Why Do Some Dogs Fake Sneeze?

dog sneezing in the grass

Dogs fake sneeze when they’re in a playful mood. Dogs communicate with each other through body language. When dogs are playing, they will fake sneeze to let the other dog (or person) know they just want to play and are not being aggressive. 

When I first heard about this, I thought, “Do dogs really fake sneeze?”, that seems a bit outrageous. It sounded like someone was trying to give their dog too much credit. But it turns out dogs really do fake sneeze sometimes.

While normal sneezing is a physical response to a foreign object in your dog’s nose, or an illness like a cold, fake sneezing is much more benign. Dogs use fake sneezes to communicate with people and other dogs. 

If you’re curious about when your dog’s sneezes might be fake or how to tell the difference, keep reading below, we’ve done all the research for you.

What Is a Fake Sneeze?

Literally, your dog is pretending to sneeze. It might look and sound like a normal sneeze if you don’t pay too close attention, and you might think that something is irritating his nose. But fake sneezes actually happen regularly, and if you pay attention, you’ll notice they look and sound a bit different from a normal sneeze.

Is It Different From a Reverse Sneeze?

Yes. A reverse sneeze is a powerful inhale through the nose. A fake sneeze is like a regular sneeze, but shorter and less powerful. 

Some dogs reverse sneeze when they get excited, but it can also be a way for them to try to remove an irritating object in their nose.

The main difference is that reverse sneezes, like normal sneezes, are a physical response. They aren’t something that your dog actively decides to do, but something that his body does as a reaction to his environment or situation.

Why Do Dogs Fake Sneeze?

Dogs fake sneeze to get attention or to communicate. They might be trying to tell you or another dog that they are playful, or they might just be looking for you to acknowledge them and remind you it’s time for their nightly walk. 

Sneezing While Playing

It’s very common for dogs to fake sneeze while playing. You may not have noticed it before, but if you watch your dogs play next time, you’ll catch a few sneezes in the mix. Now that I know this, I can’t help but watch my dogs play and notice every time one of them sneezes.

Sneezing while playing communicates that your dog is playful. He’s trying to tell you, or another dog, that his behavior is playful so that it’s not mistaken for aggression. It also clues you in to the fact that he’s having fun. 

Sneezing while playing indicates that your dog is comfortable. If they’re able to stop mid-play to sneeze, they’re certainly not anxious or on edge. 

It can also be a way to slow down the pace of play if your dog needs a quick break.

Another reason your dog might sneeze while playing is an actual physical response. Many dogs curl their lips back while playing, which scrunches up their nose. This might naturally result in a little sneeze.

Fake Sneezing to Get Attention

Dogs are very clever. They know what to do to get your attention and get what they want. While some dogs might have learned the bad habit of barking to tell you what they want, others will sneeze to get your attention. 

It is a noticeable performance that usually provokes a response from their owner. I know that my first thought when I hear one of my dogs sneeze is to check up on them and make sure everything is OK. 

By doing this, I’ve unknowingly conditioned them to learn that when they sneeze, they’ll get my attention.

You might notice your dog sneezing around dinner time to get your attention and remind you to feed him. Or maybe he is sneezing while waiting by the door because he wants you to take him for a walk. 

This is typical with set routines when your dog is waiting for a regular thing to happen at the same time each day. It might also be a way to get your attention so he can show you he’s playful and wants you to throw the ball for him.

What About Normal Sneezes? What Are Some Common Causes?

Environment

Of course, your dog might be sneezing for real. The most common cause of sneezing for dogs is environmental. 

Your dog may have gotten some dirt in his nose after digging in the yard, or a blade of grass in his nose while sniffing the lawn. 

Either way, a sneeze is his way of removing that irritating object. It’s healthy and normal.

Allergies

Allergens can also play a part in your dog’s sneezing. If he’s inhaled some dust in the house or gotten some pollen in his nose while he was outside, those can be just as irritating for him. 

Some dogs have seasonal allergies, which will get better or worse with the time of year. 

Other signs of allergies are wheezing, itchy skin, or frequent licking of the paws. 

To minimize the sneezing and other symptoms of allergies, you can try to reduce your dog’s exposure to the allergens by cleaning your house frequently and wiping their paws when you get home from a walk. 

Most dogs will not show symptoms of allergies until they are about two years old.

Breed

Some dogs are more prone to sneezing than others. Brachycephalic (short, smushed noses) breeds like pugs can have a hard time breathing. They often have constricted nasal passages, which leads to frequent sneezing.

Telling the Difference Between a Real and Fake Sneeze

Fake Sneezes are Shorter

If your dog is fake sneezing, you’ll usually be able to tell because the sneeze is not as intense. It’s coming from the nose rather than the lungs, so a fake sneeze is shorter and less powerful.

Deeper sneezes, where you can hear and see it coming from your dog’s lungs, are a good indication of a cold.

Take Clues from the Situation

Pay attention to when your dog is sneezing. Is it right after coming inside? Then it might be an actual sneeze. Is it while playing or right around dinner time? Then he might just be trying to get your attention.

If he’s watching you as he’s sneezing, or moves closer to you before he sneezes, then it’s likely a fake sneeze. Your dog is doing this to communicate with you, so he wants to make sure you don’t miss it.

When Should I Be Concerned?

Although sneezing can be a way of communicating for your dog or just a normal healthy response to something irritating his nose, there are a couple signs you should watch out for.

If the sneezing is continuous or looks painful, he may have something stuck in his nose. This can be very uncomfortable for your dog, and even dangerous if it’s obstructing his airway. 

If you see a bloody discharge coming from his nose or notice that he’s constantly pawing at his muzzle, take him to the emergency vet immediately. 

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