When our pets are unwell or injured, we are inclined to pour even more love and attention on them than usual. Once they are back to full health, might the experience prompt them to feign illness in the future?
It seems preposterous to assume that dogs would have the nous to attempt such behaviour, but it’s not unheard of! Dogs enjoy the additional kindness they are shown during illness, and make a positive association between their symptoms and the response of their humans. Although not all dogs will feign illness, be prepared for them to pull this trick!
In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the reasons why dogs might fake injuries, real life examples, and what you can do to correct deceptive behaviour.
Signs that a Dog is Faking an Injury
If your dog attempts to feign an injury, they will demonstrate symptoms that they know prompt attention from their owner. This may be based on their own experience, or from witnessing the illness or injury of another pet.
Your dog may display symptoms consistent with lethargy; weakness, lack of movement, low interest in food or water, shaking, or whining. They may be clingy and unwilling to separate from you. If your dog is faking their illness, this will likely be inconsistent. When you are not around, or your dog believes they are alone, they may drop the act.
Similarly, if a dog is pretending to have an injury, they might be limping, with varying degrees of exaggeration. There may also be audible indications of distress, such as whining, crying, or howling. Again, watch out for consistency; owners who have experienced this with their dogs have noticed switching ‘injured’ legs, and symptoms miraculously disappearing when they believe they are alone. Behaviour may also improve in response to increased attention, and don’t forget to check their tail. If it’s wagging, they might be having a better time than they let on!
Of course, there is a fine line between deceptive behaviour and symptoms of a genuine injury. If you are in any doubt, monitor the situation carefully, but always err on the side of caution. It’s better to visit the veterinarian to confirm an Oscar-worthy performance than risk unnecessary injury or long-term complications. If your dog is afraid of the vet’s office, the threat of going inside may even prompt a rapid improvement in their symptoms!
- Wag tail
- Dropped Ears
- Refusal to eat
- Acting lethargic
- No interest in playing
History of Dogs Faking Injury
Did you hear about the dog that faked an illness to stop his humans from going to work? It might sound like the opening line of a joke, but it’s what really happened to the owners of a dog named Sully in Utah. Sully had developed what seemed like a hacking cough, but after investigation by a vet, he was found out. Sully had been faking the whole thing for attention!
This is just one of many stories of doggy deception. Owners have also reported instances of their pets feigning a repeat injury after recovery, in order to continue receiving the extra affection they’ve come to know and love. There have also been countless occasions on which dogs have imitated the behaviour of their injured siblings, often with limited success.
Animal behaviour specialists attribute these cases to a dog’s desire for attention. They make a link between the symptoms of an illness or injury, and the additional cuddles, treats, and affection that result. It’s a learned behaviour that they attempt to replicate to achieve the same outcome. Whilst deception may seem like an exclusively human behaviour, there’s evidence to show that our canine friends can be startlingly good actors!
Science of Dogs Faking Injury
Dogs are creatures of habit. They thrive on routine, and are usually good at making associations between an action and an outcome. Think about one of the first things they learn as a puppy in their new home; housetraining. As their owner, you will diligently take them outside at regular intervals, and reward them for positive behaviour. Dogs don’t understand the reasons why they need to answer the call of nature outside, but over time, they will make the association between asking to be let out, doing their business, and receiving positive feedback.
When dogs sustain an injury, or witness one of their siblings recovering, they will notice that it leads to an increase in affection from their humans. They make a connection between the relevant symptoms and an outcome that they enjoy. Subsequently, dogs may replicate the behaviour they know will lead to extra attention.
Training Dogs to STOP Faking Injuries
As we have seen, canine behavior is dictated by cause and effect pathways. Once they make an association between an action and a result, it can be tricky to reroute that path, but it’s not impossible!
The best approach is prevention. If your dog is sick, you will naturally want to make an extra fuss of them, and we’re certainly not discouraging that. However, it’s important to be mindful of how they will perceive any changes in behavior. Make sure that your dog feels safe, secure, and comforted, but don’t overdo it. Try not to provide too many treats during their recovery, and don’t make allowances that counteract their existing training, such as inviting them on to a piece of furniture that is usually reserved for humans.
Don’t forget, dogs will also pick up on how you respond to their siblings. If you have another pet with an injury, make time to reassure the rest of your pack. Try to avoid an obvious distinction between the attention shown to your sick dog and their healthy siblings. If you need to spend additional time with the sick dog, perhaps when changing dressings or providing medicine, do this discretely and away from your other pets.
If your dog is a persistent faker, it’s time to correct the behavior! As difficult as it is, you must ignore any obviously deceptive behaviour (once you have ruled out genuine injury), and provide attention only when your dog is acting normally. Over time, this will help to break the association they have made between inauthentic symptoms and the affection they crave.
How to React to a Dog Injury Faker:
Don't give them attention at that time. This is what they are after and it reinforces the behavior so they WILL do it again.
Instead, wait until they have finished their performance and give them attention when they are behaving normally, therefore proving you'll get more attention if you don't fake it!
Safety Tips for Dog's Faking Injuries:
Although it can be hard, it's important to recognize that some signs may actually be legit. If you have any concerns, it's better to be safe than sorry and consult a vet.