We're all guilty of it: telling our dogs their going for a fun little trip, but they're really going on an excursion to the vet. Maybe we sneak a doggy vitamin into their treats. So we've been lying to our dogs. Isn't it only fair that our dogs would strike back and lie to us? That's what Kennady Longhurst and Alex Salsberry's dog did, and we're thoroughly impressed.
This is Sullivan, or Sully, for short. He lives with his owners in Utah. Sully is a happy, healthy pupper who likes to explore and go on walks. But it turns out, he's also quite the mastermind when it comes to getting his parents to spend time with him.
One afternoon, Longhurst decided to spend her lunch break from work at home with her dog. As soon as she started to leave, however, Sully started making a horrible coughing noise. Like anyone might be, Longhurst was very concerned for her dog.
"It really, really freaked me out," said Longhurst. "He was wagging his tail and running around and just wanted to play but also kept making this horrific noise." She called her husband to let him know what was happening, because she had to return to work. Her husband, Salsberry, left from work early to go be with Sully to monitor his behavior.
Now Salsberry was home with Sully, instead of Sully having to wait at home while his parents finished up their work day. His cough magically disappeared, and it seemed like the little guy was in the clear. Nothing suspicious about that at all, right?
"We figured he must have just gotten something stuck in his throat and finally got it out," Longhurst said. They were just relieved that nothing serious was wrong with their fur baby. But the next morning, when they were preparing to leave for work, things took a turn again.
When his parents were about to leave, Sully started up with the coughing noises once more. Worried, Salsberry thought that it would be best if he stayed home with Sully again to see if he was going to be okay. Later, Salsberry took Sully to the vet to see what could be the cause of his coughing attacks.
At the vet, doctors did a few tests on Sully to test if anything was wrong. When the results came back, they revealed that Sully was perfectly and completely healthy. So that cough that he'd been displaying? Completely fake. They consulted several other vets, and the results all came back the same.
"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," Longhurst said. It turns out that it's actually not that uncommon for dogs to try to fake out their owners to receive more attention. Tricky little guys.
"Dogs certainly can learn that certain behaviors result in things that are good — such as a cough or a sneeze results in owner attention," said Dr. Jill Sackman, who works as the head of the Behavior Medicine Service at BluePearl Veterinary Partners. "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." It certainly takes a smart dog to figure out this sneaky way of getting more attention.
"We’re pretty sure he knows that we know he was faking it. So he is just a naughty faker who wanted some extra attention, and boy did he get it," said Sullivan when they realized that their dog was a canine genius. "We baby him so much he probably learned that if he acted weird or different someone would spend the day with him." Getting to spend the day with your dog is a win win, so maybe they should be thanking Sully for giving them an excuse to stay home from work.
Colin Allen, a professor of cognitive science at the University of Pittsburgh, weighed in on the story and gave his thoughts about why Sully would do such a thing. He says that Sully wasn't deliberately trying to trick his owners, just drawing on behavior that he'd learned would give him extra time with them. "I’d be less willing to agree that it’s a deliberate deception such that the dog realizes that by coughing the owners will assume it’s sick," Allen said. "I’m going for the explanation that it’s learned behavior."
For anyone who may be worried, Longhurst assures them that their dog is "never left alone for more than three hours. We are not neglecting him. He is our world. He is just a DRAMA QUEEN." Way to go, Sully, that drama queening got you a little more time with your owners.
"I’m actually not surprised at all that he could pull this off," Longhurst said of his antics. "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." Everybody, go give your dog a little extra love and attention. Not like we need to be told twice.