The first time an owner notices that their Doberman is shaking, trembling, or shivering, they are understandably almost always alarmed. More alarming than that is the first time a Doberman owner experiences the all-too-common Doberman head tremor or head bob. Here we’re going to talk about what types of shaking from your Doberman are normal, and which you should actually be concerned with.
Why do Dobermans shake? Dobermans will often shake due to being cold, fearful, or excited. If the shaking seems involuntary and limited to their head, then it may be head tremors or head bobbing, which is very common in the Doberman breed and generally not harmful.
The good news is that the most common reasons Dobermans shake do not indicate anything seriously wrong with them. My last two Dobermans have both had body shakes on occasion for various reasons (cold, scared, etc), and both even experienced head tremors when they were young.
Neither of my Dobermans had any lasting effects from these short episodes, and this mirrors what I’ve heard from countless other Doberman owners I’ve worked with during my time as a Doberman-specific trainer as well. As you’ll see from the information below, this is rarely something to be concerned with.
Why Dobermans Shake, Shiver, or Tremble
There are many reasons why your Doberman might be shaking either their entire body or just their head. Below are some of the most common reasons as it applies specifically to the Doberman breed.
Dobermans will shake or shiver when they’re cold, in an attempt to increase their body temperature. Dobermans have a single-layer coat and lean body mass which means they get cold very easily. This shaking can be slight body tremors or even fairly violent shaking and typically affects their whole body at the same time.
Between their short coat and lean muscle, they just simply don’t do well in the cold. I’ve seen Dobermans shiver when it’s 70 degrees Fahrenheit in their home. If you decide to take your dog’s temperature, remember that 101 to 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit is considered a normal body temperature.
This is a big reason Dobermans are not good “outside dogs”. If you’ve ever seen your Doberman huddle around your fireplace or air vents in your house while the heat is on, you know how easily they get cold. Many owners even get coats for their Dobermans during the winter for this reason.
Simply warming up your dog should solve the shaking or shivering if this is this is the cause.
Dobermans are stoic dogs and often don’t adequately communicate to their owners when they’re in pain. Often an owner’s first noticeable sign that their Doberman is experiencing pain will be shaking or shivering.
If you suspect your Doberman might be shaking due to pain, check for any other outward signs of injury such as a paw or leg injury, cuts, swelling, redness, or any other signs. Dobermans will either shake only the affected area that is in pain, or their entire body will tremble which can be a sign of shock, so it’s important to see a veterinarian.
3. Stress, Anxiety, or Fear
Dobermans are highly protective dogs and often experience heightened stress, anxiety, or fear. This may cause your Doberman to shake or shiver. Since the Doberman breed was originally created as personal protection dogs, they’re very alert dogs. They also instinctually read situations and can at times experience heightened levels of anxiety because of this high level of alertness.
If this is the reason your Doberman is shaking, remove them from the situation that is causing them fear. If this is an ongoing problem, then your dog may not have received adequate socialization as a young puppy. If that’s the case, then begin to focus on gradually increasing your dog’s exposure to new sights, sounds, and experiences to build their confidence.
Serious illnesses or parasites can cause your Doberman to shake. In fact, this can be a sign of shock especially if it’s accompanied by other symptoms such as rapid (but weak) heartbeats, bright red gums, weakness, and unconsciousness.
If your dog has recently been experiencing diarrhea due to some type of intestinal upset, trembling could indicate dehydration. Also, if your Doberman is experiencing abnormal lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea, or a loss of appetite, the cause of the tremoring could be toxic ingestion.
If you suspect illness might be the cause, it’s important to see your veterinarian immediately.
Dobermans will shake when they are unable to contain their excitement. Although this action is generally seen more as gross movements of the body and accompanied with jumping, running in circles, and other such “excited movements”.
As your dog’s owner, you should have a good idea of when and why your dog is excited. If you’re seeing small fast tremors when the dog is sitting still or laying down, it’s likely not the result of excitement.
