My dog will guard her toy like it’s a puppy

My male dog is a toy-obsessed, retrieving fool.

Years ago, I learned in order to live with Ace I would have to set some rules.

I only throw the ball a couple of times in a row, for example. I use the command “that’s enough” to signal play is over.

And I know I’m not alone.

There are a lot of dogs like Ace.

Some are obsessed with retrieving and constantly drop toys at their owners’ feet. Others are obsessed with carrying toys around, and some become possessive of toys and will guard them from other dogs or from people.

I believe the majority of these behaviors are linked to high-energy dogs in need of more structure, exercise and training. This is just my opinion, and I’d like to hear yours in the comments.

However, there are some cases where a female dog will guard her toy like it’s a puppy because she is going through a false pregnancy.

When I wrote a post about whether or not dogs think their toys are babies, several people shared examples of their dogs experiencing false pregnancies. In those cases, the female dogs were “nesting” with their toys, licking them and sometimes guarding them as though the toys were puppies.

Below, you’ll see my neutered, male dog Ace when he was going through his false pregnancy.

OK, not really.

But jokes aside, some dogs really do have to deal with false pregnancies.

Dog will guard her toy like it's a puppy

False pregnancies in dogs

A false pregnancy in a dog is when a non-pregnant female dog shows signs of pregnancy, according to PetMD.com [1]. These symptoms are typically 4 to 8 weeks after her heat is over.

Most intact females will show some signs of false pregnancy at some point, according to VCAHospitals.com [2]. Although, the symptoms do not necessarily happen after every heat.

Symptoms of a dog’s false pregnancy

According to PetMD.com, a dog going through a false pregnancy could have behavioral or physical symptoms such as:

  • “nesting” behavior, like gathering blankets
  • “mothering” activity
  • enlarged mammary glands and fluid from the glands
  • vomiting
  • restlessness
  • “Mothering activity” could also include guarding toys or other small objects, according to VCAHospitals.com. The dog may also guard her blankets or “nesting” area.

Why do false pregnancies occur?

A hormonal imbalance is most likely the cause of false pregnancies in dogs, according to PetMD.com.

After a heat cycle, the female dog’s ovaries will produce hormones, regardless of whether or not she is pregnant, according to VCAHospitals.com. It remains a mystery why these hormonal changes occur even in non-pregnant dogs. If she is pregnant, the hormones will continue to be produced until right before she gives birth. If she is not pregnant, hormone levels begin to decline again after four to six weeks.

Can spayed dogs have false pregnancies?

Brown and white border collie guarding her toy
False pregnancies can occur in spayed dogs (a spayed dog’s ovaries and uterus have been removed), but it’s not as common, according to VCAHospitals.com. A false pregnancy in a spayed dog is most likely to happen a few days after a spay surgery.

What should you do if your dog is going through a false pregnancy?

Personally, I wouldn’t worry about it too much unless your dog seems to be very uncomfortable or if the symptoms do not seem to pass. If that is the case, I would contact your dog’s vet.

“My dog wants to be a mom.”

Several people have left comments on my other post saying they think their dog “wants to be a mom” due to the guarding behavior (guarding stuffed toys as though they are puppies).

I can’t speak for dogs, but I don’t think any dog actually wants to be a mom. I believe they are simply acting out their maternal instincts. Meaning, don’t breed your dog just because you think she wants to be a mom (dur-de-dur)! I am not against dog breeding, but come on.

Should you have your dog spayed?

This is a personal decision. Most people in the United States choose to have their female dogs spayed so they do not have to deal with the mess of their dogs going into heat. Spaying a dog does have its health risks, though, and I encourage you to read my post on the pros and cons of spaying and neutering.

Does your dog guard her toy like it’s a puppy?

 Citations

1. http://www.petmd.com/dog/conditions/reproductive/c_dg_false_pregnancy

2. http://www.vcahospitals.com/main/pet-health-information/article/animal-health/false-pregnancy-or-pseudopregnancy-in-dogs/1059

36 thoughts on “My dog will guard her toy like it’s a puppy”

  1. About the drive to retrieve, that is usually a bred in trait and sadly one that a lot of today’s breeders breed out of the retrieving breeds to make them more house-friendly and docile. Of course the flip side to that is that you want a retriever with and “off” switch who understands “enough”. That is also a bred in trait. Yes training can help, but if you have ever seen a truly driven retriever, well training (and a lot of it) only goes so far.

