Why Does My Dog Greet Me With a Toy?
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A dog will bring a toy to greet you as a way to show you love, but also as a request for engagement. Generally speaking, it is a very positive behavior which indicates a strong bond between dog and guardian. In saying this, each dog has their own unique personality and set of behaviors. When a dog brings a toy to greet you, we need to look at the context of this behavior. If they maintain their normal composure and act according to their personality, it should not signify a problem. If they are agitated and anxious, grabbing a toy when you are around can mean they are in need of some help.
At AnimalWised, we ask why does my dog greet me with a toy? We discover the reasons for this behavior, both when it is a positive sign and when it indicates a problem which threatens their wellbeing.
Why do dogs become attached to toys?
Grabbing a toy to greet you is a common behavior in many dogs, although not all. It is more common in younger dogs, but some will greet us with toys throughout their lives. Although it is often related to the excitement they feel when their favorite person returns, grabbing a toy can mean this behavior is related to something more specific.
Dogs become very attached to toys for various reasons, even into their adulthood. This is especially the case with domestic animals, although wild canids will also play as adults. The reasons for this are important in their development, but they also act as a coping mechanism. Dogs become very attached to their toys for the following reasons:
- Security: toys provide comfort and security when they are in new environments. They become attached to them as something they can control and will go to them when they feel insecure. This is especially important for puppies recently removed from their mother and littermates.
- Stress: since toys provide comfort for the animal, they will use them when they feel stressed. Not only is there an emotional attachment, but the mechanical action of play can help relieve stress by replacing their feelings of frustration. It is a similar concept to humans using a stress ball.
- Play: puppies will play with their littermates to learn about their environment, establish boundaries and exercise their canine instincts. When other animals are not around, toys become particularly important. Even if there are other puppies, toys become a way to heighten interactions. Many dog toys mimic prey animals. Dogs in the wild will often play with prey in a similar manner.
- Ownership: related to feeling secure when playing with toys, a dog can develop a keen sense of ownership with their toys. This is normal, but it can be problematic if their attitude becomes overly possessive.
- Boredom: on a practical level, toys help to relieve boredom. They often have sounds, textures and even cognitive development features which help dogs to entertain themselves. When a dog's guardian is not around, toys are an important part of environmental enrichment for dogs and help to avoid separation anxiety.
Since dogs become so attached to their toys, they become a very important factor in their relationship with their guardian. With the above factors in mind, we can see the reasons why a dog greets us with a toy.
They are excited
The first thing to stress when discussing why dogs bring toys to greet you is that it is not necessarily a negative behavior. In the vast majority of cases, it is simply an expression of their excitement when they see you.
We have already shown you that dogs claim ownership of their toys, using them to play and feel secure. When a guardian they love returns home, the dog is excited and wants to spend time with them. To relate to their guardian just how excited they are, they greet us with something which they think will equally bring their owner joy.
They are building their bond
If a dog grabs a toy to greet you because they are excited, it reveals more than simply how they feel in that moment. It is a glowing review for you as their guardian. It means they see you as not only their point of reference, but the person they want to impress, provide affection towards and consider to be part of their family.
We can compare this with a dog has not yet established a strong bond or if they have negative feelings towards their guardian. Not only will they not greet you with a toy, but they are unlikely to greet you at all. The dog will be more likely to hide or stay away from the door. In extreme cases of abuse or neglect from the guardian, the dog can even become aggressive.
For this reason, a dog happily greeting us with a toy when we enter the home is a positive sign. It shows us the dog is happy to see the person they love the most.
They are hungry
Not all the reasons why a dog will greet us while grabbing a toy are positive. One reason for this behavior could be due to problems with their feeding schedule. Dogs are animals of habit. Most require a well-structured and consistent routine to ensure their wellbeing. This is especially the case for mealtimes.
If a dog is not fed regularly or if they are fed at different times during the day, it is understandable they will become anxious over when they will eat. Since communication between humans and dogs is often a complicated one, the canine will need to find a way to let their guardian know how they feel.