A Doberman who is shaking with seized muscles, a loss of mobility, and a loss of awareness of their surroundings may be experiencing a seizure. Shaking and tremors are common in Dobermans while true seizures are not. Most Doberman owners who believe their dog is having a seizure almost always are actually just experiencing tremors or shaking for non-serious reasons.
However on occasion, if a Dobie is shaking along with other seizure-like signs such as seized muscles, loss of mobility, and loss of awareness, then it might be a form of epilepsy, and a visit to your veterinarian as soon as possible would be best.
7. Inherited Condition
An inherited condition can cause a Doberman to experience shaking or tremors. Head tremors are very common in Dobermans, are usually harmless, and they’re believed to be an inherited condition in the breed. Although their exact cause is unknown. Head tremors (also called “head bobbing”) are so common in Dobermans that many owners will see them at some point in their dog.
They’re generally considered to be painless and temporary, although their exact cause is unknown. There are many theories about why this is so common in Dobermans. The section below will explore these head tremors more in-depth.
If you experience head tremors in your Doberman, try giving your dog a treat or distracting them with a toy. If you believe your dog might be having a true medical emergency due to another condition, see a veterinarian.
Head Tremors (Head Bobbing Syndrome)
Doberman head tremors are very common in the breed. This is often called Head Bobbing Syndrome, Episodic Head Tremor Syndrome, or Idiopathic Head Tremors. This is when your Doberman’s head involuntarily moves rapidly from side-to-side or up-and-down in a quick motion.
This is very common and is usually seen in younger Dobies (those under about a year of age), although it can affect all ages. This is generally not considered to be harmful or painful to the dog and most owners find they can end the tremors by distracting the dog or giving them a treat (especially peanut butter).
A Doberman’s head bobbing episode can last up to a few hours but typically only last about 3 minutes. They’re also fairly infrequent in affected dogs and they may go weeks or months between episodes. This is generally believed to be an inherited condition in the Doberman breed (source).
Video: Doberman Head Tremors
FOR MORE ON HEAD BOBBING: I’ve done a very in-depth article on Head Bobbing Syndrome in Dobermans with insight into how long these episodes last, how often they come in affected dogs, possible causes, and how you can stop the shaking once it starts. See my Doberman Head Tremors and Head Bobbing article here.
It’s not entirely understood why Dobermans suffer from Head Bobbing Syndrome but it is believed to be hereditary. The gene responsible for this has not yet been identified by researchers so there is currently no genetic test to be done to see if a dog will suffer from head tremors.
The Doberman Pinscher Club of American (DPCA) does have multiple theories for why this occurs so frequently in this breed. These theories include brain abnormalities, an emerging genetic disease, and stereotypy. You can read more about the DPCA’s stance on this issue here.
If you’re seeing chattering or “clicking” in your Doberman’s teeth, without any movement of the head, it could have its own set of causes. To find out more take a look at my article on Doberman teeth chattering.
When in doubt, please take your Dobie to a veterinarian. Remember, these dogs are family too!
Shaking in Doberman Puppies
Shaking in Doberman puppies is usually nothing to be concerned about. It’s typically seen as short bursts of vibrating motions over the entire body. Most Doberman puppies will shake or shiver, especially at an early age. Newborns stay cuddled up close to their litter-mates and will often shiver to stay warm.
When their heat source leaves (i.e. Mom), shaking in short-haired pups like Dobermans is very common, especially in cooler environments. If your Doberman’s ears are cold, he or she is likely shivering from the temperature and needs additional warmth.
If your puppy shakes for a small amount of time, say, for 5 minutes when he is settling in for a nap, that is generally nothing to be worried about. At a very young age, it’s also difficult for them to have complete control over their gross motor skills. Although less common, t’s possible that the shaking in your puppy has a more serious cause as well, so if you see any other symptoms or have additional concerns, take your puppy to a veterinarian as soon as possible.
