We treasure our furry friends for the unconditional love they give and we like to think that they love absolutely everything about us. Is that really so? Believe it or not, there are a number of things you do that make your dog want to pull their fur out. Sound crazy? Take sneezing for example. Humans do it, animals do it as well, but there’s a difference in perception. Sneezing might irritate your pup to the point that he’ll jump right on you, stare at your face relentlessly, or leave the room altogether. What could be causing them to act this way? Let’s find out…
The Root of the Behavior
Many people wonder why dogs act so strange when someone sneezes. It is not like they don’t do it as well, right? Well, some of the things you do are so startling to your furry companion they don’t even know how to react. They just cannot express in words how crazy, unreasonable, or how confusing you are being. From talking to them in human language to rushing them to “go to the bathroom” or using that high-pitched baby voice, dogs perceive things in a completely different manner than we do. Sneezing is just another part of it. Fear of humans sneezing is common in dogs, so don’t be surprised next time you see him react so strangely. One of the most reasonable explanations for their behavior is that the sound of a sneeze resembles a signal that dogs use themselves. To a dog, the human sneeze is similar to a snort, cough, or a "tooth-snap," which typically signals a threat amongst canines. Snorts indicate that something else is about to happen, while coughs and tooth snaps are specific sounds that are used to communicate threat and defense.
Dogs might sneeze while playing with other animals, for example, but they will misinterpret the sound of yours as a threat or a cry of pain or for help. One theory suggests that wrinkling the nose can be what ultimately makes dogs sneeze when playing with each other. With every sneeze, you could be telling your dog to “look out!” But this also depends on the type of noise they hear. Some people sneeze very quietly, while others sneeze very loudly. From this perspective, your dog’s reaction will be to jump on you and bark in alarm or he may view the noise as an invitation to play or to join in the noise-making party.
Encouraging the Behavior
Unlike humans who tend to sneeze frequently due to allergies or colds, dogs do not typically sneeze very often or for the same reasons. So what should your response be to all of this? Obviously, you can’t control your physical reflexes, but you can control the volume of your sneezing. Be sure to keep it as quiet as possible, when you are around your furry companion, and keep your post-sneeze behavior calm to ensure your friend that everything is alright.
If he becomes overly excited or scared when you sneeze, you can try counter-conditioning him to the noise. You can do this by rewarding him with a treat each time he hears the sneeze. This way he will learn that sneezes mean treats and will not feel threatened by your puzzling behavior any longer. Also, make sure you act “normally” around your pup afterward so as not to put him in a more confusing situation. Let him know you feel okay and are not in any pain whatsoever. Even if they might misinterpret the sneeze as an invitation to play, do not let them think that it is playtime either. Resume your work and reassure them that everything is back to normal.
Other Solutions and Considerations
An alternative method would be to toss a ball or a toy farther away from you, so the sneeze does not upset him. It is just another method of distraction, although most owners will find it difficult to coordinate tossing treats or toys when they are about to sneeze. If that is the case, you could try sneezing into your hands or elbows, so as not to cause too much noise, or work on increasing your dog’s tolerance to your sneezes, even if they are “fake.” How does that work? Consider exposing your dog to more sneezes until he no longer pays attention to them.
Whether they are simply trying to say “gesundheit” or are downright scared of hearing you make such loud noises, you can work your way out of this situation by remaining calm and in control. If you choose behavior modification exercises to help desensitize your pup to the sneeze, make sure they are short, lasting one to two minutes per session or up to 15 minutes at the most. Most of all, try not to worry too much about it and do your best to keep him focused on you.