Don’t Fool Your Dog

Honey the golden retriever sleeps with her stuffed lamb.

Oh no. April Fool’s Day again? I’d better guard Lamby until this day is over.

Yuck. It’s April Fool’s Day.

I hate it.

Visiting online news sites with a cynical eye. Waiting for the “gotcha” in every conversation.

Seems like a good day to avoid human contact.

I’m glad Honey’s trainer gave me a reason not to join the April Fool’s “fun.” He told me: “Don’t fool your dog.”

It’s good advice.

Fooling Your Dog

Fool our dogs? What does that mean?

C’mon. We’ve all done it.

  • Shaken the box of cookies to get your dog’s attention.
  • Pretended to throw a ball and then laughed when he went running for what we had hidden behind our backs.
  • Hidden a favorite toy under a blanket or pillow.

I don’t mean to say that playing games with our dogs is a bad thing.

But we must be careful not to break their trust in us. Because trust is the most important part of our relationships with our dogs.

Honey the golden retriever waits for her ball.

You can’t fool me. I know one of you has the ball. Who is going to throw it?

Building Trust With Your Dog

I used to think that feeding, exercising, and sheltering my dog was enough. That’s not true for me any more.

Now I work to nurture a bond with Honey. To be the most interesting, fun, and trustworthy person she knows.

Yes, it makes training much easier. And it makes living with Honey more fun.

I no longer own a dog. I have a relationship with a beautiful creature who is very different from and yet eerily similar to me.

Sometimes we’re lucky to start with an advantage.

Some dogs, because of their breed characteristics, early socialization, or personality, have trust built-in. Think of that German shepherd who would die before leaving his person’s side. Or that amazing mutt who never wears a leash and yet walks right beside his person no matter what.

But if your dog has a more independent nature, you have to work harder to nurture trust. And the cost of fooling your dog is higher.

And trust is particularly important to build with a fearful dog.

My golden retriever Honey is a timid girl. It’s easy to convince her I’m trustworthy and fun on an off-leash walk. She constantly returns to “check in” with me.

It’s much harder to convince her to trust me when I’m leading her over grates in the sidewalk, near swinging objects, or down a swaying boat ramp. The last thing I want to do is damage her trust in me for a few seconds of laughing at my dog.

If you don’t mind, I prefer not to fool my dog.

Honey the golden retriever waits for her ball.

Throw it. Throw the ball. THROW THE (bleep) BALL!

How Not to Fool Your Dog

The rules for not fooling your dog are simple.

  • If you promise food, give it.
  • Let your dog in on the joke. If you pretend to throw a ball for your dog, don’t laugh too long before showing it and encouraging your dog to find it.
  • Make hiding toys or treats a fun game for both of you. Start with a toy or stinky treat partially hidden and teach your dog to explore increasingly harder hiding places. It could be your own version of nose work games.
  • If you click (even if it was a mistake), you gotta treat.

I promise you won’t miss out on too much fun. You’ll definitely improve your bond. And your dog won’t feel stupid like we do when someone “gets” us on April Fool’s Day.

A Magician Fooling Dogs

The following video is very popular. As you can imagine, I didn’t find it as fun as many people did (especially when I saw fearful Sälli).

But it’s an example of dog lovers having fun fooling dogs.

Watch it and tell me what you think.


Your Turn: What do you think of fooling dogs? Does your dog find it good fun? Or does he react poorly to it?

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  1. I agree, it’s a trust thing for sure. If they can’t trust us, who can they trust?

  2. Not all of my readers, including me, saw Sälli as a fearful dog. One of my dogs I am sure would react that way and he knows no fear. He just doesn’t take crap from strangers. If there are treats, fine. Otherwise he just barks at them and leaves. He has no sense of humor and little patience with strangers.

  3. I thought it was funny. Salli didn’t strike me as fearful, but I am not by any means an expert on dog behavior. The magician did give all the dogs their treats after his trick. I linked another video today about pranks on dogs and I think its funny. I don’t see them as breaking trust, but rather how a dog reacts to the unexpected. (There are some dogs that I wouldn’t move a bush around or surprise with a remote controlled dish, because that could terrify them. ) However, my own dogs are confident and seem to roll with these kinds of things. If I had a reactive dog or a fearful dog, I would need to be a lot more careful about the kinds of things we do.

