5 min read


Can Dogs Fake Illness?



5 min read


Can Dogs Fake Illness?


Dogs are very intelligent creatures. They can learn a variety of different tricks and commands, they know when you are happy with them, mad at them, or if they have done something wrong. You may think it is a little far-fetched for your dog to fake an illness, perhaps you even think it is impossible. 

Funnily enough, your dog can very much fake being sick for attention! They know exactly what they need to do to raise alarm in their owners in hopes they will get some extra love and attention. If they are lucky, maybe you will even stay home from work that day and they can go on a car ride with you to the vet!


Signs of a Dog Faking Illness

It will be quite difficult at first to tell if your dog is actually ill or if they are simply faking an illness to get your love and attention. Your dog is smart and they know how to fake sickness in order to gain your sympathy and manipulate your reactions and emotions. Although this may sound devious, they are faking sick for a reason. However, there are a few simple ways you can spot signs your dog may be faking an illness and it is nothing to actually worry about. 

Faking an illness can vary between dogs and dog breeds, so you will need to take note of your dog's particular behaviors and how these behaviors come and go - patterns in behavior will often form. For instance, some dogs may fake a cough or raspy breathing when they are with you and you are not paying attention to them or when you are getting ready for work and are about to leave the house. 

On the other hand, a different dog could continuously fake cough over a longer period of time before they stop coughing and appear completely fine. You may have to keep an eye out for this kind of behavior over the course of a few weeks to get a real feel for your dog's fake illness signs and patterns. 

One of the easiest ways you can tell if your dog is faking an illness is to determine if are showing signs of illness for no apparent reason and if the symptoms come and go and they return to their normal, happy, and energetic selves. Dogs who are actually sick cannot turn off their symptoms and their symptoms will not suddenly appear as you are leaving for work. 

Body Language

Here are some signs you may notice if your dog is faking an illness:

  • Whining
  • Pacing
  • Raspy Panting
  • Whimpering
  • Averting Eyes
  • Tail Tucking

Other Signs

These are some other signs you might notice if your dog is faking an illness:

  • Showing Symptoms For No Clear Reason
  • Sporadic Symptoms
  • Symptoms Begin When They Notice You

History of Dogs Faking an Illness


Dogs are very smart animals and they can learn how to manipulate their owners in some very devious and surprising ways. Dogs can connect strongly with their owners, learn your behavior when you are around them, and they learn exactly what they must do to get your attention or special treatment. 

There are numerous stories about dog owners sharing how their dogs like to fake illness all over the internet. There is one very popular story of a dog named Sully who suddenly developed a very loud and scary sounding coughing and choking sound. Of course, the dog's owners were very alarmed. Besides a cough, Sully seemed to act just like himself and had no other issues. Suddenly the cough stopped and the dog was fine.

The following morning as Sully's owners were getting ready for work, Sully broke out into his terrible cough and this prompted the owners to stay home from work that day and bring Sully to the vet. The vet concluded there was nothing wrong with Sully and sent them home, but the cough remained. Another vet visit later, the vet concluded Sully was faking his cough for attention. 

This story is a prime example of a dog faking an illness for attention. The dog was able to learn that if he appeared very ill and made these terrible coughing sounds, his owners would be concerned and provide him with extra love and attention. 

Science Behind Dogs Faking an Illness


There has been very minimal research on why dogs fake illnesses, how they learn to fake illnesses and do it well, and how they can so effectively manipulate their owners into thinking they are actually sick. However, just because there is a lack of scientific evidence it does not mean people have not come up with theories as to why dogs partake in this type of behavior and why they are able to fake so well.

It is important to note that if your dog is showing signs of illness, pain, or injury, you should not assume they are faking an illness and take their symptoms seriously. You should take them to the clinic for a checkup and to speak with your vet so they can make sure there is nothing actually wrong with your pooch. 

If your dog is cleared by their vet and there are no medical issues, but you still notice on and off symptoms that correlate with certain situations like leaving for work in the morning, you will be able to determine their illness is something they are faking. If you keep a close eye on your dog in these trigger situations, it is the key to understanding their behavior and making sure they don't have any underlying medical issues.

Training Dogs to Stop Faking an Illness


If you have determined your dog is faking an illness with the help of your vet and there is no underlying medical condition, your dog has likely learned how to fake illness and that faking an illness will lead to increased attention. 

Learned behavior can happen for several reasons. However, the truth is, all learned behavior is a result of you, their owner. Generally what happens is your dog feels like you are not giving them enough love and attention. They cannot get your attention with the ways they have been trying to, so they remember one time when they had an illness and you gave them a lot of special treatment and attention. 

You likely made a big fuss over them when they were sick...and they remember that. Now, they can mimic the symptoms they had in the past in hopes you will react the same way you did before, and let's face it, you will!  

In a very short period of time, your dog learned that every time they got sick, they get a lot more attention and special treatment than normal. Some dogs can then mimic that behavior in the future when they feel they need extra attention. Eventually, this turns into a habit. Your overly sympathetic and worried response reinforces this behavior and essentially trains your dog to react this way when they want your attention and affection.

Correcting this behavior is tricky because scolding and punishing them for their faking an illness can actually reinforce the behavior. Most dogs will think that negative attention is better than no attention. 

Therefore, the most effective way to stop this behavior is to simply ignore it and not freak out over your dog when they begin to cough or show some other sign of illness they commonly like to use. Breaking the cycle and retraining them to learn they will not get attention for this bad behavior is what will stop the issue. 

You want to give your dog a ton of love, affection, and attention when they do not show signs of faking an illness. This will help them associate love and affection with good behavior, not just when they are faking signs of illness. 

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By a Samoyed lover Kayla Costanzo

Published: 05/09/2018, edited: 04/06/2020

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