4 min read


Can Dogs Think Toys are Puppies?



4 min read


Can Dogs Think Toys are Puppies?


Our dogs can entertain us with their cute behavior and interactions with their toys. We are reminded of nurturing and mothering when dogs show signs of maternal behavior towards fluffy toys. How sweet it looks when your dog takes a toy to bed. 

Does your dog really think the toy is a puppy needing protection? During a false pregnancy, it is possible that the bitch, who has not really had puppies, can believe a toy is a puppy in need of care. However, a close relationship between a toy and a dog could be a cause of toy guarding. 


Signs Your Dog Thinks Their Toys are Puppies

When you notice your dog becoming possessive over a toy, there can be one of two different reasons for this behavior. Your dog could be showing you how precious this toy is and how much value they put on the toy. This results in prey guarding or an obsessive disposition towards the treasured toy. 

The other reason is connected to hormonal changes and the onset of a false pregnancy. These two reasons will signal the behavior in similar ways. You will know if your dog is a candidate for a false pregnancy. An un-spayed bitch can go through a false pregnancy if she has been in heat and was not mated. Her hormones and natural instincts may result in a false pregnancy and she will exhibit all the signs related to being pregnant - physically and emotionally. During a false pregnancy, she will nest and carry a fluffy toy to nurture in the nesting area. 

The other reason for carrying a toy around and looking possessive over this toy is about guarding. This behavior needs to be watched. You will notice your dog carrying a favorite toy off to a special place, their bed or a corner of the room deemed to be safe. The toy that is being guarded will be the favorite toy and your dog will carry it around in their mouth and not want to drop and leave the toy. 

Often, this behavior looks cute and is encouraged by dog owners who are not aware, at the time, that this could lead to obsessive behavior. If you notice your dog growling when you come near the toy or not wanting to release the toy, then you need to be ready for some intervention and not to encourage this behavior. 

Body Language

Signs your dog might think their toy is a puppy include:

  • Growling
  • Whining
  • Guarding
  • Scratching

Other Signs

More signs to watch for are:

  • Aggressive Behavior
  • Carrying The Toy Everywhere
  • Not Letting You Near The Toy

History of Dogs Thinking Toys are Puppies


There are many interesting stories and references to dogs and their toys. The story of Hank, a chocolate lab rescue dog, and his fluffy, purple hippo story captured the hearts of many people and raised awareness for the animal shelter, "Foxvalley Humane Association". 

Hank was staying at the home with his fluffy purple Hippo. Hank was very attached to the toy and carried it everywhere with him. One day, it appeared the toy had been attacked. The care workers at the home started an investigation and posted their findings on Facebook. Hank was accused of molesting his hippo. Luckily Hank was reprieved, and the hippo restored. 

However, at the same time, the story attracted attention and a home for Hank. His hippo went with him to a new ‘forever home.’ Creating awareness and raising funds for animal shelters is an ongoing act of charity. 

A young girl named Theodore has taken the concept of looking after shelter dogs and puppies by creating rescue toy dogs. They are individually created to resemble the typical pound pup and the sales pf these pups go towards helping other pound pups get food and shelter.

Science Behind Dogs Thinking Toys are Puppies


Scientifically there is evidence that a bitch that has not been spayed is more likely to have a false pregnancy and, therefore, follow instinctive behavior wanting to nest and nurture. Hormone changes and an excess of prolactin combined with a loss of progesterone activates nurturing behavior. 

A false pregnancy may also bring on the production of milk and a desire to nurse a puppy. Finding a toy as a replacement for the puppy that never arrives would be the next best thing in this situation. In this case, a bitch would find a fluffy toy very close to the weight and feel of a puppy. Hormonal and instinctive behavior after the bitch has been on heat can be stressful and the urge to have a puppy could lead to the desire to nurture a toy. 

Training Dogs Who Think Toys are Puppies


The dogs that fall into the toy guarding category and have begun to be obsessive and possessive over their carefully selected toy will need some training intervention. Taking a toy off to a special place and being protective over the toy could lead to some aggression and negative behavior. 

Dogs that growl or snap at someone trying to reach their guarded toy need to be discouraged from this behavior. Your dog must know that you are the boss and you control the toys, and the treats. Even little dogs must not be allowed to guard toys and react aggressively - a little dog can give a nasty bite! 

From an early age, it is a good idea to set time limits to playtime and these limits are controlled by you. Teach your dog the ‘leave’ command.  Remember to exercise your dog, and when playtime is over, to put the toy away. Remember you are in control. 

Sometimes, your dog may have a toy and not know what to do with the it. In the excitement of receiving a new toy, a dog may want to carry it around. This appears to be the same as carrying a new puppy. Don’t encourage obsessive behavior or draw attention to it. Dogs can nurture toys and treat them like puppies due to hormone imbalance that  may have resulted in a false pregnancy. 

A false pregnancy needs a different approach due to the instinctive need to nest and nurse after hormone changes. The period of needing to mother and be maternal should only last a short while in the same way that a pregnancy and raising the small pups would be a set period. Consultation with your vet would help if there is evidence of lactation and the bitch is very uncomfortable. There is medication available to help.

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Safety tips for dogs who think toys are puppies:

  1. Remove dangerous toys. Keep in control of the toy and at playtime, watch for signs of a false pregnancy

Written by a Rhodesian Ridgeback lover Christina Wither

Veterinary reviewed by:

Published: 06/10/2018, edited: 04/06/2020

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