When Matilda was about 15 months old, she pulled the feet off one of her toys. The feet looked like tiny brown beans about 1.5″ long that sort of resembled a very tiny baby Chihuahua.
She used to take one of those tiny feet and carry it around in her mouth, whining and pacing, digging around in blankets. She’s never done that again.
Since this occurred before she was spayed, and likely around the time of one of her heats, I believe she was having an influx of hormones that made her feel motherly in a way that she couldn’t understand.
False Pregnancy In Dogs
Carrying a toy around while crying is a sign of false pregnancy. This typically happens 4-6 weeks after a heat cycle.
Around that time, Matilda would also get enlarged mammaries. I didn’t notice any other symptoms of false pregnancy, but you can look out for increased clinginess, refusal to eat, a distended belly and even lactation. While those symptoms typically clear up on their own, you might want to see your vet if you think there’s a chance your dog may actually be pregnant.
Dogs who are spayed no longer have ovaries, so they do not typically experience false pregnancy. Spaying also eliminates your dog’s chance of getting the serious uterine infection, pyometra. That’s a big reason I eventually decided to spay Matilda at 3 years, even though I was nervous about the procedure due to her size.
But My Dog Is Male!
Male dogs can also have weird, protective behaviors over toys, though they do not go through the same hormonal fluctuations, so they do not experience false pregnancy. Most male dogs do not take on an active role in parenting when real puppies are born, but some do.
Becoming protective over a toy could, quite possibly, be instinctive, fatherly behavior. As spayed females occasionally do have false pregnancies, it may not necessarily be related to hormones in every case.
Non-Mommy Reasons Dogs Carry Toys While Crying
Sometimes, dogs carry a toy around while crying for reasons other than because they think it’s a puppy.
Your dog might carry around her chew or bone if she’d like to finish it later, and she might start whining if she’s anxious about finding the perfect hiding spot. She might be especially anxious if you have another dog whom she’s worried about stealing her treat. It can be enough to give her an old blanket or towel to use as her cache.
While this behavior isn’t necessarily harmful, it could lead to resource guarding. You may want to offer treats that your dog can eat in one sitting so she doesn’t have to worry about her leftovers.
You could take away leftover chews and offer them the next day,. If you must take away your dog’s treat, just be sure to retrieve the treat by trading your dog a small, tasty tidbit.
If your dog seems anxious in general, interactive, unstructured playtime with you can be a big help. You can teach your dog that toys are for sharing and playing, and that she doesn’t need to worry about them going away.