    Storm used to have false pregnancies before she was spayed. Her breeder/co-owner gave us a tip to take away all soft toys so she would not obsess that they were her puppies and to help her get over it quicker. We even had to take away soft beds for a period of time each season. Worked like a charm. She was not spayed until she was 6 so we had a lot of seasons to deal with this. She had a litter of puppies a year ago, and I think she still thinks the cat is one of her pups…lol.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      I can see why breeders would want to breed out some of the drive to retrieve. Although, my dog’s retrieving drive is one of the things I really love about him. It’s actually a trait I will want in my next dog. I love being able to use a toy as motivation to train my dog.

      Good tip on taking away the soft toys.

  2. “Most people in the United States choose to have their female dogs spayed so they do not have to deal with the mess of their dogs going into heat.”

    Really? Ever since I was a kid, the reason I always heard from friends, family, popular culture, tc. was that people spayed (and to a lesser extent, neutered) their dogs in order to avoid puppies / pet overpopulation. Never heard anyone mention the mess of a dog being in heat.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      That statement was just my opinion. Don’t you think that’s a pretty big factor? I know it’s why we had our dogs spayed while I was growing up.

      1. My dog went through one heat cycle… it was disgusting to deal with and she was miserable. I had no intention of breeding my girl so she was spayed. 1. becasue we did not want puppies and she had health issues that made her a poor canidate to breed. 2 . The mess IS DISGUSTING! 3. The risk of pyometra (uterine infection), behavioral differences (we have multiple dogs in our home), and increased risk of developing certain cancers as they age were also reasons i chose to spay my best friend.

  3. I totally agree with you that it is the mess and inconvenience that motivates most people to spay their dogs. Thank you for not joining the mantra of SPAY YOUR DOG. I think in the near future the present means of doggie birth control will seem barbaric.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      I think so too, Jan.

      It’s fine if people want to spay/neuter to make sure there are no accidental litters, but it’s a personal choice.

  4. I seriously snorted at Ace’s false pregnancy. I just partook in a discussion about false pregnancies on a FB raw feeding group, and some of the theories are pretty interesting, and many are in line with you are saying.

  5. False pregnancies are a big problem. We had a friend whose dog went through those and it was rough. Luckily we have not and we are all spayed, which means chances are slim it would happen.

  6. That’s so sweet!

    I’ve never really guarded my toys and even let guest dogs play with them and I also leave them lying around, I ‘m a boy dog, so I guess I shouldn’t think they’re my puppies? 🙂

    Hope you’re having a fun day

    Your pal Snoopy 🙂

  7. Leo isn’t experiencing a false pregnancy when it comes to his favorite soccer ball “Wilson” he just cannot for whatever reason go anywhere outdoors with it. He will share it, and even allow other dogs to play with it, but he will not get in the car or go for a walk without it. I haven’t experienced any aggressive behavior towards it/them, he’s just in love with his ball. Great post

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      That sounds kind of like Ace with tennis balls in general. He loves to play with them and prefers to have a ball with him whenever possible, but thankfully he lets other dogs take them and isn’t at all aggressive.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      I’m not sure. I imagine each dog will react a little differently. If it were my dog, I would probably just let her go through the “false pregnancy” with the toy for the time being and then put the toy away if the behavior just won’t stop after a given amount of time. I would think some dogs would whine for a bit if you put the toy away.

  8. Our dog goes through this. Right now is the third time and she’s been through four heats. I want to get her spayed because I actually feel bad for her but we just can’t afford it yet. She’s whiney and protective of her toys. She wimpers if they get left downstairs when we go to sleep. She “baths” them and even positions herself around two of the toys like she’s nursing. We’ve hid the toys and she just replaces it with a new one. I think that’s how we got up to three “babies” now. She actually searched them out and whined at the table they were on. I’ve decided to just let her be and hope it stops when we get her spayed.

      1. Lindsay Stordahl

        Here is the info I included in the post above. Hope it helps:

        After a heat cycle, the female dog’s ovaries will produce hormones, regardless of whether or not she is pregnant. If she is not pregnant, hormone levels begin to decline again after four to six weeks.

