Change · Growth · Resilience

A lesson from my dog on beating fear of scary change


“Shake it off” has become my mantra. Here’s why:

Ever notice how a dog shakes her whole body when she goes from one thing to the next? I really noticed this in our therapy dog club when we have 25 dogs in one room. During a presentation all the dogs settle down and take a nap. When the presenter is done and people start shifting in their chairs the dogs wake up. In that moment they all stand up and take a good shake. The jingle of dog tags rattles across the room as everyone re-orients and prepares for what will happen next. It is a clear signal that we are in transition.

A couple of years ago I was preparing to make a big change in my life so when I noticed this behavior in my dog, I decided to try it for myself. When I would make a move without knowing how it would turn out I would say to myself, “shake it off.” I would think about my dog doing her whole body shake and imagine myself doing it too. It helped me keep moving into the unknown, rather than getting stuck ruminating about how things would turn out. As someone who’s been known to suffer from analysis paralysis, this has been a helpful technique. I have found it easier to let go of ill feelings I might have had and face an unknown future with curiosity rather than doubt.

Here’s why I think it works – First of all, it acknowledges something is changing and calls it to the forefront of our mind so, in essence, we wake up. Next comes the actual s-h-a-k-e. As much as I would like my dog to shake her fur out when she’s OUT of the car, she always does it IN the car before she gets out. Perhaps this is necessary to do right away so we get rid of the nervous energy. It frees us up to move on. It signals a distinct transition, we are leaving the old energy behind. Good. Done with that. Ready to get on to the next thing.

Another place I’ve noticed this technique – parents with young children – telling their kids to “shake it off” when they fall down. What a great way to help a child build resilience. During that moment of decision when we could either cry or get up and move on, we are encouraged to not let it get us down. I’m not suggesting that we should deny or suppress our feelings, but it can be helpful sometimes to push through discomfort rather than wallow in it.

What techniques do you use to transition from one thing to the next?



7 thoughts on “A lesson from my dog on beating fear of scary change

  1. Though I never realised it that way..
    But I must tell you that what you have pointed out is actually real.
    I have felt it myself many times but never understood that my body was getting ready for transition.
    However, in my case my whole body shivers for a second rather than shaking ?
    But it happens each time I am about to do something apart from the normal

    1. Thanks for not being silent, Silent Spectator! It’s interesting to hear about your experience of shivers vs. shaking. Thanks for the affirmation that you’ve noticed a similar phenomenon.

      1. Actually it is not even shivering..
        It is a feeling which I cannot explain in words ..or maybe my scientific dictionary has not expanded to include that word as yet ..
        So till then, shivering best describes it

  2. We might all be more wise if we paid more attention to animal behavior and some of their habits. After all they are creatures of habits of the most common kind. The observation you write about hit the nail on the head.

    1. Our pets are with us for such a short time that it seems important to appreciate all of their gifts. Thank you, Anita, for sharing your perspective!

  3. This makes a lot of sense. I really like the idea of “shaking it off” and doing something to mark a transition. I think we have a lot to learn from our pets and nature. Thank you for paying attention and sharing your observation!

    1. Thanks, Cheri! There is more and more research showing the healing power of animals i.e. petting them reduces our blood pressure, etc. Those of us with pets know what a big, positive impact they can have on our lives!

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