Donnie the Doberman Arranges Toys

doberman creating toy circle

Donnie is a very interesting doberman. National Geographic featured him on their “Genius Dogs” show.  He displays an unusual behaviour where he arranges his stuffed toys into specific patterns of circles or triangles. It’s not clear what the motivation for this behaviour is although.

Is it thought out, random or is it just creative expression?

Donnie the doberman is a rescue dog and little is known about his past other than he was kept in a kennel for about a year and he was slow to adjust to his new home and owner. He had to learn basic things like how to climb stairs and go through doorways.

Donnie eventually started arranging his stuffed toys in specific patterns.  The toys would be purposefully laid out one by one in patterns of circles, triangles or straight lines. He would also create similar groupings  of all frogs or all monkeys, face up or face down. Even more interesting is that his toys would sometimes be laid out with the hands touching.

It is bizarre to watch Donnie in the video. It is also especially touching and fascinating how Donnie let his owner put her arm around him and then began organizing his toys in hugs.

Babara Smuts, a professor at the University of Michigan is researching this dog behavior. She suggests that this behaviour may be self-entertainment or it may be linked to his time in a shelter with only one toy.  Since there have not been enough cases of this dog behaviour, a scientific explanation cannot be made.  If you have a dog that displays similar behaviour, you may wish to contact the professor and help contribute to her research.

What do you think Donnie is expressing with his toy arranging behaviour.  Does your dog also arrange his toys in patterns?

frog triangle


  1. Bobbie Jean said:

    My cat has done this for years. He has one particular type of ball that he likes to play with. It comes in a few different colors, and also in soccer ball print or solid color. He will make straight lines or curves with the balls spaced evenly apart, and yesterday he made an equilateral triangle. He will also make patterns with the colors (for example, a straight line that is purple, green, purple, green). He also will sometimes use only soccer ball print balls for an arrangement. I’ve never seen him do it because he usually does it at night, but it would be interesting to see! He is an extremely intelligent cat, so I wonder if he does it out of boredom.

    June 2, 2015
  2. Aurora Hamm said:

    My dog, Darcy, arranges her toys all the time. She started with half-circles and moved on to full circles. She has also arranged her toys in parallel lines, a quadrilateral, and a triangle. Her favorite seems to be a circle though. I would love to know why she does this. She is a rescue and one of the sweetest, smartest dogs I’ve ever met. She is some kind of spaniel mix. My guess is that she is also part border collie.

    April 3, 2015
  3. cindi said:

    Sazi is 13. I got him as a puppy, when he was younger, he had to be touching me, leaning against me. Older, he just keeps me within eyesight.

    We became reclusive when I retired 9 yrs ago, goes everywhere with me.

    He started to ‘arrange’ his toys when I started being away from home a couple of days a week; sometimes a semi-circle, sometimes a straight line both when I’m away or at home always in the living room in the walk through path.

    Several people have commented that he doesn’t know he’s a dog.

    I would love to know what, if anything, it means.

    March 6, 2015
  4. Katie said:

    How amazing. We just rescued a Border Collie\Corgi mix, and noticed she takes shoes, socks and toys and arranges them in straight lines! It is the weirdest thing. She sometimes comes to her lines of stuff and chews on one for a bit but leaves it there and goes away to do other things. She sometimes sleeps amongst the lines she made.

    February 25, 2015
  5. Carol said:

    I’m so happy that I found this article. My husky lab mix, Marley, has been doing this same thing with her stuffed animals as well, and most of her life. For example, just this morning when I woke up I found that she laid 8 stuffed animals in a half circle, alternating position, butt to head, head to butt, butt to head; with two pink dragons on each endif the half circle. She then placed one animal outside the circle , mid way facing the others in the half circle and one animal behind the half circle (mid way. This amazes me each time she does this, it happens quite often. I

    Marley has been arranging her toys most of her 6 years; I’m thinking it began when she was about 3 months old. I’ve had Marley since she was 4 weeks old. She has done so many different compositions, each amazing to look at. I’m convinced she is trying to communicate something and I wish I understood what it is. I never thought about video taping Marley. I believe I’ll look into it then I can share the video with anyone interested in seeing it.

    It would be both wonderful and interesting if the two dogs were able to interact with each other.

    February 21, 2015
  6. Lana said:

    We have a 1 1/2 yr old Shih Tzu who arranges his toys in different designs each day. When we get up in the morning we go to his playpen/home and see what design he has created. Sometimes all lined up in a row, triangles or separated in different piles of toys.

    He is very intelligent and knows every toy by us just calling out the toy name. Go get your Monkey,Tiger, Donut etc. We never trained him to do this task. He just knew after we just assigned a name to the toy.

    I will say the breeder told us he was the first puppy out of the whelping box and he demands a lot of attention with lots of hugs and kisses. Since we work out of our home, he does not like when one of us leave and will take his Teddy Bear and lay on it like a pillow till one of us comes home.

    December 18, 2014
  7. Jesseca said:

    My dog Harley, a chihuahua mix found on the road ( the road being next to a highway and a ghetto neighborhood) in the rain, his short fur covered in mud and his dog seemingly cut from his collar. (Okay enough sad backstory) It took a few weeks of sitting and basically hanging out with him to notice he had been sickly and was now gaining fat and mucles but even though he’s physically improved after being my best friend for three or four years now hes gained a habbit of creating perfect circles (which he chewed) in my blankets but not like iv seen before ( not the im bored and tearing things apart) he does it in rather straight rows and columns. I don’t know if that’s weird or normal.

