Can Dogs Fake Hurt?

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Introduction

Has your dog ever been injured, but continued showing signs of an ailment weeks after it should have been healed? Or have you noticed your dog whining unnecessarily, but only when you seem to be around?

Recently, owners and animal behaviorists alike have noticed that some dogs have learned how to fake being injured - fake being injured in order to get a little extra lovin' from their owners! With this recent coverage, one may wonder whether your pup was really feeling lousy, or simply pulling your leg! So, what exactly is going on? Can our dogs fake being hurt?

Signs a Dog is Faking Being Hurt

Dogs learn by positive reinforcement - basically the idea that rewards (such treats or toys) encourage the same behavior over and over again. This is how we train our pups to do neat tricks and have good manners - if they successfully complete the command, they know a treat is coming.

Similarly, dogs are capable of understanding that being hurt gets them extra attention. Once they are no longer hurt, your pup still wants the extra attention, so your pup may rely on its past behavior (a limp or a whine) to get the cuddles they so desire. It might seem cute at first, but this can ultimately be time-consuming and costly. And by tending to your dog's every ailment, you are training your dog that being injured = attention.

It's better to understand when your dog is faking it so that you can you can work on ridding this negative behavior. First, try observing for consistency. Notice your dog limping? Don't worry immediately. See how long the limp lasts, how consistent it is, whether it picks up when you are around, and if your dog gives up on it all together. 

The same goes for a howl or a whimper. If your pup stops, they might realize that their fake pleas just won't work. Additionally, keep an eye out for other indications that your pup might be sick or hurt, things like coughing or scratching.

Remember, your pup may have a serious issue, so never overlook something just because you suspect it is fake. It's better to be safe than sorry, so check your dog out with your local veterinarian before assuming the behavior has been a cry for attention.

Body Language

Here are a couple of signs you may notice if your pup is faking an injury:
  • Barking
  • Whining
  • Panting
  • Pacing
  • Whimpering

Other Signs

Some other signs you may notice include:
  • Sporadic symptoms
  • Symptoms when your dog notices you are watching
  • Random healing
  • Limping or whining for no apparent reason
  • Excessive coughing
  • Sad eyes
  • Mimicking another dog's behavior

The Science Behind Dogs Faking Being Hurt

Ultimately, a dog that fakes an injury is simply a dog craving attention. A successful human-dog relationship depends on a deep bond between both parties. The more time and care invested in the relationship, the better. If a dog is feeling a lack of attention or isolated at home, it may resort to feigning ailments to keep you close. Dogs are certainly capable of being jealous, so if they see you giving more attention to other household pets or family members, it only makes sense they might cry out for attention.  

Dogs will fake injuries for other reasons, too. For instance, some dogs fake injuries when they're scared, anxious, nervous, or want to avoid stressful situations.

It is important to understand that if your pooch is showing signs of illness, pain, or injury, especially for a longer period of time, you should not assume they are faking it. It is always better to be safe than sorry, so feel free to speak with your veterinarian or bring in your pup for a checkup. 

If your dog is ultimately given the green light by your veterinarian, but you still notice on and off symptoms that correlate with certain situations (for instance, leaving for work in the morning or doing away for long periods of time on the weekend), you might be able to deduce the injury is being feigned. Simply keep a close eye on your furry friend in these trigger situations in order to fully understand your pup's behavior and whether there is a serious underlying problem.

Training Your Dog to Stop Faking Being Hurt

The ability to fake an ailment is a fully learned behavior. If you can safely determine that your pup's limping, coughing, or other "injury" is not due to a medical problem, your dog is likely faking pain and injuries for attention or some other reason. Because learned behavior is ultimately taught by the humans in a dog's life, you may want to consider why your pup thought this would work, to begin with. 

It is possible your canine companion was actually injured at one point, whether it be a fever or a thorn in a paw. You likely had a minor panic attack, rushed over to your pup, coddled your pup, and gave your pup never-ending love and attention. You may have even found yourself in this situation more than once. Dogs are intelligent creatures, and eventually, your pup will equate its behavior with, well, your behavior in return.

Fortunately, you can retrain your doggo so that this kind of behavior is eliminated. It is important that you do not reprimand or get angry at your dog to rid of the behavior (especially in case your pup gets really hurt). The best thing you can do is simply ignore their behavior. This will ultimately teach your dog that faking injuries won't achieve anything.

Give your pup plenty of love, attention, and affection when you are just handing out and they do not show any signs of faking an injury. This will teach your pup they will get attention when they are being good.

How to React to Your Dog Faking Being Hurt:

  • Have a veterinarian confirm that there is no real underlying issue.
  • Do not encourage the behavior.
  • Do not punish your pup.
  • Simply ignore the behavior.