Can Dogs Fake Pain?

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Introduction

Maybe you have been out on a walk with your dog and it is time to go back home. Suddenly, your pooch decides to start limping or begins favoring one paw over the other. This may surprise you, because you never saw them hurt their paw or step wrong. So, what could be happening? 

If you have ever experienced a similar situation, you may have wondered if your dog could be faking pain or pretending that they injured a paw or leg. The funny thing is, your dog can indeed fake pain to help get what they want, get attention, or slow down the process of leaving the park after a walk! Let's see how they learn to fake pain, why, and how you can help prevent this unwanted behavior.

Sings of a Dog Faking Pain

It may be a bit challenging at times to tell if your dog is actually injured or if they are simply faking their pain. Your dog is smart and they know how to fake an injury to gain your sympathy or manipulate you or the situation. However, there are a few simple ways you can spot signs your dog may be faking pain. 

Faking pain can vary from dog to dog, so it is important you keep a close eye on your dog's behavior to distinguish between real versus pretend expressions. For instance, one dog may limp on their right paw on and off for a few minutes before they forget about their fake pain and begin to walk and run normally again. On the other hand, another dog could continuously fake their pain for a longer period of time before they return to normal like nothing happened. This kind of differing behavior must be observed over the course of a few weeks or months to truly understand how your dog's "fake pain" functions. 

One of the easiest ways you can tell if your dog is faking pain is to determine if their limping and/or crying started for no apparent reason. Maybe they were just simply walking as you were heading back to your car after a walk and then they started to limp - this is your first sign that may indicate they are trying to seek sympathy or have the walk last longer. This will usually be followed by your dog acting completely normal soon after, with no more limping or crying. 

Body Language

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

  • Whining
  • Pacing
  • Whimpering
  • Averting eyes

Other Signs

These are some other signs you might notice if your dog is faking pain:
  • Symptoms Begin When They Notice You
  • Different Sounding Cries or Whimpers
  • Sporadic Symptoms
  • Limping for No Clear Reason

History of Dogs Faking Pain

Dogs are very smart creatures. They connect strongly with their owners, learn their people's behavior, and can be wonderful manipulators when they know what gets them attention or special treatment. Therefore, it is not too far of a stretch for you to conclude your dog can fake pain and can use it to gain sympathy or get their way. 

There are numerous stories about dog owners sharing how their dogs like to fake pain and illness all over the internet. For instance, one dog owner said when their dog was a puppy she stepped on her paw accidentally. She screamed and yelped in pain and limped away. When the dog did not think her owner was looking, she would walk normally without pain, whining, or limping. However, when the dog knew her owner was looking at her, the dog would begin to limp. Furthermore, if the dog got in trouble and the owner said "no," the dog would begin to limp as well. 

This story is a prime example of a dog faking an injury for sympathy and manipulation. In essence, the puppy knew if she limped on the foot the owner stepped on, especially when she was doing something bad, the owner would feel guilt and run over to see what was wrong. The dog quickly learned to partake in this type of behavior because it didn't just get her attention but also lessened any punishment that may have followed after chewing on a shoe or begging for food. 

Science Behind Dogs Faking Pain

There has been little to no research on why dogs fake pain, how they learn this behavior on a scientific level, and how they can so effectively use it to their advantage. However, that does not mean there are no theories that help shed some light on such complex behavior. 

It is important to note that most of the time a dog that is showing signs of illness, pain, or injury, they are generally not faking symptoms and their ailment must be taken seriously. Taking them to the clinic for a checkup and a chat with your vet can help eliminate any serious issues your dog may suffer from. 

If your dog is cleared by their vet, yet you continue to notice on and off symptoms that correlate with certain situations, you can eventually determine their behavior and pain is fake. Monitoring your pet closely in situations that trigger this fake pain is the key to understanding their behavior and making sure they don't have any underlying medical issues.

Training Your Dog to Stop Faking Pain

If you have found your pet is faking pain and there is no underlying medical problem, they have likely learned this behavior. Learned behavior can happen for a variety of reasons, but what all learned behavior has in common is you. 

Say your dog has been feeling neglected because you have a new job with long hours. You are not giving them as much attention as you usually do. Maybe they hurt their paw jumping off a couch once and you rushed over to them to love, coddle, and make a fuss over them, ensuring they were ok. You noticed they limped and whined when walking on that paw and every time they limped around you fussed over them. 

Very quickly, your dog learned that every time they limp, they get an abundance of affection. They will then reenact this behavior every time they want extra attention, and it can turn into a habit. It's the human's overly sympathetic response that teaches to dog this bad behavior.

So, how can you stop this undesirable behavior? The answer is a little tricky because if you choose to scold or punish them for their limping (or other fake pain symptoms) it can still reinforce the behavior. For many dogs, negative attention is better than no attention at all. 

The best way to stop this behavior is to ignore it and to not rush over to them as they start crying or limping out of the blue. You must break the cycle and retrain them to learn they won't receive affection for this behavior. Rather, you want to love and coddle them during the times they do not display their fake pain. This will help them associate love and affection with behavior that is not faked. 

How To React If Your Dog Fakes Pain

  • Have your vet confirm it really is fake.
  • Don't punish them for faking pain.
  • Don't run over to coddle them.
  • Ignore the behavior.
Blue
7 Years
Bichon Frise
Could be a Real Issue
Signs

He never had before. All of a sudden he started acting like The was dying of pain. The Vet found nothing. Not even a peep during the exam. When the Vet leaves, whimper comes back.

6 months, 3 weeks ago
Blue
7 Years
Bichon Frise
Could be a Real Issue
Signs

He never had before. All of a sudden he started acting like The was dying of pain. The Vet found nothing. Not even a peep during the exam. When the Vet leaves, whimper comes back.

6 months, 3 weeks ago
Lucky
7 Years
Pekingese
Definitely Faking It!
Signs

Whenever his owner enters he starts limping, he greets his owner in front of the door but the only way to get there is by going down steps. He will hear the door open and run down the steps, then he’ll run back up. When he noticed he didn’t get attention he’ll begin to limp, while wagging his tail. He will limp for 4 minutes until he forgets and cuddles on the couch.

5 months, 2 weeks ago