Does your dog meet you at the door with a toy in his mouth whenever you come home? Have you ever wondered what that is about? If you ask any dog owner they will tell you that this behavior is driven by their dog’s affection for them. But besides just affection, could there be other reasons why dogs bring toys to the door and does this also mean that there is something wrong with your dog if he doesn’t behave this way? While there is not one conclusive explanation for why this happens, the theories advanced by dog experts and trainers will help you to understand this behavior better. To find the answers to all these questions, read on below.
The Root of the Behavior
Dogs bringing toys to the door can be largely attributed to genetics and explains why this behavior is limited to some dogs and not others. Some dogs greet their owners while carrying a toy in their mouths, but some dogs don’t. Your dog might not bring you a toy but might exhibit other behavior such as pricking up his ears, wagging his tail, or just lazily following you to the kitchen. Some dogs also jump on their owners, bark, or run around the house when their owners come home. Retrievers, for instance, are bred to assist human hunters to retrieve dead birds. Hence naturally, Retrievers are more giving to humans and are likely to bring you a toy at the door. On the other hand, aggressive dog breeds like Terriers instantly attack and consume their prey and are thus unlikely to share their toys with you.
Animal welfare expert, Cathy M. Rosenthal has another theory. She maintains that dogs are naturally inclined to hunt and retrieve prey. This behavior is best observed in the wild, where wolves hunt and carry their food in their mouths to their dens. Though your domesticated dog doesn’t hunt, he is still driven by this instinct to carry things in his mouth, hence the toy your dog brings you represents his “prey."
Another theory, and this is no doubt the most popular among dog owners, is that your dog is giving you a gift because he loves you and wants to make you happy. Dr. Wailani Sung, a veterinary behaviorist, maintains that dogs have an innate way of sensing happiness from you and this encourages them to keep giving. There is, of course, a selfish element attached to this for your dog, because when he makes you happy, you reward him with affection and attention, which in turn reinforces him to keep bringing you gifts.
Encouraging the Behavior
This behavior is harmless and should be encouraged for several reasons. One, according to Dr. Sung, toys are a healthy distraction if your dog is prone to anxiety when he is around visitors. With appropriate training, your dog will not only greet you with a toy but will greet visitors in the same way instead of barking at them or hiding. Two, your dog might injure people, especially small children if his standard greeting is to jump on them. Teaching your dog to give a toy instead of jumping on people is a more docile form of greeting.
Dog owner and trainer, Cindy Ludwig says that if you and your dog play with a specific toy and this is the same toy she presents you when you come home, he might be inviting you to play. But while play is important, dog trainers train dogs to stick to a set play and rest schedule. When a dog gives you a toy, it’s natural to want to engage him in activity immediately because you don’t want all that energy to go to waste. But before you do so, consider how this affects the play schedule advised by your trainer.
You also shouldn’t be quick to engage in play activities until you are sure that it is the right response. Cathy Rosenthal advises that it’s better to wait and see what your dog does next before you start playing with him. Your dog might just think he is hunting and could be saying to you, “hey, look what I caught.” In such a scenario, playing is not the right response. Instead, let him walk around with the toy until he surrenders it of his own free will.
Other Solutions and Considerations
There are some scenarios where you should consider training your dog to stop bringing items to the door. If your dog likes grabbing items other than his toys, this can prove dangerous to him or damage to your property. Additionally, your dog will embarrass you if he grabs not just toys but also items such as dirty laundry and then runs off to meet your visitors at the door.
In addition to training your dog to ‘drop it’ or to only grab his toys, you should lock away any items you don’t want your dog to play with. The last thing you want is your guests standing around watching you chase your dog while he is carrying your undergarments in his mouth.
You should not grab things while they are in your dog’s mouth because you might end up injuring him or yourself. You might also unwittingly teach your dog to develop aggression or to start getting anxious every time someone opens the door. If you engage in a tug of war with your dog, he will think you are playing and will not let go and will look forward to people coming over because he relates this to playtime.
So there you have it! Your dog brings you toys to the door because he is a hunter, he is happy to see you and he also loves to play. But if he doesn’t exhibit this behavior, you don’t have to worry about it. It doesn’t mean he can’t show affection; it’s simply not just his natural thing to do.