When Matilda was 15 months old, she pulled her legs out of her toy. The legs looked like small brown beans about 1.5 inches long, resembling a 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 had an influx of hormones that made her feel motherly in a way that she couldn’t understand.
False Pregnancy In Dogs
She was carrying a toy around while crying is a sign of false pregnancy. And 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 false pregnancy symptoms, but you can look 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 be pregnant.
Spayed dogs no longer have ovaries, so they do not typically experience false pregnancy. Spaying also eliminates your dog’s chance of getting a severe uterine infection, pyometra. That’s a big reason I decided to spay Matilda at three years old. Even though I was nervous about the procedure due to her size.
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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 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 agitated 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 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, be sure to retrieve the treat by trading a small, tasty tidbit.
If your dog seems anxious, interactive, unstructured playtime with you can 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.