The Wet Dog Shake: Scientists Uncover Secret

Scientists explore physics behind the infamous wet dog shake.

ByABC News
October 21, 2010, 3:46 PM

Oct. 22, 2010— -- Call it Fido physics. Intrigued by the infamous wet-dog shake, scientists at the Georgia Institute of Technology have figured how fast a sopping wet pooch must shimmy to dry himself off.

How did they do it?

Instead of running for the hills when the waterlogged animals got ready to shake, the researchers risked getting wet themselves. They got up close and personal with a slow-motion video camera, and then analyzed the shaking.

They discovered that the smaller the animals, the faster they must generally shake to dry themselves off.

David Hu, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology, said the research is interesting because drying wet fur is critical to how mammals regulate heat.

"A lot of animals have developed fur mostly for thermal insulation purposes and they need special mechanisms to basically get the water off," he said.

If the standard 60-pound dog had to rely on evaporation alone to dry off, he would have to spend a quarter of his daily calories to get rid of the water, Hu said. Smaller animals would have to use even more of their daily energy to do the job.

"To evaporate the water is very costly to them," he said. "Physiologists call this the wet-dog shake. That's why this thing evolved, and it's basically a slight variation of shivering."

Hu said scientists have studied the phenomenon biologically, but haven't taken a look before at how it works and how efficient it is.

Hu said he and the researchers, including graduate student Andrew Dickerson, videotaped 16 different species shaking off water. They studied various breeds of dogs, including the Chihuahua, Labrador, poodle and husky, as well as mice, rats, guinea pigs, grizzly bears and the panda.

Some of the researchers got a little wet, they said, but it was worth it: They found a mathematical relationship between the radius of the animal and the frequency with which it had to shake in order to dry off.

The smaller the animal, the more rotations per second it would have to make in order to dry off. For example, while a mouse with a radius of 2 cm (less than an inch) would have to shake with a frequency of 27 hz (shakes per second), a dog with a radius of 20 cm would only have to shake with a frequency of 4.7 hz to get comparably dry.