    October 7, 2014
  8. Jan Thomas said:

    I have a rescue approximately 3 year old. Pit bull female. I’ve had her one year.
    About three months ago, she began to arrange objects in my back yard in a circle.
    The circle still exists. My dog changes the objects, sometimes having a toy in the middle
    of the circle. She adds objects from time to time and the circle keeps changing.

    August 1, 2014
  9. Karen said:

    I came here looking for info on cats who do this. I have 6 indoor cats and one of them lines toys up in a single line, equal distance apart. First, several different types of toys were lined up in front of the toilet, which is where the cats like to get attention. Today, they were all toys of the same type – sparkly balls, that were lined up in our living room, right in the walkway. They weren’t color specific or anything, but equal distance apart. I’m not sure which cat does it, as I am at work all day, or the first time they were that way when I got up in the morning. I thought maybe it was a sign of creativity or OCD, but none of them show any other signs.

    July 8, 2014
  10. Sam said:

    I have a 7 year old red Doberman that I got as a puppy. When she got to be about 6 months old she started collecting objects around the house and putting them in the corners of her kennel. Matchbox cars in one corner, 3 pairs of sunglasses in another corner, little army men in another corner and pens and pencils in the other corner. Once she got them in place she was very careful not to disturb them. She never mixed them and sometimes put keys together in a corner. Up until then I thought she wasn’t very bright but now she is incredibly smart. I saw the Donnie program and i think they’re trying to tell us something.

    March 31, 2014
  11. Sherri said:

    I came across this page because I was searching for an explanation of my dog’s behaviour. I thought maybe she had OCD, but she doesn’t have any obsessive behaviours.
    She has a favourite treat (Purina hugs) that have a meaty center and a crunchy outside. She likes them broken into small pieces because she’s a toy poodle and has a small mouth. After a while, she started pushing the pieces into two separate piles, with the crunchy pieces in one pile, and the meaty pieces in the other pile. One day, she lined them up in a line with equal distance between them, and then ate them one by one. I have never taught her anything like this. It’s something she started doing on her own.

    March 12, 2014
  12. Ingrid Knox said:

    I also have a rescue dog that rearranges his toys also. I have lots of photos posted on my FB Timeline under ingrid Varness or peppers page. I also have some videos posted on YouTube. I find it fascinating how he knows the different animals faces. He will lay them face up or face down in a line.

    March 2, 2014
  13. lindsay said:

    I am unable to see the video in candada :(. I also have a doberman that does this. He lines up his bones and toys parallel to each other and evenly spaced out in the living room and yard. He eats plush toys, so he isn’t allowed them. I haven’t seen him make a circle, but there really isn’t room in our yard for him to spread them out evenly in a large circle.

    December 1, 2013
  14. Ted Gold said:

    First contact:

    2 parallell lines describes a landing field ,
    a triangle describes the ship
    2 toys hugging says , we come in peace

    They are trying to make contact

    June 24, 2013
  15. Ingrid Elizabeth said:

    I have a toy rat terrior I rescued a year ago. After my husband left me I put my dog on the bed with me with his toys. Every morning I would wake up his toys would be arranged in different designs. He does it sometimes 2X daily. I have about 20 pics I’ve taken of the amazing designs he does. It always makes me wonder what he’s trying to say. It’s good to see other pet owners have experienced the same!

    June 12, 2013
  16. Michele said:

    My cat has been arranging his toys in single lines near doorways for the past year. He’s a very intelligent cat, but he is also easily alarmed, so I wonder if lining up his toys is somehow comforting…

    April 28, 2013
  17. Suzanne said:

    Our 4 year old male Cockapoo (Sparky) has a metal toy bucket, but he really does not like to put his head inside due to his neck touching the rim. Typically we dump it out or pull one out for him. In his bucket are all sorts of colored toys with a variety of textures. He loves them all! But twice now, he took everything out, in order and when I say in order, both times Sparky made a rainbow! My daughter watched part of this and said Sparky was very methodical, pulled each toy out and found a specific place for it on the wood floor in our kitchen. The first time he did this, he made an arch shape! My daughter was amazed and recited the order of the colors..right down to blue and then purple! Another day, he took the same bucket of his toys, and was playing more quietly in the same spot. We looked over and he had made a LINE of the rainbow colors, all equally spaced! The last two toys had the most texture and were multicolored so did not fit in the rainbow order. We feel this is amazing and want to try to catch Sparky on video. He seems methodical the way he eats at times, an example would be banging the crate door twice before eating. He does not “like” things moved in his area, almost like OCD behavior. We think he was from a puppy mill as we rescued him and never saw his parents at the “farm”, just a bunch of puppies and other animals running around. We look forward to Sparky’s new creations soon!

    April 13, 2013
  18. Kathleen said:

    Someone I work with sent me this article because I have a chihuahua that lines everything up. His dog food, toys, especially the small tennis balls that he plays with most of the time. I have watched him do this…he will take one item at a time, put it down somewhere then he will gather the same type of item whether it’s bones, food, or toys, and start dropping them one at a time forming a straight line. When he is done he will push with his nose or paw any item that is not in a straight line into place.

    February 14, 2013
  19. Diana said:

    We have a Parson Russell Terrior Mix and a Flat Coated Retriever/Collie/Rotweiller mix who are from the same litter and had different fathers. (We did the DNA) They are a year old and since old enough to “hunt” they have been placing their collections in a straight line. We find “lines” of geckos, rocks, roaches, etc. Yesterday they stole potatoes I had just washed off of my kitchen counter and when we found them on their pillow they were lined up in a perfectly straight line with a bite out of each one! Amazing to find other dogs do this same kind of behavior. Wish I knew what was going through their minds!

    January 26, 2013

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