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.
Signs a Dog is Faking a Sneeze
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.
- Head tilting
- Jumping up
- Wag tail
- Raise ears
- Licking the owner
- Following the owner
- Touching the owner with a paw
- Sliding close to the owner
The History of Dogs Fake Sneezing
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
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
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.