits of another… So, if you have two Boxers (or a Boxer and another dog), they may shake their heads in unison. Having dogs that are bonded enough to act silly is a pretty great thing and since this is harmless, you mind as well find the humor in it.

Head Shaking as a Sign, Symptom of a Health Condition

There are a number of health reasons for head shaking and they will need to be handled if these pertain to your Boxer. If your dog shakes his head at you to wake you up and then stops and does not do this during the day, most likely there's no problem.

However, if you see your Boxer shaking his head throughout the day - and especially if it has nothing to do with gaining your attention, do please take the time to investigate the following possible reasons.

Foreign Substance in the Ear - Dogs that run around and roll around outside can easily end up with a small piece of debris in the ear. With no way to remove it, the Boxer will then shake his head due to the irritation that he feels.

You can certainly take a flashlight and try to see if you can spot the culprit, but due to how the ear canal is shaped (it curves almost like an L shape) and the fact that a foreign object will cause swelling that closes up the canal somewhat it may be impossible to know if something is indeed stuck in there.

If you can spot something, cleaning the ears in the same way that you clean for excess wax will work in some cases (more on this ahead). In others, the vet will need to be called.

Excess Wax - All dogs have ear wax, just like humans do. It works to trap dust and debris. And sometimes in response to triggers, a dog will overproduce wax. This will clog the canal and lead to head shaking.
 
Cleaning the ears should be done with the proper canine ear solution and cotton swabs (don’t stick Q-tips in the canal). Even if your Boxer never had a problem with this before, it may be time to make ear cleaning a regular part of your dog's grooming routine.
Other Issues - When it comes to continuous head shaking, there are a slew of issues that may be the cause. These range from ear infections to polyps to mites. Here are some signs and symptoms that along with head shaking, will let you know that your Boxer is having a medical issue (Even one of these is a red flag to seek veterinary care):

  • Pawing or scratching the ear(s)
  • When you look at the inner flap, it looks red and irritated
  • Your Boxer also holds his head at an odd angle
  • Intolerance to touching the head/ears
  • Loss of appetite
  • Loose bowel movements
Please remember that when in doubt about your Boxer and if you notice signs that something seems off, it is your signal to bring your puppy or dog to the vet. No matter the cause for the head shaking… allergies, mites, infection and so on, the sooner you obtain professional veterinarian care, the easier it is to resolve the problem and the less your Boxer dog will suffer discomfort.

Head Shaking Tremors

Now that we have already touched on attention seeking behavior and some medical issues that can usually be resolved with a vet visit, it is time to talk about a rather enigmatic and most certainly troubling issue: Boxer dog head tremors in which the head moves in a bobbing motion.

There are 2 main reasons for this: Idiopathic head tremors and Paroxysmal Dyskinesia. With Idiopathic head tremors, unfortunately the 'idiopathic' part of that means 'cause unknown'. With Paroxysmal Dyskinesia, this is a condition of involuntary movements that are NOT related to seizures… And there is no known cure.

With both of these issues, much more research needs to be done and a Boxer should have a complete physical and blood work to rule out seizures. Tests should include testing for calcium and glucose levels, checking liver enzymes, platelets counts and albumen. In addition, taking a video of your Boxer during a head tremor episode will assist the veterinarian in making a diagnosis.

With this issue, the Boxer dog's head moves very rapidly, essentially bobbing and this can be side to side or up and down. The dog has no control over this and it can come on suddenly, often leading owners to panic as they see their Boxer stuck in this sort of tremor.

With both Idiopathic head tremors and Paroxysmal Dyskinesia, the little research that has been done shows that there is no damage or harm that comes to the Boxer. Many Boxers are aware of their surroundings and even able to listen to commands during an episode of head tremors. 

They do not appear to be in pain and some do not even seem aware that their head is shaking or bobbing. With Paroxysmal Dyskinesia, there may also be visible shaking in the neck muscles. 

With both conditions, the typical time that shaking lasts is 3 minutes. This sort of issue may begin at any age and affects puppies as much as it does older, adult dogs. Neither condition is necessarily chronic; with many Boxer dogs the condition may be acute, resolving on its own as suddenly as it began.

Treatment

As mentioned above, do have your Boxer's veterinarian rule out Boxer dog seizures … and it will be important to have an experienced, reputable vet for this since some vets incorrectly diagnose head tremors as seizures and put dogs on phenobarbital. The phenobarbital does not resolve the issue AND with long term use it can cause liver damage.

It is highly recommended to keep a detailed journal to log exactly when the head shaking occurs. This can be incredibly helpful as you may see a pattern develop. The range of triggers for this sort of episode varies wildly - BUT once an owner pinpoints the trigger, it can often be avoided.
Here is a list of eclectic triggers for Idiopathic head tremors:
  • After eating a particular food (head shaking within 20 to 30 minutes)
  • After being given a particular supplement (head shaking within 20 to 30 minutes)
  • After flea and/or tick treatment
  • After being given heartworm medication
  • For females, at a certain time during the heat cycle
  • Temperature changes (i.e. transitioning from a walk in the winter cold to a warmed blanket in the house, transitioning from a jaunt outside in the heat to a well air-conditioned house)
As you can see, with many of these triggers, a few simple changes can stop the head shaking or at least lessen the frequency of head tremors.

Even if an owner is not able to pinpoint an exact cause, there are some steps that one can take that for many Boxers, has shown to bring about improvement. This includes:
  • Changing the main diet of the Boxer dog. Even with a high quality brand, you just never know which particular ingredient may be causing such a baffling issue. Therefore, switching brands or trying some healthy home cooking can make a huge difference.
  • Higher dosage of Vitamin B Complex - While there are no official studies showing that this is a cure, many owners have reported this to work in reducing the frequency of head bobbing and tremors. 
  • A SLIGHT increase in calcium supplements - Upping calcium slightly has proven effective for many Boxer puppies and dogs, however do take care as calcium overload can bring about other negative issues
  • Sweet, sugar based treat - A quick dose of sugar into the bloodstream has worked for some Boxers. While some sources will list Karo syrup as a possible source, we do NOT recommend this as it can act as a laxative - particularly for puppies. What can you give your Boxer? A spoonful of honey (if you find that this does the trick, in the future you can gently rub it onto the gums for faster absorption into the bloodstream), peanut butter, plain vanilla ice cream or children's sugar coated cereal.
  • Physical support - Encouraging your Boxer to lie down and arranging a pillow near his/her head can stop head tremors or any sort of soft physical contact with the head may, in some cases, lessen or completely stop the head from shaking. Some owners of multiple dog households report that when their Boxer with idiopathic head tremors lies against another Boxer, the shaking calms down or entirely ceases.

A Final Thought

If you know that your Boxer shakes his/her head simply in play, to gain your attention or to be silly as this breed certain can be, all is fine. However, if you suspect that there is health reason for this behavior, please do not hesitate to bring your puppy or dog to a qualified, reputable veterinarian. 

While some issues can be resolved with minor adjustments to food or simple ear cleanings, other concerns such as infection need to be addressed with proper medication. Remember that when in doubt, it is better to be safe than sorry… We are the voice for our Boxers and must speak up to animal health professionals if we suspect that there is a medical concern. 
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