6 min read


Why Do Border Terriers Shake



6 min read


Why Do Border Terriers Shake




Everyone loves the affable, cuddly Border Terrier. A Terrier known for his gentler ways, the Border Terrier is a family favorite because of his affectionate, loving manner with children. Yet, make no mistake, his teddy bear-like appearance also houses the heart of a fierce hunter capable of ridding his homestead of nuisance vermin in the blink of an eye. Perhaps you've long admired the breed and have finally taken the plunge to own one of your own. No doubt his comical ways entertain you, and every time you catch him up to some new adventure, your heart swells just a little bit more with love and pride. But, as with all breeds, you periodically see a few quirks, and you're wondering if they are unique to your dog, or if Border Terriers, in general, are predisposed to this behavior. Sometimes, you'll spy your Border Terrier shaking. Your first thought is that maybe he's cold, but it's the middle of summer with the sun beating down on him as he relaxes in your favorite garden chair. Can't be that. What causes your Border Terrier to shake? Is this common to the breed, or is this just one of your dog's own quirks?

The Root of the Behavior

The Border Terrier is a fan favorite amongst Terrier owners. Originally bred to assist their owners on hunting expeditions, the Border Terrier takes his name from the fact that he originated in a region that was connected by two bordering countries, Scotland and England. This game little Terrier was bred to possess a fierce gameness in unearthing prey from under the ground. The Border Terrier is highly prized for his game spirit and tenacious personality. Considered to be a "wash and wear" Terrier, the Border Terrier possesses two coats to provide resistance against inclement weather and to protect against injury when on a hunt. This coat consists of a soft undercoat and a denser, wiry top coat. Owners love the minimal grooming requirements for this breed. Could any of these characteristics explain shaking in Border Terriers? Is this a common breed trait? There are a variety of reasons why dogs shake. One of the most common explanations for this behavior is pain. Dogs who are suffering cannot express to us through language that something is wrong. Shaking provides a means of coping with something that is hurting. 

Many dogs, and particularly Terriers, exhibit extremely high pain tolerances, and as such, give their owners very little evidence that they are uncomfortable or in physical distress. A dog who is shaking may very well be in pain, even a lot of pain. Why do dogs hide their pain? Weakness in the wild made a dog a target for predators. Because of this, dogs would go to great lengths to disguise any sign of discomfort. But pain generally manifests itself in some manner in the body, and in canines, it is through shaking. If your Border Terrier is shaking frequently and this behavior is out of character for him, it may mean a visit to your veterinarian is in order to rule out any illness, injury, or disease resulting in shaking. Some dogs also shake as a response to fear. This is generally not the case for Border Terriers who are highly valued for their spunk and courageous spirit. However, some dogs do develop fears to certain stimuli, and one way they express their unease is through shaking. Some common triggers for dogs can include fireworks, thunderstorms, or even change in a dog's regular routine. 

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Encouraging the Behavior

The most common explanation for shaking in Terriers, in general, is excitement. Terriers are exceptionally tightly wound little dogs. Energy is continually coursing through their veins, and this energy must find a place to go. Often, it is expended through what is known as excitement shaking. You may have seen this in your Border Terrier when you pick up his leash or even your car keys. Those sounds are enough to rouse even the most stoic of Terriers from slumber to an alert, wagging presence at your feet. When dogs are anticipating something wonderful to come, they can't help but wag their tails. Some become so stimulated that they wag their whole bodies, and yes, shake too! Of course, it is important to consider the obvious as well. Some Border Terriers may shake to remove excess debris or water from their coats. Rain sitting on the surface of the coat would become heavy and uncomfortable for your dog. This extra encumbrance would also potentially slow down a dog on the move. Shaking it off then rubbing up against your furniture is your dog's version of a towel and hairdryer. 

Still other Border Terriers may shake as a response to mental stimulation. Their efforts at concentration produce such an effect on their nervous system that it results in trembling. This is not of any concern. It can be a very normal reaction in any Terrier. Other theories purport that Border Terriers may shake if enraged or even cold. However, there is one medical condition that is unique to Border Terriers which could provide the root cause for continuous shaking behavior in your dog. Recent genetic research has uncovered a disease known as Shaking Puppy Syndrome. This serious genetic ailment of the brain is typically first evidenced during puppyhood. Border Terrier puppies suffering with SPS experience shaking of the back legs and instability on their feet. There are a number of breeds affected by this heartbreaking condition. Border Terriers are but one of them. Recently, a DNA test has been formulated to properly test any potential breeding dog for the presence of the genes which can be responsible for SPS. Like other genetic diseases such as Late Onset Ataxia or Primary Lens Luxation, a dog that tests clear is unable to pass on the disease. A carrier of SPS when bred to another carrier will produce this disease, if not in all, at least in some, of the puppies in the litter. 

Other Solutions and Considerations

For this reason, conscientious Border Terrier breeders are adding this simple DNA test to their repertoire of standard health testing. Dogs found to be carriers will only be bred to clear dogs. Any dog found to produce the disease should be spayed or neutered. At the very least, the breeding pairing should never be repeated. Little is known about SPS or even if there is any successful treatment for dogs affected by it. At this point, prevention is the best course of action. Another disease which can produce shaking in Border Terriers is called Canine Epileptoid Cramping Seizures (CECS). This heartbreaking disease generally affects dogs in the later stages of life. It is differentiated from SPS (also known as SLEM or Spongiform Leukoencephalomyelopathy) with seizures and shaking occurring randomly as opposed to SPS where intense tremors begin every time the pup attempts to stand or move. 

Some dogs also exhibit tremors when their bodies are unwell or have become intoxicated with a poisonous substance. This shaking behavior is often accompanied by pacing and bouts of restlessness and hyperactivity. If you suspect your Border Terrier may be suffering from poisoning, it is critical that you take him to your nearest veterinary clinic right away. This is not the time to wait to gauge signs of improvement. Particularly if you are unaware of what is causing the reaction, it is vital that you seek veterinary intervention. To delay could equate to the death of your beloved Border Terrier. Of course, it is always possible that your Border Terrier is shivering with delight at your arrival. Our dogs do love us very much, and one way they express that is through wagging their tails, giving exuberant little kisses, and shaking with pure joy. Where else could you get such a great welcome? Old age can also play a role in shaking behaviors with dogs. If your dog is getting up there in years, his nervous may begin to degenerate resulting in a continual low grade tremor. 


While Border Terriers are not necessarily more prone to shaking than any other breed, it certainly is a common dog behavior. By assessing the potential motivations behind your dog's shaking, you can learn to better understand him and how you can help him. Whether Fido is feeling a little under the weather, is anticipating a trip to the beach, or is just glad that you're finally home, it is important to know and recognize the potential reasons for shaking in your dog. His life could depend on it.

By a Parson Russel Terrier lover Jason Homan

Published: 04/12/2018, edited: 01/30/2020

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