Lovesickness, more often than not, doesn’t have any overt physical symptoms. So, seemingly with that in mind, this clever pup decided to go ahead and invent his own.
Sullivan lives in Utah with his owners, Alex and Kennady. Last week, Kennady decided to spend her lunch break at home with the dog. When it came time to return to work, however, Sullivan suddenly began making a coughing sound that had her very concerned.
“It really, really freaked me out,” Kennady told. “He was wagging his tail and running around and just wanted to play but also kept making this horrific noise.”
Kennady then called her husband to let him know what was happening. Since she couldn’t stay with Sullivan, Alex decided to go home early from work to keep him company and make sure things didn’t get worse.
But, sure enough, with that extra dose of love and attention the dog’s coughing ceased as mysteriously as it had begun.
That evening, it seemed Sullivan was in the clear. “We figured he must have just gotten something stuck in his throat and finally got it out,” Kennady said.
The next morning, however, as the couple prepared to head off to work, the dog began coughing again. Worried once more, Alex thought it best to stay home that day, too. And sure enough, that was probably the exact response Sullivan had been hoping for.
Later on, Alex took Sullivan to the vet in hopes of pinpointing his apparent illness. After a few tests, it was concluded that the dog was actually totally healthy. That cough? FAKE.
“Husband stayed home from work cuz our dog was coughing. We took him to the vet and paid 85$ for him to tell us OUR DOG WAS FAKE COUGHING.”
Just to be sure, the couple consulted several more vets to ask about Sullivan’s symptoms.
“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,” Kennady said.
Turns out, such fakery in pets is not unheard of — especially when it inspires sympathy TLC from their favorite people.
Dr. Jill Sackman, head of the Behavior Medicine Service at BluePearl Veterinary Partners, says this is in line with a phenomena called operant conditioning:
“Dogs certainly can learn that certain behaviors result in things that are good — such as a cough or a sneeze results in owner attention,” Sackman told. “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.”
Fortunately, Sullivan has since stopped coughing. Kennady suspects that the dog realized that feigning sickness is actually a double-edged sword; the extra attention was nice, but the trip to the vet was not.
“I’m actually not surprised at all that he could pull this off,” she said. “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.”