A month ago he cut his leg. It was a skin wound that needed stitches, but the vet was confident there was no damage to the ligaments or tendons. After surgery, the dog sported a fetching bandage to protect the sutures and keep the wound clean. He tugged at your heartstrings as he hobbled around on three legs, holding up his bandaged paw.
As the days passed, the wound healed, and yet the dog kept holding up his leg. It was starting to bother you. The bandage came off and still, the dog limped. What's going on? Worried, you took him back to the vet who ran a full physical on the leg and could find nothing wrong. The dog didn't wince, cry, or resist being examined...and yet still, he limped. Now even the vet was puzzled as to the reason. Was there some undiagnosed damage to the bone, or could it be that the dog is putting on the limp?
Signs a Dog is Faking a Limp
Ask yourself if the dog has had an injury to the leg they are hobbling on. After all, it's always better to assume the dog is in pain and get it treated than overlook a genuine problem. If they have had a knock or sprain, then get a vet checkup. A professional can manipulate the leg to pinpoint the seat of pain and also look for telltale signs such as swelling, redness, or heat.
Consider how old the dog is. Again, an older dog may well have arthritis or another condition which causes them to limp.
Then, think carefully about when the dog limps. Is it worse at certain times of the day? And crucially, do they always limp on the same leg? Whilst shifting lameness that passes from leg to leg is not uncommon, if the dog is looking at you with puppy-dog eyes and holding up a different front paw each time, then they may be playing for sympathy and be fine after all.
- Head tilting
- Wag tail
- Raise ears
- Limping on Different Legs
- Using Puppy-Dog Eyes
- Tapping you for Attention
- Forgetting to Limp
- Treats make the Limp Better
- Being Happy to Play Ball
History of Dogs Faking a Limp
In effect, it's us that train a dog to limp (rather than the dog faking it) and so really we only have ourselves to blame.
Science of Dogs Faking a Limp
This same psychology applies to fake limps. It may all have started with a genuine injury, such as our dog in the introduction with a cut leg. What happened was that his owners cooed and fussed over the bandaged leg, which the dog rather enjoyed. He then realized that by lifting the 'poorly' paw and working those puppy-dog eyes, he could wangle more attention out of his unsuspecting (but willing) pet parents.
In short, by rewarding the limp with attention, the owner taught the dog to fake a limp.
Training a Dog to Fake a Limp
Start out by watching the dog carefully and every time they happen to lift a particular paw off the ground, say "Yes!" in an enthusiastic voice and give them a reward. Keep repeating this every time they happen to raise that paw. Pretty soon, they'll cotton on to this as a good thing, and try lifting up the paw to see what happens. Seize the moment by saying "Yes!", being super-pleased, and giving them a treat.
Once the dog regularly offers up a paw, start ignoring them until they lift it up higher. Then, and only then, say "Yes" and reward them. This encourages them to put more effort in and exaggerate the action. The final step is to then add a cue word, such as "Limp" as they raise the leg. Once the penny drops that the action of raising the leg is called "Limp", they know how to behave when they hear the cue.
How to React to Fake Limping:
Make sure to get the "injury" checked by a vet first to verify if it is real or fake.
If it is fake, make sure you do not pay any attention to your pooch when they put on their performance.
Instead, reward your dog when they are using their paw normally, encouraging regular leg use.