Why Do Dogs Bring You Toys?

terrier with dog toy in mouth

Does your dog have a favorite toy? Perhaps it is one of those soft animal-shaped toys with a squeaker inside; maybe they have a tennis ball or bone that is a prized possession. From anecdotal experience, it seems that most dogs have that one, beloved toy that means more to them than all the others. 

With that in mind, have you ever wondered why your dog likes to bring you that favorite toy? Whether you’re trying to relax on the couch to watch a movie with your family, or simply trying to get through the front door after a long day at work, it often seems that our pups love nothing more than bringing us their toys. 

There could be a number of reasons why your dog likes to bring you their toy. In this article, we will hypothesize some of the potential causes. We’ll also look at how previous canine generations may have influenced this habit in today’s pet dogs, and explore methods to control this behavior in your dog if it becomes a source of frustration. 

The history of dogs carrying items in their mouths

For centuries, dogs have been bred to work alongside humans in a variety of settings. Their adaptability and variety of skills have made dogs the ideal working companion – whether as a farm dog helping to herd livestock, assisting humans with search and rescue efforts, or providing help in difficult terrain like mountains.

Hunters have used some dog breeds, such as Labrador Retrievers or Golden Retrievers, to help them in their efforts to catch game and other wildlife. Retriever breeds were bred to do exactly that – retrieve. To this end, their natural instinct is to pick up items and carry them in their mouths. You may notice this trait more prominently in breeds which have historically been utilized for the purpose of retrieval.

Reasons why your dog may bring you their toy

Although we can’t be certain why your dog is bringing you their favorite toy, there’s a good chance that the reason falls into one of the following categories.

Your dog missed you

This has surely happened to every dog owner at some point – you walk through the door after being away for a few hours, and who is there to greet you? Your pup, with their favorite toy adorning their mouth. This is far more likely to occur when you give your dog a specific toy to play with to provide them with mental stimulation while you are out.

Your dog is craving attention

Dogs have limited methods of communication, and their inability to speak the same language as humans means that they need to find different ways to show their feelings. There is a possibility that, for most of their life, a dog putting an item in their mouth has triggered family members to remove the item or ask them to drop it. The dog, therefore, understands that picking up an item (such as a toy) will inevitably result in attention from humans. 

terrier with dog toy in mouth

Outlet for excitement

You may notice that your dog brings you a toy if you enter a room, when you return home, or even if they spot the mailman or delivery driver approaching your front door. In each of these situations, the dog may experience a burst of excitable energy, and the toy is an outlet for that energy. This may particularly be the case if you have used toys to redirect your dog from an undesirable behavior, such as jumping or barking

Giving you a gift

Some dogs are natural people-pleasers; part of their personality actively wants to make their human partners happy. Dogs may instinctively think they will receive praise and affection for the act of bringing you a toy (whether you actually want it or not). 

Asking you to play

Okay, so it isn’t a very subtle hint – but your dog, whether through boredom or an outright desire to play – may grab their toy and bother you with it until you begin playing with them. Most commonly, this is seen when your dog constantly brings you an item (such as a tug or squeaky toy) and drops it in your lap, before staring at you longingly – begging you to start playing with them. 

How to control this behavior

There are certainly more frustrating and dangerous behaviors to encounter as a dog owner – but that doesn’t mean that your dog’s tendency to bring you toys isn’t annoying sometimes.

As a dog owner, you can choose to simply ignore this behavior. However, it can take immense amounts of willpower and patience to avoid your dog’s glare when they bring you the toy. This also isn’t an option if your dog is past threshold and simply won’t let up until you start interacting with them and their toy. 

A better option is to train an obedience command, such as “leave it” or “drop it”. This teaches the dog that it is not an appropriate time for play, and encourages them to drop the toy. This offers you greater control of your dog, particularly if they are overly excited. In addition, a “leave it” command can be valuable if your dog is not only grabbing toys, but bringing you anything else inside or outside the home that could result in risk or danger to their health.

One final thing to be aware of is how your dog reacts if and when you try to take the toy away from them. If they growl or show other signs of discomfort, this could be a textbook case of resource guarding, which can escalate to biting or other protective behavior. If this is the case, you will need to work with your dog – possibly with the help of a professional dog trainer – to manage this behavior. 

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