Loving pet owners show great concern whenever their dogs display signs of illness, and it’s with good reason. They become coddled and given perpetual attention until they become better. However, experts suggest that dogs may be faking their sickness to get the same treatment when they are actually ill.
According to veterinarian Dr. Richard Pitcairn, author of Natural Health for Dogs and Cats, dogs who appear to be sick but really aren’t usually get incentivized to fake their symptoms from their parents’ response when they have a genuine ailment. Parents who rush to give their loving attention to their little pups motivate them to imitate their previous symptoms whenever they are looking for extra attention.
For instance, when they cough, and a parent immediately showers them with cuddles and kisses, they will start to relate coughing to how their parents responded. They will then constantly cough until they get what they want, which is their parents pampering.
Classical Conditioning in Dogs
This behavior can be similarly associated with teaching dogs a new trick. When a move is learned, or in the learning process, they are given treats or affection as a reward. With a continuous process, they will start to do the action with an expected outcome.
It is somewhat similar to something called Classical Conditioning. The National Library of Medicine explains that it “is the process in which an automatic, conditioned response is paired with specific stimuli.” By associating an unconditioned stimulus with a neutral one, it will create a conditioned response from the subject.
In this case, the fake signs of illness they perform, such as coughing or limping, act as the specific stimuli. Meanwhile, the conditioned response is the affection they receive for acting. Although coughing starts out as an unconditioned stimulus, they will start to pair it with affection if their parents frequently tend to their symptoms.
Academy Award Performances
Thankfully, dogs cannot mimic major illnesses such as fever or diarrhea, only things they can control, like coughing, limping, or sneezing. In TikTok, many dog parents have shown their cute little pups amplify their symptoms to get more TLC from their parents.
Some users have explained their annoyance with the situation. They explain how they would bring their dogs for a veterinary check-up only to discover they had feigned their symptoms. Moreover, these doting parents would spend hundreds of dollars only to be told that their pets just want a little more attention from them.
In the video below, a dog greatly dramatizes their limp as their owner leaves. It’s augmented by a squeal, a plea for some tender care. The user explains in the comments how they only fake their limp whenever they grab their keys. Do you think his performance is convincing enough to grab your attention?
Is my dog actually sick?
From their feigned sickness to their overly exaggerated limps, this begs the question: how do you discern if your dogs are actually sick? First, ignore them for a couple of minutes when they start to show signs of sickness that have sounding cues, like coughing, or visual ones, like limping. Although it can be tempting to rush to them with your affection, wait it out.
Once they have stopped showing their symptoms and magically become better in a few minutes, they are just trying to grab your attention. Afterward, ask yourself why they would want to have more of your time beside them. Questions like: “Am I not giving enough dedicated time for my dog?” or “Does my dog have separation anxiety?”
If you have answered the former question, then try to create space in your day for more quality time with your pet. In this case, they will not have to resort to faking their ailments to get some affection. Meanwhile, if you think the latter is more of the reason, contact your local veterinarian and ask for some advice on how to manage your dog’s illness properly.
However, if your dog’s symptoms still prevail, book an appointment with a veterinarian and consult them about your dog’s signs of sickness. This could be an actual problem they are experiencing and should be treated by a professional.
Parents who immediately run to their dogs after showing indications of illnesses are justifiable. However, it could just be a way for them to signal that they want to spend more time with you, and their calls should be considered.