Why Does My Dog Play With Their Treats? (5 Common Reasons)

Categorized as Why Does My Dog
dog playing with treats

Anyone who has ever had a dog knows that they can be pretty weird sometimes. One of the most puzzling behaviors that dogs engage in is playing with their food.

Why do they do it? Is it a way of showing affection? A power struggle? Or are they just trying to drive us crazy?

While we may never know for sure what motivates our furry friends, there are a few possible explanations for why dogs play with their treats.

Here are some of the most common reasons:

1. They’re Picking Up the Food’s Scent

The first possible reason is that they’re trying to pick up the food’s scent.

When dogs play with their treats, they are also picking up their scent. By playing with the food, they are able to get a better sense of its odor, which helps them to identify it as something that is edible and worth consuming.

Dogs playing with their food is a behavior that likely originates from their ancestors. In the wild, their sense of smell is essential for survival. Dogs can use their noses to identify whether a particular food is safe to eat or not.

This is because different foods produce different scents. For example, poisonous meats often smell different from safe ones. As a result, dogs are able to sniff out dangerous foods and avoid them.

This sense of smell also allows dogs to track the movements of other animals and even find buried prey.

In short, dogs rely on their sense of smell for many different things such as finding food, avoiding danger, and communicating with others. And in the wild, this sense can mean the difference between life and death.

2. They’re Guarding Their Food

Some dogs can become quite possessive of their food, leading them to guard their treats against others. This behavior, known as resource guarding, can be the reason why dogs appear to play with their treats instead of eating them right away.

Resource guarding is a common behavior in dogs, characterized by possessiveness and protectiveness over treats or other objects. While resource guarding can be exhibited in any dog, it is most often seen in those who are fearful or anxious.

Dogs who guard their resources may growl, snap, or lunge when someone approaches them while they are eating or playing with a toy. In some cases, resource guarding can be benign, but if left unchecked, it can lead to serious aggression problems.

While the exact cause of resource guarding is not known, it is thought to be related to a dog’s natural instinct to protect their food source. In the wild, dogs who were able to guard their food were more likely to survive and reproduce.

This instinct has been passed down through generations of dogs and is still seen in domestic dogs today.

A dog with a history of neglect or abuse may also be more likely to develop resource guarding behavior since they associate food with scarce resources.

If your dog’s resource guarding behavior has made him bite someone or is causing you concern, it’s recommended to contact a certified behaviorist to help. A behaviorist will be able to assess your dog’s behavior and come up with a training plan to help reduce his possessiveness.

3. They’re Bored

Boredom can be one of the leading reasons why your dog wants to play with their treats. When left alone for long periods of time, dogs can become bored and restless, which can lead to destructive behaviors like chewing on furniture and digging holes in the yard or in our case, playing with their treats.

Dogs need mental and physical stimulation to stay happy and healthy. If they’re not getting enough exercise, they may start to look for ways to entertain themselves, which can often lead to trouble.

One way to combat boredom is to provide your dog with interactive toys that encourage them to think and solve problems.

For example, food-dispensing toys can keep your dog entertained while also providing a healthy meal.

Similarly, puzzle toys can help to sharpen your dog’s mind while also providing an outlet for their energy.

Giving your dog enough exercise is equally important. Exercise not only provides physical benefits for your dog but also helps to keep their minds active and engaged. A tired dog is a good dog!

There are a variety of ways to provide your dog with enough exercise. Regular walks or runs are a great way to get them moving, or you can try playing fetch or catch in the backyard.

If your dog is left alone for long periods of time, consider hiring a dog walker or taking them to doggy daycare to help tire them out.

4. They’re Playing

Puppies may be intrigued by their treats and play with them before actually eating them. This could be due to the fact that they’re still exploring the world and everything in it.

Just like human babies, puppies are curious about the world and want to learn everything they can. Playing is how puppies learn about their environment and the world around them.

They investigate anything and everything they can get their paws on. Treats are just another thing for them to explore.

Unfortunately, this behavior can lead to all sorts of problems, from chewing on furniture to getting into trash cans. For this reason, it’s important to puppy-proof your home before your new furry friend arrives.

This means moving items that are dangerous or could be easily broken, and making sure that all electric cords are out of reach. Puppy proofing your home will help to keep your puppy safe and prevent costly accidents.

In addition, it’s also a good way to set the stage for a lifetime of good habits. By taking the time to puppy-proof your home, you can help your furry friend adapt to their new surroundings and avoid potential problems down the road.

5. They Follow Their Natural Instincts

Some dogs have a strong prey drive, which means they’re always on the lookout for something to chase. When they see a squirrel or a rabbit, they’ll instantly start to give chase.

However, their prey drive isn’t just physical, it’s also mental. These dogs are constantly thinking about prey, and they may even start to mentally substitute real prey for the treats you’re giving them.

This can lead to them playing with the treats, rather than eating them. In other words, they’ll start to see the treats as if they were live animals that needed to be hunted down and captured.

Here are some signs that your dog has a strong prey drive:

  • Fixating on potential targets
  • Showing excitement or aggression when encountering potential prey
  • Chasing after moving objects
  • Biting or snapping at smaller animals

High prey drive in dogs isn’t inherently a bad thing, but if not given an outlet or if not trained properly, it can lead to big problems.

For one thing, dogs with high prey drives are more likely to chase after cars, which can put them in danger of being hit by a vehicle. Additionally, dogs with high prey drives may be more likely to attack other animals, which can lead to serious injuries or even death.

Finally, high prey drives can also lead to aggression towards people as they might mistakenly think that someone is prey.

If you have a dog with a high prey drive, it’s important to be extra careful and take steps to ensure their safety. This includes keeping them on a leash in areas where they may encounter a lot of people and making sure they have plenty of outlets for their energy, such as regular exercise.

Additionally, it’s important to begin training early on so that your dog knows how to behave in different situations.

Here are some breeds that are known for having high prey drives:

  • German Shepherds
  • Labradors
  • Rhodesian Ridgeback
  • Greyhound
  • Bull Terrier


If your dog is playing with their treats rather than eating them, you don’t need to worry. This is normal behavior that puppies and even some adult dogs display.

However, in some cases, this behavior can be indicative of a more serious problem, such as a strong prey drive. If you’re concerned about your dog’s behavior, it’s always best to consult with a veterinarian or professional dog trainer.

By Andrew Garf

Andrew Garf has loved dogs, especially German Shepherds, since he was 10 years old. Though he also loves burgers, training dogs is his real passion. That's why he created the website TrainYourGSD.com - to help dog owners learn how to properly train, care for, and bond with their German Shepherd dogs.