By bringing them a toy to greet us, they could be showing that they feel strongly about a certain issue. The toy is something sacred to them. Showing it to us when they are hungry might be a way to stress the importance of the issue. If this is the case, the dog's body language will be more anxious than playful. They may even go to their feeder with the toy to direct us to the source of their problem.
They are stressed and anxious
Food anxiety in dogs is only one reason why a dog may be stressed. We have already discussed dogs playing with toys to relieve boredom. Some amount of boredom is normal, especially during the hours we are away from home. Dogs which are insufficiently stimulated both mentally and physically will start to develop significant behavioral problems.
Again, we need to look at the context of a dog greeting us with a toy. If the dog is happy and shows a reasonable level of excitement, this type of greeting is likely healthy. When a dog is overexcited, they can show signs such as jumping up on people when they return home, running around in circles or even barking too loudly. The dog can even be destructive with their toys. These are signs of separation anxiety in dogs.
The underlying cause of a dog's separation anxiety can vary, but it is often related to experience and education. They may have been poorly socialized, have experienced trauma in the past or simply not been provided with the care and education they require. The extent of these factors will depend on the individual dog, but all dogs need some level of positive attention and stimulation.
What to do if our dog greets us with a toy
As we have stipulated, greeting us with a toy is not usually a problem in dogs. It is most often both a healthy expression of their canine nature and touching evidence of our strong bond together. Problems only arise when this behavior is related to a significant issue in terms of the dog's wellbeing and care. For this reason, the first thing we need to do is look at the context of the behavior.
If our dog is happy, healthy and doesn't show signs of stress or anxiety, then there is likely no problem to address. In these cases, we can do the following:
- Be positive: when we come home from work, we may have had a long day or even suffered our own stress. If our dog greets us with a toy, they do not understand this context. If we dismiss them or even get agitated because of our own stress, the dog will be confused and hurt. Not only does positivity reward the dog and strengthen our bond, but it will help us deal with our own stress.
- Accept the toy if offered: sometimes a dog will bring us a toy and offers it to us as a gesture of affection. In this case, we can accept the toy gracefully and provide them with positive affirmation. It gives the dog a sense of wellbeing and helps to strengthen your bond.
- Play if you can: coming home to a playful dog is the reason why many people adopt the animal in the first place. In these cases, we can take the dog up on their offer and provide them with a play session. They may have been waiting patiently all day, so they will be ready and eager.
- Set boundaries: in many cases, we will not be able to play immediately when we arrive home. When this happens, we should decline the play session, but do so positively. If they become too eager, we can provide a firm ‘no’, but on no occasion should be react negatively to this behavior. If we cannot play with them when we arrive home, we will still need to meet their physical and mental stimulation needs at some point.
If the dog greeting us with a toy is a sign of an underlying problem, this needs to be addressed. For example, we should:
- Establish a feeding schedule: if the dog is insecure about when they will eat, it is very important that we create a consistent routine. There is no single best time to feed a dog, but it should be twice a day with about 12 hours between feedings. It should also not be too close to other activities such as playing and sleeping.
- Stimulate them: for a dog to be well balanced, they will need sufficient physical and mental stimulation. This is something which changes according to the individual. We should first determine the nature of these needs and then ensure we meet them. This can be in the form of spending more time with them, increasing their walk duration or even providing better environmental enrichment.
- Find cause of stress: if our dog is stressed, we will need to determine the cause and address it. This can be difficult. Some dogs will need better socialization or will have been poorly educated. Others will have less obvious causes for being anxious, especially if we have adopted them as an adult. In some cases, it might be helpful to speak to a canine ethologist who can best assess the dog and provide a practical treatment plan.
We should also be careful with the dog's toys in general. We should replace them when they get old and they become a choking hazard. We will also need to be careful if a dog is too possessive over their toys. This is usually a symptom of stress in dogs, so we should relay this to the ethologist. We should also rotate their toys regularly so they have more variety and less opportunity to become bored.
You will also need to ensure a dog is not bored while you are away. Check out our video below to learn how to keep a dog entertained when home alone:
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1. Cordoni, G., & Palagi, E. (2019). Back to the Future: A Glance Over Wolf Social Behavior to Understand Dog-Human Relationship. Animals: an open access journal from MDPI, 9(11), 991. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani9110991