Your Dog's Random "Gifts" Mean More Than You Think

Some dogs are natural retrievers who want to play, while others may just be bringing you a gift to show their appreciation.

Published May 23, 2023
Young woman training and playing with puppy

Dogs love to bring us things. Who hasn't had their pup drop a slobbery toy in their lap? These gestures may come out of the blue, but they aren't random for your dog. Dogs bring you gifts for a reason. You just have to find out what that reason is.

Why Dogs Bring Their Owners Things

Dogs bring their owners gifts for a few reasons. Often, they just want to interact with you, but they can also bring you things because they want to make you happy. No matter what the reason is, it's important to understand not to punish or scold your dog when they bring you an object (even if it's something disgusting you would rather not receive). Instead, practice positive reinforcement to encourage what is acceptable and ignore what isn't.

Dog bringing newspaper to owner

1. They Want to Please You

If you get a random gift from your dog, just because, your dog might be displaying ancient pack hunting behavior of their wolf ancestors. This explanation isn't definitive, but some people theorize that when your dog brings you something they associate with food - even something you might find disgusting, such as a dead rat or bird - they could be signaling their affection by sharing in their prize with you.

Even if your dog's breed is not normally known for retrieving, they may still have some inborn, natural hunting (or scavenging) instincts that cause them to want to share with their pack mates. Just remember, don't punish your dog for this behavior. They're probably just signaling trust and a desire to take care of you.

Quick Tip

If your dog brings you a dead animal, avoid handling the carcass and take it away from your dog (without scolding them - it's even OK to praise them!) Wild animals can transmit diseases to you and your dog this way.

2. They're Displaying Retrieving Behavior

Some dogs are natural retrievers. When your dog brings you a gift, it could be because of this instinctive behavior. Even if you aren't a hunter, your dog can still bring back other objects, like a piece of wood or a dead animal. If your dog has this retrieving behavior, they are bringing you items to have a job and fulfill their purpose. Here are a few of the most common breeds known for this behavior:

  • Labrador Retriever: One of the most popular family dogs in the world, Labs were originally bred to retrieve waterfowl for hunters.
  • Golden Retriever: Developed to retrieve waterfowl, Goldens are renowned for their friendly and tolerant demeanor.
  • Flat-Coated Retriever: Known for their unique personalities, these retrievers were originally bred to retrieve game from land and water.
  • Chesapeake Bay Retriever: Bred for water retrieving, Chessies are known for their strength, intelligence, and versatility.
  • Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever: Bred to lure and retrieve waterfowl, Tollers are known for their playful disposition and boundless energy.
  • English Springer Spaniel: Renowned for their agility and endurance in the field, Springers are often used to flush out and retrieve game.

3. They're Seeking Attention

Like you, your dog can get bored if they don't get enough mental or physical exercise. Your dog could be bringing you stuff to gain your attention. If they start grabbing objects you don't want them to, redirect their attention to something more appropriate. If you reward them for bringing an inappropriate object, they will learn that's acceptable behavior.

4. They Have Excess Energy

If your dog is bringing you random objects, they could be excited. Dogs usually display excitement behavior when you get home from work or running errands. If you're out and about, your dog is missing you and looking forward to when you get home. You will notice them running to their toy, usually mixed with the zoomies, and grabbing it to bring it back to you. But it might not always be a toy. My dog once brought me a deer leg!

5. They're Initiating Play

Dog on beach catching Frisbee

It's no surprise that dogs love to play. And many dogs want to play with you. When your dog brings you what seems like a random stick, they're probably looking to play fetch. The same goes for dogs that bring something like a tennis ball. Toys provide your dog with mental and physical stimulation. Don't forget to set aside some playtime with your pup.

Some dogs - especially those who are not trained to retrieve or who just like to pull - may bring their toys to you, but refuse to let you take them. Your dog may hold the item, and get excited when you touch it, tugging it away from you. It's OK to play tug-of-war with your dog, but be aware, it can make taking items from your dog more difficult in the future.

Where Dog Gift-Giving Behavior Comes From

Training Golden Retriever for hunting

The origins of dog gift-giving behavior may be kinda deep, actually. This is because gift giving probably relates to hunting instincts and pack food sharing, and these behaviors are likely the reason early humans and our dogs' wolf ancestors got together in the first place.

Dogs are the oldest domesticated animals, and have been with us for close to 40,000 years (if not more). Some researchers think that wolves originally scavenged from human settlements, with little benefit for us. Now, however, this theory has given way to the idea that wolves and humans probably got together out of mutual benefit, for food sharing and to work together hunting.

This is incredibly interesting, because it means we didn't just domesticate our dogs - they actually domesticated us, in a way. We evolved together to work as a team, meaning that not only did people select the friendliest wolves to feed, but that wolves also (sort of) selected the friendliest people who would share food with them. It was a team effort, and your dog might be gifting you stuff based on this ancient social bond we built together.

How to Protect Your Belongings

Many dogs, and especially those who like to retrieve, often key on anything that smells like you. All dogs can have this behavior, but retriever breeds are most commonly associated with it. This can be a pain if you're trying to put laundry away, for example. Luckily, there are ways to keep your dog from gifting you your dirty socks:

  • Supervise your puppy any time they're wandering around. You can do this by putting gates up where they shouldn't be.
  • Make sure to put away anything with a strong scent. Keep medicine and food items inaccessible, just like you would if you had a baby in the house.
  • Avoid reinforcing the behavior. Don't scold your dog, but don't react when they bring you something you don't want them to mess with, either.
  • Don't make a game out of it. If your dog brings you something and you chase them or play tug-of-war with them, you're teaching them how to get your attention.
  • Teach your dog to give something up from their mouth with the "Drop it" and "Leave it" commands. These will come in very handy down the road.
  • Keep any valuable items out of your dogs' reach. Yes, it's tempting to leave your socks out after a long day, but get ready for a smelly gift if you do.

Gift-Giving Is Normal Dog Behavior

As long as your dog isn't bringing you objects you don't want them to mess with, such as your favorite slippers, this behavior isn't anything to worry about. It's normal behavior that is ingrained in your pup. Enjoy the gifts your dog brings you and be grateful for how they show their love.

Your Dog's Random "Gifts" Mean More Than You Think