        1. thanks so much for all the info HoneyPearl is about 10 years old and she is going thru presumably a false pregnancy, Sunday when I took her for a walk she refused to budge without her baby, she keeps making a bed for it with the blankie that I keep in the doggie bed. Just to be sure that all is well I still scheduled an appt. with our vet

  9. Thanks for this article… I am currently going through the false pregancy after spaying. Nahla was growling at me and my daughter behind stuffed animals. It has been 12 days since her spaying and the false pregnancy is wearing off. (Exhales) As of yesterday, she started ripping the stuffing out of her “baby” and didn’t sleep with it last night. As I am typing this I realize I didn’t put it in her kennel this morning before I left for work. Oops! Dont want this pregancy to turn into seperation anxiety. *nervous laugh* But thanks for all of your articles… They have really helped me out during this “crazy dog owner” episode. Ready to have my 80 pound lap dog back.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      So glad the behavior is wearing off. Hopefully you won’t have to deal with the issue again now that she is spayed.

  10. I’m going thru a false pregnancy with my dog right now. I thank u SO MUCH for ur blog, as u r the one who got us to understand what the hell is going on!!!! My dog is a 2 year-old Pit Bull named Sadie. She is my baby, my best friend, and my lil puppy love!!! But I brought home a new toy for her a few days ago….its one of those toys that has a squeeky ball attached to a rope, so u can play tug-of-war with it OR play fetch!! At first she started unwrapping the rope but then the first time she heard the ball “squeek”, something changed!!!! She would pick it up REALLY gently with just the tip of her teeth. She would carry it EVERYWHERE and even cry/whine a bit, even when she had the toy with her. She refused to sleep without it and if it falls off the bed, she gets down to pick it up and brings it back up with her. She kept stuffing it underneath herself, and I had no idea why, until I read ur blog…..she thinks she’s nursing it!!!! She licks it and smells it and treats it so gingerly!!! The only difference is: She is not aggressive AT ALL towards my fiance or I. We can take it from her and she just watches, but if we put it out of her reach, she cries. Before I understood what was going on (b4 I read ur blog), I tried to take it when she wasn’t looking and I hid it. But she just walked around, crying & smelling every inch of the house. So I took to the internet, stumbled on ur blog and now that I have realized what is going on, I gave it back to her….I think it would depress her to not have it. And since she has shown no signs of aggression, I figured its not hurting anything, so why not let her be happy!!! I want to have her spayed, I live in Baltimore where many people r ignorant of Pit Bull’s and think they r all aggressive, mean dogs….all these stupid ppl have no idea how much they r missing by not getting to know this breed of dog….they r incredible!!! Affectionate, sweet, loyal, loving, kind, patient!!! And Sadie in particular is a very submissive dog….when a new dog that she hasn’t met approaches her, she lays down until the dog comes up to smell her. Living in a city where ppl r so ignorant and unnecessarily cruel to this breed, I don’t want her to have a litter of pups that could be put in a dog fighting ring or put down or something else equally as awful!! But I haven’t had the $ to get her spayed, unfortunately, so she has been in heat twice. The first time she didn’t go thru a false pregnancy but its been about 6 weeks since her last cycle. Since she looks to be starting to produce milk, I want to get her fixed and found that the SPCA will fix Pit Bulls in Baltimore City for free, if u meet their criteria….and it seems that I do fit it!!! So I have called and left a message, and hopefully I can have my baby girl back to normal soon!!! I just can’t imagine that she’s comfortable, producing milk and has all these raging hormones!!!! But really, I cannot thank u enough!!!! I would’ve had NO IDEA what was going on had I not luckily stumbled across ur blog!!! Now I know exactly what she’s going thru and I’m taking steps so she doesn’t have to feel this way much longer!! Until I can get an appt, I will continue to let her “indulge” in her strange behavior….if it makes her happy and she continues to not be aggressive, I’m not going to take her “baby” away from her and risk putting my baby girl into a depression. Thank u so much for ur help!!!! 🙂

  11. One more thing:
    I wish I could post a picture so u could see how cute she is, snuggled up on my lap right now with her squeeky ball attached to a rope tucked under her chin!!! She has no problem “sharing” her “baby” with me, and now that I understand that she REALLY THINKS that this squeeky-ball-on-a-rope is actually her puppy, I think its incredible how she is SO willing to let me or my fiance hold it or take it from her….in a very weird way, it shows me how much she loves and trusts us!!!! She really is such a wonderful dog….I find that once I start talking about her and singing her praises, I have a lot of trouble stopping (as I assume u can see from this & my last comment)!!!!! Dogs in general r such wonderful, unconditionally loving animals….but I REALLY have a special one here!!! 🙂 How we got her is an amazing story, one that I LOVE to share but that would be a very LOOOOOONG comment, and one that has nothing to do with this particular post….so I will refrain!!!!! 😉

