Dog owner discovered his lurcher Bill was limping out of SYMPATHY

Footage has captured the moment a ‘con-artist’ dog that copied its owner’s limp was caught out when it sprinted around the garden after he left the house. 

Billy the nine-year-old lurcher captured the hearts of millions after a video showed him hopping alongside his owner Russell Jones, who was using crutches after breaking his ankle.  

Mr Jones spent some £300 in vet fees and X-rays for his limping canine – only to discover the dog was copying him out of sympathy.

And it’s not the first time Billy has imitated his owners’ ailments. 

When Mr Jones’ partner Michelle was forced to constantly lie down after pulling a muscle in her back, Billy would repeatedly lay beside her. 

Bill the lurcher lifts his paw above the ground and imitates his owner Russell Jones, whose leg is in a plaster cast, out of sympathy

Bill the lurcher lifts his paw above the ground and imitates his owner Russell Jones, whose leg is in a plaster cast, out of sympathy 

The best of friends: Mr Jones spent some £300 in vet fees and X-rays for his limping canine - only to discover the dog was copying him out of sympathy

The best of friends: Mr Jones spent some £300 in vet fees and X-rays for his limping canine – only to discover the dog was copying him out of sympathy

Mr Jones said: 'Billy is my soulmate. He has always got his eyes on me and he is very soppy'

Mr Jones said: ‘Billy is my soulmate. He has always got his eyes on me and he is very soppy’

Mr Jones, from Hoddesdon in Hertfordshire, had his foot in plaster for seven weeks after he broke his ankle while working as a window cleaner

Mr Jones, from Hoddesdon in Hertfordshire, had his foot in plaster for seven weeks after he broke his ankle while working as a window cleaner

The con artist dog: Appearing on This Morning today, Mr Jones and his partner Michelle revealed how he snapped his ankle after jumping off a wall, before Billy started limping the next day

The con artist dog: Appearing on This Morning today, Mr Jones and his partner Michelle revealed how he snapped his ankle after jumping off a wall, before Billy started limping the next day

Mr Jones found out that the limping lurcher did not have any physical ailments and was simply replicating his behaviour

Mr Jones found out that the limping lurcher did not have any physical ailments and was simply replicating his behaviour

Why dogs DO imitate their owners – even when it is not in their best interests 

In 2011, scientists at the University of Vienna provided the first evidence of ‘automatic imitation’ in dogs and found that canines will imitate their owners even when it is not in their best interest to do so.

During the study, half of the dogs watched their human ‘pack leader’ slide open a door with their hand while the other half watched their leader use their head.

All of the dogs had received training to open a sliding door using their head or their paw prior to watching their leader.  

Researchers found that the dogs were more inclined to imitate their pack leader – with or without the prospect of a reward.     

Lead author Friederike Range said: ‘This suggests that, like humans, dogs are subject to ”automatic imitation”; they cannot inhibit online, the tendency to imitate head use and/or paw use.’

In their report the scientists went on to conclude that due to both their evolutionary history of domestication and their developmental training by humans, dogs will mimic behaviours they are shown.  

In 2017, a study by Dr Iris Schoberl, at the University of Vienna, found that both owners and dogs influenced each other’s coping mechanisms.

An experiment involving 132 owners and their pets found that dogs belonging to neurotic owners were less able to cope with stress, while relaxed people had more relaxed and friendly pets.

The research paper also found that dogs were sensitive to their owners’ emotional states, with women in particular having stronger relationships with companion animals. 

Dr Schoberl, lead author of the study published in the journal PLOS One, said: ‘Owners behave differently because they are pessimistic or neurotic, and perhaps dogs read the emotions of their owners and think the world is more dangerous, so are more reactive to it.

‘It looks like people who are pessimistic have dogs which are worse at coping with stress than others.’  

The studies may help explain why the lurcher in the video replicates their owner’s movements.

But not all experts are convinced the dog’s behaviour is brought about by sympathy. 

Rosie Bescoby, who is a member of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers, told MailOnline: ‘Dogs have to be trained to imitate people. Animals won’t ever do it out of sympathy. I would 110 per cent state that this dog is actually in pain and non-weight bearing for a physical reason. 

‘I would have suggested the owner seek a second opinion from another vet and there are plenty of things that would not show up on an X-ray that can cause this (even as small as a thorn in the foot). 

‘It would be complete coincidence that the dog has shown this behaviour at the same time the owner is in a cast. 

‘Lurchers are not known for their bravery when it comes to pain so it may be that something fairly minor was causing the issue but I am afraid myself and my colleagues will categorically state that this is not a happy dog. 

‘Anyone whose dog is showing signs of lameness should see their vet and if no diagnosis is made request referral or seek a second opinion.’

