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Why Does my Dog “Adopt” her Toys?

I rescued a two-year-old dog from the local animal shelter. I was told that she was one of many dogs taken from the home of...

Dr. Eric Barchas  |  Aug 12th 2008


I rescued a two-year-old dog from the local
animal shelter. I was told that she was one of
many dogs taken from the home of a hoarder and had
lived most of her life in a crate.

Lily seems to be trying to “adopt” the
various squeeky toys that she and my other dogs
play with. She’ll lay near them and growls when
any of my other three dogs go near them. I’m
concerned about issues with the false pregnancy
syndrome. Do you have any suggestions on how to
deal with this before it escalates?

Gerry
Norco, CA

Not long ago I treated a female Border Collie that was having trouble giving birth. She was very sweet and friendly at first. But once she successfully delivered a puppy, that changed. If I approached the room where she and her puppy were located, she would lunge at me to keep me away from the puppy.

Protective maternal instincts are natural in dogs. Based upon your description, it sounds very likely that Lily is confusing her toys with puppies. This is leading to defensive growling that could escalate to outright aggression over time.

Maternal instincts in dogs are driven by hormones. Spayed dogs lack the hormones that cause protective maternal aggression. Therefore, the simplest way to deal with this problem is to have Lily spayed.

If Lily already has been spayed, two things could be going on. First, if she was spayed recently, she could still be under the influence of lingering hormones. In that case, the behavior should resolve over time as the hormones clear out of her body.

Second, there is a chance that the behavior you are witnessing is an expression of dominance rather than maternal instincts. Dominant dogs aggressively guard toys, food and anything else of value to dogs.

If spaying Lily does not solve the problem (or if she is already spayed), your best bet will be to consult with a behaviorist about managing dominance issues among your dogs.