Can Dogs Fake Being Excited?

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Introduction

When you think about it, excitement is a strange emotion. It implies that you have some awareness or perception of the future and what's about to happen. Of course, you can be excited whilst something is actually happening, but often, it's about anticipation. 

Think of the following: Christmas as a child, waiting for the delivery of a new car, or the arrival of a baby. All of these are things which we, as people, get excited about. 

But what about dogs? 

Of course, dogs do get excited. You need only think of the dog spinning in circles and barking to know their pulse is racing. But is this an emotion they can fake?

The answer is a mixture of yes and no.

Signs a Dog is Excited

The wonderful thing about dogs is that they are so spontaneous and they live in the moment. If a dog is excited when they see a chew toy in your hand, they will let you know. Indeed, anyone who has been welcomed home by their beloved canine companion is familiar with what doggy excitement looks like. 

Typically, an excited dog has difficulty with self-control. They will jump, spin round in circles, or zoom around like a crazy thing (unless they are wonderfully obedience trained and will "Sit" when told). The other big giveaway that a dog is excited is that wagging tail. Whether it's the side-to-side sweeper tail or the circular motion of the helicopter tail, a happy, excited tail is one that's in motion. Indeed, even the immaculately behaved dog will give away their excitement with a wagging tail. 

In addition, the dog may pant in excitement, tongue lolling out of their mouth. Each dog is different, but some dogs become vocal when excited and may yap or bark loudly. 

At the other end of the scale, some dogs may release a small jet of urine when they are excited. All that wiggling and wagging can be too much for the bladder valves, which releases some urine from a full bladder. 

There's something about canine excitement which transfers itself to the observer. In theory, panting can be due to overheating, stress, or excitement, and yet, somehow, we recognize when that panting dog is happy rather than stressed. 

Body Language

Body language clues which give the game away include:
  • Barking
  • Panting
  • Jumping up
  • Wag tail
  • Tail up
  • Spinning

Other Signs

Some signs are less common and may occur because the dog is submissive. These include:
  • Urination
  • Rolling over
  • Releasing gas

A History of Dog Body Language

Whether a dog is excited or faking excitement, hopefully, we recognize that the dog isn't being aggressive. However, the human interpretation of dog body language and behavior hasn't always been clearcut (and indeed, for there are still people who misguidedly believe in out-of-date concepts such as dominance). 

This mistake is down to flawed studies involving wolves. Indeed, the assumption that dogs are wolves in our sitting room is erroneous and not helpful to understanding dog behavior. Dogs diverged from their wolf ancestor many millennia ago, and it is as inappropriate to think of a dog as a form of the wolf, as it is a person as a form of monkey. 

It's only in the second half of the 20th century that modern animal behaviorists observed how feral dogs and stray dogs react to realize that they behave either as individuals or as family units. There is no vying for supreme control in the way wolf-theory postulates. 

Indeed, even the way we thought wolves behaved is now known to be incorrect. For those vicious wolves fighting for top-spot were doing so because they were stressed. These were unrelated wolves that had been trapped and thrown together in a small space at a zoo. Feeling disorientated and insecure, of course they were going to fight each other for what they perceived as scarce resources! 

In actual fact, roaming wolves stay together as family units and are supportive of each other. 

The Science of Dogs Faking Emotion

For many centuries, man has interpreted many dog behaviors as an attempt to dominate their owner. This has altered how we react to our dogs. For example, old-fashioned training concepts advised against playing tug with a dog. Their reasoning went that if the dog won the game, their respect for the person would be diminished. However, what's really the case is the dog is enjoying the game and will like you all the better for playing with them.

Understanding dog behavior and the clues of their body language is key to figuring out our canine companions. It is when people miss the cues a dog gives off as to their feelings that problems can develop. 

The classic example is the dog that yawns and lick their lips when faced with a stranger. Far from being bored or tired, the dog is signaling anxiety. The wise stranger recognizes this and backs off. Not to do so will further stress the dog and could result in the dog attacking from pure fear. 

Training a Dog to Fake Excitement

It's easier than you might suppose to teach a dog to act excited. Indeed, you may have already unwittingly done this. 

Think of the dog that gets super-excited when you get the leash out. What happens here is that when they were a pup, they ran around when the leash came out, thinking it was a game. You clip on the leash and then do a pleasant thing, which is to take the dog for a walk. 

What happened here is that the dog's excited running around was rewarded with a pleasant experience (the walk). In the dog's mind, the two actions become linked. They start to think that spinning in circles and barking (outward signs of excitement) are required in order for you to put the leash on and take them for a walk. 

To train a dog to fake excitement, you need only reward actions that say 'excited' in dog body language. This could be jumping up, barking, or running around. All you need to do is trigger the behavior (sight of a treat usually does this), praise the dog copiously, then give a reward. Repeat this on numerous occasions, then start to add in a cue word such as "Go bonkers". 

The dog learns to associate the cue words to acting in a certain way and getting a reward. And presto! The dog is trained to act excited and fake the emotion. 

How to React to a Dog Faking Being Excited:

  • If this is a desirable behavior, then praise and reward the dog. This strengthens the association in the dog's mind between acting up and a getting a treat. But if the action is undesirable, then ignore it so that the dog has nothing to gain by pretending to be excited.