  4. That’s funny, I laughed at first when I was watching that video and then started to feel bad for the dogs. I don’t like to fool them either, especially ones with trust issues. Dogs don’t get humor…

  5. I’ve never been a big fan of tricking dogs, but if it’s a game that makes our puppy think, that’s a little different. I love watching them try to figure things out, as long as they get the pay off in the end!

    We didn’t celebrate April Fool’s Day today. We celebrated Adopt A Greyhound month instead!

  6. I love this post. Daddy is prone to the pretend ‘throw’ joke and I don’t find it funny at all!

  7. This is not one of my favorite days. And I really do have a sense of humor, I think! I don’t do the fake throw the ball thing, unless I have a reason that I want the dogs to look the other way, i.e., I threw the ball and they weren’t paying attention, and now I’m trying to direct them the right way! However, my hubby does it sometimes and Cricket is not at all amused….fetch is serious business to her!
    I am sure dogs don’t get humor or appreciate being teased, but I guess the video was harmless fun. I liked when the dogs barked at the guy like they were telling him off though! Like, “not really funny, you jerk!” 🙂

  8. Silas, the freak, ADORES the pretend-to-throw-the-ball game. Probably because he’s so smart that he looks for the ball before he chases it.

    I’m so glad someone else doesn’t like that magician video. I almost cried when I saw poor Salli, who acts a lot like Silas does with “bad’ strangers.

  9. We are lucky, Mom doesn’t fool us. If she says squirrel, there is a squirrel, if she opens the treat drawer, we get treats. She thinks it is the polite way to treat us.

  10. I share your cynicism for the day. How does anyone even fall for it anymore, when all of social media this morning was “prank” after “prank”?

    I don’t play tricks on Mo or Alma. Their enthusiasm for fetch is so short-lived that fake-throwing the ball would only diminish it further.

    I also don’t recall them for things they might dislike, which I think falls under this topic. We’ve spent so long building up the trust that every time they come to me it’s a good thing, I’m not going to start calling them over for things they won’t like – leaving the park, cleaning ears, etc.

  11. I strive not to fool my guys, too. It just seems unfair, especially because I personally hate being fooled. I actually enjoyed that video (except for the fearful pup, the poor dear) because I felt like it showed us so much about their thought process. There was a clear idea about object permanence. I was also fascinated by the breakdown among the dogs between those who immediately looked to the humans for answers and those who jumped into problem-solving the missing treat. I know it was silly and just for fun, but I thought that there was an excellent canine cognition demo!

  12. Margaret T says:

    I’m not wild about laughing AT anyone, dog or human. Laughing with someone is more fun for all. People who lie to their dogs generally get dogs who don’t believe them. (“Come here and we’ll go for a ride.” And then no ride. Do you think the dog will fall for it next time? Eventually, no, he won’t. My dog sometimes anticipates where I’m going to throw the ball, and she runs. But I don’t laugh. I wait until she turns around to look at me, and then I throw the ball, usually in a different direction.

  13. I don’t like pranks done on me and I don’t do them with my dog. They have an attitude all by themselves without me trying to fool them. bol!

  14. I don’t think tricking dogs or scaring them is acceptable. However a little bit of fun is ok, though my hubby tries to tell our dog there’s a cat around and he goes looking. It’s kind of wrong, but a little bit funny too! As long as it’s not done constantly or causing anxiety, I think it can be ok sometimes.

  15. I have to say I laughed at the video, but there was an assumption on my behalf that all the dogs got the promised treats and plenty of fuss to make up for it. If that wasn’t the case then this video isn’t quite as funny, in fact it isn’t!!

    I’m interested in your “always give food if promised” comment as we were advised by a trainer to initially always give food, but as the recall (for example) gets stronger only treat occasionally, likewise when learning a trick, as the trick is known the amount of tricks they have to do before getting the treat increases. I was told that this helps keep the dogs interest and focus. I’d love to know what you think!

  16. I think they did say the dogs were rewarded afterward by treats, and I admit to laughing a couple of the dog’s reactions. It did leave me wondering what kind of people willingly submitted their dogs for this experiment.