Have you ever wondered why some dogs like to bring us gifts during greetings?

Gift giving does not happen with every domesticated canine, but for those dogs that do exhibit this behaviour, it’s just so endearing.  I mean, who doesn’t want to feel like their beloved pet missed them while they were away, so much so that they had to celebrate your return with a present?  Even if that present is an old smelly sock you left lying around.

It can be theorized that carrying and retrieving stems from natural hunting behaviours in canines.  Wild dogs learn to carry their food (ie: prey) and cache meals, much like a squirrel would hide it’s nuts all over the forest in case there are times of famine.  A wolf mother will bring prey back to the den, retrieving and carrying a meal home to her pups.  So it would appear that to a domesticated dog retrieving a toy & bringing it to you is simply a variation of this prey-carrying behaviour.

Part of this carrying and gift giving behaviour is of our own doing however.  Selective breeding over the years has encouraged this common retrieving behaviour in many of our beloved dog breeds today.  For example, Retrievers are generally taught to “soft mouth” prey (usually birds), and carry that prey back safely to the human hunter.  Many Terrier breeds were bred to kill and dissect small vermin, and this carrying behaviour may represent the proud retrieval of a kill out of the ground.  Depending on the dog’s genetics, there could be a strong predisposition to this charitable gift giving behaviour.

Genetics or not, there is still a large part of me that believes dogs develop this altruistic behaviour simply because it makes us happy! Think about how your pitch heightens, and your voice is filled with excitement and gratitude when your dog brings one of their toys to you as you walk in through the door.  Perhaps you bend down and give your dog an extra ear scratch and a pat on the head for such a thoughtful gesture.  Our gleeful reactions strongly reinforce the dog to perform this behaviour again & again in the future, as they learn it’s beneficial and can lead to extra snuggles and doting attention.

So the next time your dog brings you a gift, make sure to express your gratitude! Because let’s be honest, to our dogs, our presence is sometimes the best present!