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Oh I’m so glad I was able to help. I smiled many times reading your comments because your dog sounds just so cute! That’s wonderful that you found an affordable or even free service for spaying. And if you want to post a picture, you could post on on That Mutt’s Facebook page. https://www.facebook.com/ThatMutt

  12. My dog was spayed 7 days ago and stared experiencing signs of false pregnancy about 4 days ago. We adopted her from a shelter about 2 weeks ago. The vet estimated that she is just over a year old. Has never had puppies. She is not eating very much and is nesting with allllllll of her toys, even the ones that are not soft. She does not care if I am around but the moment my husband tries to come near she growls. Not a play growl but “I am going to bit you” growl. I called the vet today and asked if this is normal. He said that the displayed aggression is odd but could happen if she feels the need to protect something, my WILD guess is the “puppies” she is nesting with. I just hope the aggression subsides. She was not aggressive before we had her spayed. Any thoughts?

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Hi Kate. From what I’ve read, it sounds like this type of “false pregnancy” can happen after a recent spay surgery and should not happen again after the hormone levels balance off again. I’d give it a week or so and see how she responds. Could you put her toys away for now and try to occupy her mind with walks, training, play, etc? I hope she feels back to normal soon and the aggression goes away.

  13. One of my two small female dogs (the one that has not yet been spayed) has all of the signs and symptoms of a false or pseudo pregnancy including enlarged mammary glands, loss of appetite, anxiously trotting around the house with a rubber squeaky toy in her mouth, “nesting” behavior and aggression. She was in my bedroom yesterday lying in my other dog’s bed which she has recently taken over for the purpose of stashing and guarding several stuffed and squeaky toys. She refused to get out of the bed to eat, so I took the food to her and let her eat in the doggie bed. When I went back in to get the dish, my other little dog followed me and we were met with some pretty aggressive growls. I took the other dog into the living room and pulled out a basket of toys and invited her to get a “baby” to play with. The other dog ran into the living room to the basket of toys. She growled and I corrected her (firm “no no”). She growled again and I repeated the correction and told her to go lay down, and she immediately viciously attacked my other little dog. I seriously thought she was a little “psycho” dog until I read about pseudo pregnancy. My question is: Do pregnant females nest with toys and get aggressive before there are actually any pups to protect or are these symptoms exclusive to a pseudo pregnancy? Thanks for any insight you can offer.

  14. I have a 11 year old dachshund. This is probably the third time she I having false pregnancy. She isn’t very active and doesn’t eat and seems to be depressed all the time. Very rarely you will find her playing with us. She is always finding a place to hide. We have tried to breed her but it didn’t work out because she doesn’t like male dogs. I don’t know why. Will it help if i bring home a puppy for her? I have bought home my friends puppy before. It was a few months old. And she didn’t show any hatred towards him. I really want her to be happy and she would want to be a mom. What do u think?

  15. My black 3yrs old lab just started 1 week ago. She guards it zeoulsy. Its a rubber squeeze toy wit that makes squeaky sound. Definitely going thru false pregnancy behaviour. Looking at her is funny and sad at the same time..

  16. Tiffiny Powers

    My female Rottweiler Cheyanne apparently is going through a false pregnancy she is 3yrs old and has been in heat 4 times now and this is the first time she has did this her baby is a purple one eyed squeaky toy. We were not sure what was wrong with her till I read your blog. She is fine with me around her, but if my female Great Dane gets around her she growls at her. I feel bad for her. I hope it does not last much longer she stays in my sons room will not even come out to eat or go outside to use the bathroom (she’s not using the bathroom at all) can not get her to move unless u bring her “baby” out of the room and when she gets it back she takes it right back to the room and lays with it licking and smelling it. I hope my baby is back to normal soon.

  17. How can you tell the difference between false pregnancy and pyometra? My dog does not have a fever and is displaying all the signs of false pregnancy ( no aggression though) but she is licking herself a lot and all of my googling has left me worried that it could be pyometra. She is not distended though and no fever. Her teats are expressing milk. I am avoiding stimulating them but since they were swollen, I wanted to check. Any help would be appreciated. I have a vet appointment for her on Monday. It’s Saturday pm now.

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