Sullivan, the border collie mix made a coughing sound that had her owners concerned, after investigating they realized something else was going on.
Alex and Kennady Longhurst from Utah prefer not leaving Sullivan their 1 ½-year-old dog alone for more than a few hours at a time. They realized early on he was smart, playful, energetic and needy so when Kennady decided on going home for her lunch break and be with Sullivan she was very concerned when he made strange coughing sounds as she was about to go back to work.
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“It really, really freaked me out, he was wagging his tail and running around and just wanted to play but also kept making this horrific noise.”
Since Kennady could not stay home with Sullivan she called her husband after she told him what happened. He left work early to be with Sullivan and keep an eye on his condition. Sullivan’s cough ceased for the rest of the day and Kennady said:
“We figured he must have just gotten something stuck in his throat and finally got it out,”
While getting ready for work the next morning Sullivan coughed again. Worried that something could be wrong Alex stayed home with the dog deciding to take him to the vet that afternoon.
The vet was confused but suspected kennel cough even though he didn’t have a temperature or other symptoms, further testing only resulted in him being diagnosed as being healthy.
Alex and Kennady wanted to be sure Sullivan was indeed healthy and consulted other vets for a second opinion, and Kennady said:
“Almost all of them said he could be acting sick in the mornings or when we leave him because he knows if he acts different or sick we pay more attention to him and stay with him.”
Dogs are not the only pets using this tactic. Cats do this too, one found in Janauba, Minas Gerais, Brazil, on April 15, 2018, got filmed while pretending to be dead. The individual filming touches the cat several times, but it’s not until he speaks that the cat suddenly opens his eyes responding.
According to Michael W. Fox, author of Cat Body, Cat Mind: Exploring Your Cat’s Consciousness and Total Well-Being, fake sleeping is not uncommon amongst cats. They go into a sleeping position when they are stressed or to ward off threats.
Animals faking various things are more common than we realise, even if all they want is more of our attention, like with Sullivan.
Head of Behavior Medicine Service at BluePearl Veterinary Partners, Dr. Jill Sackman noted that this behavior is not unheard of and in line with a phenomenon called operant conditioning and had this to say:
“Dogs certainly can learn that certain behaviors result in things that are good — such as a cough or a sneeze results in owner attention. I wouldn’t say that this is faking it ... but rather they are so clever that they realize that the behavior results in a reward.”
Sullivan has not coughed since, Alex and Kennady suspects he realized that even though the extra attention was nice he did not want to go back to the vet.
“I’m actually not surprised at all that he could pull this off. “He has been an insanely smart dog since we got him when he was a puppy. He learned and picked up on stuff really fast. He’s a really great dog.”
Only when a vet has given a clean bill of health can you look at whether your dog is faking it. A cough can be an important clue pointing out lung or heart disease, and should not be dismissed as fake without a vet visit first.
The noise of a cough can be a clear indication of whether a cough is real or fake. A hacking, forceful and moist bubbly sounding coughs are unlikely to be fake.
Signs that your dog may be faking can include staring, shaking, pacing and ears dropping. They might also force a cough while petted, make eye contact, wag the tail slowly and come to you for attention.