Shaking in Doberman Seniors
Senior dogs are generally a little more fragile than their younger counterparts, and a little bit of shaking, especially that which is focused around the legs, can be attributed to old age. That being said, a significant amount of shaking can be an indicator of something else wrong with your dog.
Common Causes of Shaking in Elderly Dobermans
- Arthritis – Elderly Dobermans will also shake when they’re in pain. This can include arthritis, so look for other symptoms such as reduced mobility and discomfort with exercise to support this diagnosis. If you think your dog is suffering from arthritis, contact your vet to get them started on some treatments. Your vet will likely recommend non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.
- Muscle Pain – This is most commonly seen as shaking in the rear legs. Muscle pain is amplified after strenuous activity or long bouts of cardio activity (such as walking). If your elderly Doberman’s shaking doesn’t go away after he’s had adequate time to rest, you may need to talk to your vet. They may suggest massage to relieve and stretch the muscles or even prescribe hydrotherapy.
- Nerve or Tendon Pain – Degeneration of nerves and/or tendons become evident when your Doberman has “difficulty walking, incoordination, weakness in all limbs, and muscle wasting”, according to this study conducted by William B. Thomas, DVM, MS, DACVIM from the University of Tennessee. This also seems to be more frequently seen in older Dobermans.
Seizures vs. Shaking
The vast majority of Dobermans experiencing body shaking are not having a seizure. A seizure will generally mean your dog’s muscles will seize up, they may lose mobility, and become unresponsive. Whereas during most shivering and even “head bobbing” episodes, your Doberman will remain responsive to you, as well as their surroundings.
The most common causes for true seizures in dogs are the various forms of epilepsy and lucky this is not a common condition in the Doberman breed, although it can happen. The video below will give you an example of a Doberman experiencing a seizure.
Video: Doberman Having an Epileptic Seizure
It’s a good idea, to try and catch your Dobie’s shaking episode on video for your veterinarian to see so they can help you determine if your dog’s behavior is normal, or if it’s due to a seizure that could indicate a brain or nervous system abnormality.
When to Call Your Vet
For starters, if you’re not sure why your dog is shaking, it’s probably a good idea to call your vet. In my opinion, it’s always better to be safe than sorry, and the only thing that a trip to the vet will hurt is, perhaps, your wallet.
That being said, there are some indicators that your Dobie should go to the vet right away. Pay attention to their stool and urine. If the stool is soft/runny, if their urine is an unusual color or odor, or your pet is pooping and peeing with increased frequency, it’s a good indicator that they need to go to the vet. Vomiting, limping, or general unusual behavior are all indicators that it’s time to get a vet involved to figure out the cause of your pet’s shaking.
In other words, when in doubt, see a veterinarian.
Many inherited health conditions and defects in the Doberman breed can be identified as soon as the dog is born through a simple swab of their cheek saliva! Even better, you can do this yourself at home. I show you how in my DNA Health Testing Guide for Dobermans here.
Overall, shaking and shivering in Dobermans is a fairly common occurrence for many reasons. It can, and often is, harmless, but if the cause isn’t immediately apparent or accompanied by other symptoms, it might be a good idea to get your vet involved to be safe.
If your Doberman is experiencing unusual head bobbing, it’s very likely that it’s suffering from Bobbing Head Syndrome or Head Tremors which is very common in the Doberman breed and most often harmless, although it’s still a good idea to confirm this with a veterinarian professional.
Overall, take a deep breath. You do need to figure out why your Doberman is shaking so you can know if any further steps are necessary to keep them healthy, but the chances are that it’s due to one of the many common causes of shaking in this breed that is also likely to be harmless.
Why Does My Doberman Tremble? Your Doberman may tremble for a variety of reasons. In general, if they’re cold, excited, or anxious they will shake. If your Doberman’s head is bobbing up-and-down or side-to-side, it’s a good indication that they’re suffering from Head Bobbing Syndrome.
Why Does My Doberman Shiver While Sleeping? Dobermans often shake while sleeping as a means of generating additional body warmth or as a natural response while in a dream state.