Dogs love to bury their bones and toys – some breeds more than others. It’s simultaneously annoying, cute, and entertaining. But little do you know it’s serious business for our four-legged friends. This is a practice that is as familiar to them as barking. Burying bones has a long genetic history with dogs going back to the days before they were domesticated.
Just as our human ancestors weathered lean eras so did the ancestors of our dogs. Many mammals have learned some sort of method to store food or to keep it away from scavengers. Early canines stored their food in the ground. Their tough paws and thick claws were perfect tools to dig a hole. They even learned to cover the hole back up. With their sharp noses they could find their spoils later.
This was an important survival method in Earth’s eras where the prey was few and the competitors were many. Digging and burying food had many benefits although we aren’t entirely sure what the primary reason behind the behavior was. Aside from storing the kill for later use, keeping the food underground kept it cool and slowed down rotting much like a cellar. Burying it masked the scent from other hungry animals who might have wanted a free meal.
Even when our dogs are assured they will get their meals every day (along with treats and table scraps), they persist in this behavioral instinct. Not all dogs dig and bury – those of us with terriers and dachshunds notice the digging action more. Some dogs were bred to dig or forage. Dogs who live with other dogs can learn the digging behavior from their housemates. Even a dog who doesn’t have a built-in penchant to dig and bury may acquire this behavior from his foraging buddy.
The digging doesn’t always occur outside. Weirdly, many dogs will pretend to dig on the floor, sofa, or bed, and then push the “dirt” back onto their prized possessions. We find these treasures under blankets, pillows, or in between the sofa cushions.
An OCD Dog
If your dog has a penchant for hiding his treats, take care not to give him ones that can spoil. Often buried treasures will not be recovered so they are left to fester and rot – attracting vermin, bacteria, and a host of other unpleasant things. Only give him pet treats or dog chews that can be left out indefinitely.
Although most of the time this behavior is merely cute, sometimes it is destructive. The furniture and flower beds are ruined and your dog may have some injuries from the repetitive motions. Because breeding has gotten out of hand, this behavioral trait might be very pronounced to the point of being a source of problems in the household. Obsessive behaviors in dogs are often caused by irresponsible overbreeding. If this is the case with your dog, he will need professional attention from a reputable trainer dealing in obsessive-compulsive canine disorders or a consultation with your vet.
By Gabrielle Allemeier
About the Author
Gabrielle Allemeier volunteers her free time as an animal rescuer and foster pet parent. As an animal lover, she enjoys sharing the knowledge she has gained from her experience with a variety of animals. Along with being an animal lover, Gabrielle is a globetrotter. She lives in Los Angeles, California with her terrier, Thisbe.