Mr Jones, from Hoddesdon in Hertfordshire, had his foot in plaster for seven weeks after he broke his ankle while working as a window cleaner.

The hardworking dad, who runs his own cleaning business, was worried when his hyperactive lurcher Billy began limping when the pair went for a walk.

The 53-year-old forked out almost £300 on vet bills including two consultations, leg and paw X-rays and painkillers in a bid to get to the bottom of Billy’s mysterious condition.

But vets could not find anything wrong with the canine and told the family there was nothing they could do.

It was only once the family returned home and let Billy play in the garden when he began whizzing around and his limp seemingly disappeared.

Mr Jones then decided to experiment and took Billy for a walk in his dad’s mobility scooter and realised the dog only limped when he was walking alongside him.

He said: ‘Billy is my soulmate. He has always got his eyes on me and he is very soppy. 

‘When I took him out on the scooter, that was it. He never limped. He never limped again in his life.

‘We realised he was limping out of sympathy. 

‘He was copying me because I was hobbling along.’ 

The lurcher, who turns ten in February, is usually known for his boundless energy which made his limping episode appear all the more baffling to Russel and his partner Michelle Colgate, 47. 

But when Michelle, who works in Sainsbury’s, began playing with Billy in the garden, she realised what was happening. 

Mr Jones added: ‘Michelle said, ‘look, I think he’s taking the Micky out of you. He’s following you how you walk.’

‘He was leaping and jumping about in the garden while I wasn’t there. 

‘So I took him for a walk in my dad’s mobility scooter and he lost his limp. 

‘We went for miles and miles and he was just fine.’

This is not the first time Billy has imitated his owners in sympathy when they have been unwell.

When Michelle pulled a muscle in her back and tripped a nerve, the caring canine laid down on the floor next to her while she rested on the sofa.

Michelle said: ‘He would come up and nuzzle my face and lay down next to me. 

‘I would be laying on the sofa or in bed and he would lay on the floor and not move.

‘Then if I walked into the kitchen, he would walk gently behind me and follow me back.’

Michelle initially posted a video of Billy’s copycat limp after Russell’s accident in June last year. 

But it was only when Mr Jones shared it with a Greyhound and Lurcher Facebook group this month that the pair became an internet sensation.

The couple first took Billy home as a puppy along with his sister Ruby who passed away from kidney failure three years ago.

The pups grew up alongside the couple’s two children Kieran, now 25, and Maisie, now 22.

Mr Jones said: ‘It’s been madness since the video went viral. 

‘People have said how it’s cheered them up and how much they’ve enjoyed hearing about Billy, especially during lockdown.’ 

The video has since received more than two million views on social media, and Mr Jones took to Facebook to write: ‘Cost me £300 in vet fees and X-rays, nothing wrong just sympathy. Love him.’   

The couple appeared on ITV’s This Morning today, and host Phillip Schofield dubbed the dog the ‘biggest con artist they’d ever had on the show.’ 

The dog follows his owner along the street

The canine copies his owner

The canine copies his injured owner out of sympathy as he walks beside him along the street

The dog continues to keep a watchful eye over his owner as he makes his way to his home

The dog continues to keep a watchful eye over his owner as he makes his way to his home 

The couple first took Billy home as a puppy to grow up alongside the couple's two children Kieran, now 25, and Maisie, now 22

The couple first took Billy home as a puppy to grow up alongside the couple’s two children Kieran, now 25, and Maisie, now 22

Mr Jones added: ‘He usually goes from zero to 40mph in under a second. He loves jumping in the river and he is like a motorboat chasing after sticks. 

‘That’s what made it more surprising because he’s usually not like that.

‘He is a very needy dog and he loved being around us, whatever we are doing. He sits with us on the sofa and he lays on his blanket while we are having dinner or playing games.

‘It’s been madness since the video went viral.

‘People have said how it’s cheered them up and how much they’ve enjoyed hearing about Billy, especially during lockdown.’

After it was shared online, social media users rushed to Facebook to share their praise for the dog

After it was shared online, social media users rushed to Facebook to share their praise for the dog

In 2011, scientists at the University of Vienna provided the first evidence of ‘automatic imitation’ in dogs and found that canines will imitate their owners even when it is not in their best interest to do so.

During the study, half of the dogs watched their human ‘pack leader’ slide open a door with their hand while the other half watched their leader use their head. 

Researchers found that the dogs were more inclined to imitate whatever their pack leader displayed – with or without the prospect of a reward.     

Lead author Friederike Range said: ‘This suggests that, like humans, dogs are subject to ”automatic imitation”; they cannot inhibit online, the tendency to imitate head use and/or paw use.’     

source: dailymail.co.uk