“She’s so cute, she carries that toy around like it’s her puppy.”
“I know, she even growls when I try to take it. So cute!”
“Aww … she’s protecting it. If I try to put it away, she sits and cries for her baby. Haha!”
Have you ever caught yourself saying something like this? I made up the above conversation, but I hear similar comments all the time.
I’ve even encouraged my own dog to carry a stuffed toy around because I think it’s cute. But that’s the problem. We think it’s cute when really it’s unhealthy for a dog to obsess over a toy.
Does my dog think her toy is her baby?
Dogs know their toys are not real.
It’s actually unlikely that your dog thinks her toy is her baby. When a dog carries her toy around all day, it is most likely because she is obsessive or possessive about the toy.
She does not think it is real. She knows it’s not her puppy, unless it’s a rare instance where the female dog is having a false pregnancy. Most of the time, though, it’s us humans who create emotional attachments to stuffed animals. Dogs know better.
*If you think your female dog is showing signs of a “false pregnancy” or “phantom pregnancy,” scroll to the end of this article or click here.
My dog is attached to a stuffed animal
A dog with pent-up energy easily takes that frustration and fixates on a toy or several toys. If the dog is not given exercise, mental challenges or rules on a daily basis, the obsession on the toy grows because she has no other outlet for her energy.
We humans think it’s cute to see our dogs obsess over a toy so we even encourage the behavior. We say things over and over in an excited voice like, “Where’s your puppy?” Or, “Where’s your ball?” And then we overdo the praise and attention.
We reward the obsessive behavior without even realizing it.
A dog obsessing over a toy can lead to aggression.
If your dog growls when you try to take her toy away, it’s not cute.
I see owners of small breeds like Chihuahuas encouraging their dogs to growl because they think it’s funny. Encouraging aggressive behavior in a dog is never funny.
A five-pound dog can bite someone pretty badly, especially a child who has her face up to the dog.
We think it’s cute if a rottweiler carries a stuffed puppy around all day. People like to nurture small, cute things, so we like it when our dogs do the same. We like the idea that our dog has her own “baby.” Many of us carried around stuffed animals as a kid, so it’s heartwarming to us when our dogs do the same.
Even when a rottweiler growls as someone tries to take her toy, it’s easy to overlook the behavior if the dog is gentle in all other situations.
The only time my old golden retriever growled at me was when I tried to take her rawhide bone away. Since I knew she would never hurt anyone, I didn’t take her growling too seriously.
But even she would snap if I tried to take her bone. This was a behavior I should not have put up with, but I didn’t know better at the time.
Why is my female dog carrying a toy and whining like it’s her baby?
There could be several reasons why your dog is carrying her toy around and whining. Usually it’s not because the dog thinks her toy is her baby but instead it’s one of these reasons:
1.) She might simply be excited and wants you to play with her! She might want you to try to chase her or play “keep away” or tug. This particular toy might be one of her favorites and she is just so excited to play with it!
2.) Your dog might want you to let her outside so she can go burry the toy in the yard (like she might do with a bone). This toy might be seen as high value to your dog, and she wants to go out and bury it or hide it so no one else can steal it. She might also pace around the house as though she’s looking for a place to hide it from you or from your other dogs.
3.) A third option is that your dog might have some possessiveness issues with this particular toy. (More on that below.)
Of course, just because a dog loves a certain toy doesn’t mean she has issues. Just learn what the difference is between a normal dog playing and a dog that is starting to become possessive of the toy.
Signs of dog toy possessiveness to watch for:
- The dog growls, bites, barks or snaps when someone tries to take the toy.
- She refuses to give up a toy.
- The dog cries or searches for a toy once it is put away.
- The dog is fixated on the toy.
- She starts fights with other dogs when the toy is in the room.
- The dog intentionally or accidentally snaps at hands to grab the toy before it’s been given to her.
- She takes the toy and hides in a corner.
- The dog is very submissive and the toy is the one thing she “controls.”
- The dog is possessive and aggressive around other objects such as food or bones.
Ways to prevent a dog’s possessiveness:
- Set time limits on when the dog can have the toy, maybe 5 minutes at a time.
- Make sure the dog understands that the toy is yours and you can take it whenever you want.
- Teach your dog the “leave it” command. Learn more here.
- Don’t let the dog have the toy until you say so.
- Don’t encourage obsessive, possessive or aggressive behavior.
- Make sure your dog gets enough exercise.
- Set rules for your dog and follow through.
- Put the toy away when not in use, but place it on the ground and ask for “leave it” and calm behavior first.
*This article has been expanded into a FREE ebook on how to break a dog’s possessiveness. Get it here.
OK, so in some instances, a female dog may actually be going through what is called a “false pregnancy” or a “phantom pregnancy.” Here is some information on this.
A false pregnancy in dogs is when a female dog is showing physical or behavioral signs of pregnancy but is not actually pregnant.
Here are some of the false pregnancy behaviors, according to VCAHospitals.com:
- The dog is showing nesting behavior such as gathering bedding
- She is showing “mothering” activity to objects such as licking a toy or gently carrying the toy around
- She guards her blankets or toys
- General restlessness
- The dog is throwing up
- Possibly even has enlarged mammary glands or even fluid
These behaviors are more likely to happen if the dog is not spayed or if she was recently spayed. PetMD.com says that a hormonal imbalance is most likely the reason for the behavior.
My dog is attached to a toy after her spay
If your dog is showing signs of a false pregnancy after her spay surgery, it is likely due to the hormonal imbalance. Your dog should return to normal in a couple of weeks.
Dog nesting behavior when not pregnant
“Nesting behavior” or carrying a toy around are the most common behaviors dog owners notice when their female dog is going through a false pregnancy. Nesting behavior could include adjusting the bedding frequently, moving blankets or towels around or adding more blankets to her bed or kennel area. Your dog might be scratching or circling on her bed more frequently.
Should I take the toys away during a false pregnancy?
You can take your dog’s toys away if she is having a false pregnancy, but it might cause her more stress. I recommend you just let her have her toys and carry them around while she is going through this hormonal change. It should only last for a couple of weeks.
Does your dog seem to think her toy is her baby?
Let me know in the comments. My dog Ace used to be pretty obsessive with tennis balls. He’s gotten less obsessive in his old age! (2019 update: Ace has passed away.)
My young dog Remy can get in a very fixated/possessive state of mind over stuffed toys so we are careful not to let his excitement escalate.
- How to break a dog’s possessiveness
- Why does my dog want me to hold his bone?
- Responsible dog breeding (AKC site)
Lindsay Stordahl is the founder of That Mutt. She writes about dog training and behavior, healthy raw food for pets and running with dogs.