Limping canine is empathetic and clever, not a cheater

The latest viral video of a dog has resulted in the dog being accused of cheating on its owners, but I want to defend this particular dog against those who speak against it. In the video, Billy the Lurcher hobbles with his owner Russell Jones, who – although on crutches with a broken ankle – took Billy for a walk.

First and foremost, kudos to Jones for not letting a broken ankle, cast, or crutches get in the way of his dog's walking! When Billy limped, clearly preferring one front paw, Jones didn't hesitate to take him to the vet. The visit, including x-rays, cost £ 300 (over $ 400) and did not reveal anything that could explain Billy's limp. The vet could not find any injury or other cause of pain in the dog, so his limp remained a mystery.

The puzzle was solved when Michelle Colgate, Jones' longtime partner, saw the dog play in the yard when Jones was away. Colgate saw Billy running joyfully and at great speed, spinning quickly, and jumping into the water. There was absolutely nothing wrong with Billy's leg or paw. To confirm this for himself, Jones used his father's mobility scooter when he took Billy on his next walk. On this outing, Billy walked as usual with no limps, injuries or signs of pain. It seems that Billy was imitating Jones instead of limping for medical reasons.

The headlines call Billy a cheater, but I disagree. My take on Billy is that his intelligence and empathy enable him to imitate and he just copied Jones. Imitation, a form of social learning, is viewed as a skill at such a high level that decades ago people thought that only humans could learn a behavior by watching another person do it. Since then, imitation has been well documented in a wide variety of species, including chimpanzees and dogs. Claudia Fugazza, PhD, even developed a training method called “Do As I Do”, which is based on this particular type of social learning.

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While limping like in the video, Billy found that Jones was not putting weight on his injured foot and changing his gait as he would if he were unable to weight one of his own paws. Or, perhaps more simply, he watched Jones hold up one leg and try to hold up one of his own legs, resulting in a limp while walking. Anyway, I think this dog has shown good qualities instead of being guilty of cheating.

Jones and Colgate are fortunate to have such a smart, sensitive, and caring dog. It's a shame about the vet bill.

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