Can Dogs Fake Sneeze?

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Have you ever wondered if your dog is playing you for sympathy?

Take as an example, the dog that repeatedly sneezes. They don't have a runny nose or sore eyes, seem perfectly well in all respects except that they keep sneezing. 

As a responsible owner, you are concerned enough to take the dog to for a checkup with the vet. The vet is baffled. There is no sign of an upper respiratory infection, the dog's temperature normal, and chest clear. The vet wonders if you have had building work recently that might have stirred up dust and the sneezing was down to irritation. 

But there's no building work in the house. In fact, nothing has changed and it seems unlikely to you that the dog would suddenly have developed an allergy after all this time. 

What's going on?

Can dogs fake sneeze?

Actually, yes they can. 

Introduction of Can Dogs Fake Sneeze?

Signs a Dog is Faking a Sneeze

We all know what a sneeze, that sudden forceful expiration of air through the nose, looks and sounds like. In appearance, a real sneeze caused by a cold, allergy, or irritation looks much like a fake sneeze. However, a real sneeze may also be accompanied by other signs such as a runny or snotty nose, inflamed eyes, or itchy skin. So the first difference is that a fake sneeze is likely to occur in isolation, without what might be considered other symptoms. 

Secondly, a dog that fake sneezes has most likely learned to do so because it gets them attention. Therefore, they're less likely to sneeze when left alone a room or when you're not home. Keep an ear out for the dog's behavior when you're in a separate part of the house. If they settle down and stop sneezing, then it could be they are master fakers. 

When a dog fake sneezes to get the attention they're also more likely to watch you as they sneeze, waiting to lap up that lovely attention they get for doing so. Some dogs will even slide over, get really close to their owner, and then sneeze, as if for maximum impact. 

To some extent, whether a dog fake sneezes will depend on how bonded they are to the owner. An aloof dog that prefers the company of other hounds to people is less likely to fake sneeze than a closely bonded pet who revels in their master's attention. 

Body Language

Sneezing or fake sneezing? It can be tricky to tell, so keep an eye out for the following clues:
  • Head tilting
  • Jumping up
  • Wag tail
  • Raise ears

Other Signs

You know your dog! In addition, a dog that fake sneezes to get attention may also try the following tricks:
  • Licking the owner
  • Following the owner
  • Touching the owner with a paw
  • Sliding close to the owner

The History of Dogs Fake Sneezing

History of Can Dogs Fake Sneeze?
When, 10,000 years ago, the ancestors of our domestic dogs were first attracted to the fires of early man, they were drawn by a number of factors. Of course, there was the warmth offered by the fire, plus there was a likelihood of scavenging food scraps. But there was also companionship on offer, as it quickly became apparent that man and dog liked each other and both benefited from the company of the other.

So what has this to do with fake sneezing?

Well, early man tended to be drawn to the most friendly types of dogs. It was these guys that were bred and nurtured to produce the next generation. As the millennia rolled by, so dogs became more domesticated and more dependent on people. 

Dogs as we know them today, for the large part, adore human company. Of course there are exceptions, because of factors such as lack of socialization or not meeting that individual dog's needs, but on the whole, a pet dog will thrive on attention from their owner. 

So when a bonded dog learns that when they sneeze their owner becomes concerned, this is a wonderful reward. For next to no effort, the dog learns a super-easy way to become the focus of their owner's attention and get a lovely fuss into the bargain. What's not to like from the dog's perspective? Of course they're going to sneeze...big time! 

The Science of Dogs Fake Sneezing

Science of Can Dogs Fake Sneeze?
A dog learns to fake sneeze in the same way we teach a dog to sit, stay, or lie down, which is by reward-based training. 

Let's imagine the dog that accidentally sneezes. Their owner makes a big fuss and says, "Bless you," and rubs the dog's throat. In the dog's mind, the cause and effect become linked. When they sneeze, the owner gives them top quality, one-to-one attention. 

Once the dog has made this mental link, a smart dog will offer another sneeze to see what happens. When a concerned owner responds with even more affection, the dog knows they're onto a winner. They now realize that a fake sneeze puts attention on tap and hey, presto... a dog who fakes sneezes. 

Training a Dog to Fake Sneeze

Training of Can Dogs Fake Sneeze?
Training a dog to fake sneeze is much easier than you might suppose. All you need do is 'capture' or 'mark' a real sneeze as praiseworthy and reward the dog. Repeat this every time they happen to accidentally sneeze, and pretty soon the dog will offer this behavior in anticipation of getting a reward. 

Be vigilant for sneezing. The first few times it will be by accident, so have your wits about you. Whilst the dog is in the act of sneezing say "Yes" in an excited voice and then give them a treat. Repeat this every time the dog happens to sneeze. 

After a few repetitions, instead of saying "Yes," use a cue word such as "Sneeze". This labels the behavior so the dog knows which action you want them to offer. When the dog sneezes, immediately say "Sneeze" and once the sneeze is over, say the word again in an excited way to see if you can encourage them to offer the action again. If they do, make a big fuss of them and give a reward.

The key to teaching this behavior is to precisely mark the moment of the sneeze, so the dog knows exactly what action the reward is for. Using a clicker can be a handy aid to this. With this method, you teach the dog to link the sound of the clicker with getting a reward. 

To do this, simply scatter a few treats on the floor and click each time the dog eats a treat. Pretty soon they'll hear the clicker and their head will go to the floor in the expectation of finding a treat. When they do this, you're ready to use the clicker for more general training. 

In this case, you click an accidental sneeze, which marks it as worthy of a reward. then the dog will be eager to sneeze again, in order to earn that easy treat. 

How to React to a Fake Sneeze:

  • If you don't want the dog getting into the habit of fake sneezing, then you must ignore or blank any attention-seeking behavior such as sneezing.
  • If the dog gets no benefit from the fake sneeze, then they're likely to stop offering the action.
  • If you want your dog to sneeze on cue, start marking and rewarding the sneezes.