Does your canine race into the yard with his hard-won treat, ready to hide it in the ground? Or maybe your dog has a thing about hiding the remote in his bed? Tucking shoes behind the couch? Something that makes perfect sense to your dog could seem downright confusing to you. If your dog loves to bury treats or toys, join us as we explore the reasons – and help you to keep them safe.
Why do dogs bury bones?
Dogs bury bones for the same reason you keep an extra bottle of milk in the fridge.
Yep. They’re saving them for an emergency meal. (Or coffee, in our case.)
After all, dogs have evolved from wild animals. Packs of wild dogs didn’t have owners who would go to the grocery store, choose the food that provides complete nutrition, and feed them the correct amount each day. They didn’t have any food security at all.
In the wild, dogs would hunt for what they could find, and eat when they made a kill. But there would be no guarantee that their next kill would come along quickly. So in order to survive, wild animals saved their food.
It’s not just dogs; other species did it, and still do it. Jaguars hang their leftovers in a tree, foxes cover their remains with vegetation, and squirrels save food in many different places (to mitigate the risk of theft – pretty smart), which is called ‘scatter hoarding’.
Hiding is a way to keep food safe from others (including your own pack), while burying actually makes more sense – because it can help to keep the prey cool (away from sunlight) and preserved. This hidden stash of nutrition is useful when prey is sparse or winter is on the way.
So, while dogs are now almost completely unrecognisable from their ancestors, this one little habit sometimes remains.
Why do some dogs bury bones but not toys?
Some owners report their dogs bury all but their favorite treats, saving them in the yard – and remembering their position for another day. Others say that their dogs “bury” treats indoors... by hiding them under blankets or armchairs.
Some dogs even hide favorite toys and items that their owners need – like shoes, or the television remote. (We sense an ulterior motive!)
While every dog is different, these habits all come from the same source. When they hide or bury toys, it can be regarded as an extension of their natural urge to bury food. They hide away food because it’s precious and difficult to replace; for some dogs, this logic also applies to toys and can simply become a habit. It’s not naughty behavior: it is instinctive, and it’s because your dog regards many things as “treasure”!
But there can be different, underlying reasons for your dog to start hiding things.
Sometimes a dog will hide a possession to initiate a game or get attention. They might find it fun or interesting – and hiding / retrieving toys provides mental stimulation, so there’s no need for you to discourage it. In fact, you can expand on it by actively hiding their toys and telling them to “Go find it!”.
On occasion, burying possessions can be a signal your dog is stressed. Is another dog taking items away from them? Or is it just a habit that makes them feel better when they are worried? If the burying has become a compulsive behavior, you should seek advice from the vet.
Will my puppy grow out of burying things?
Puppies love grabbing stuff. They don’t care if it’s disgusting – old socks are often favorites! If your puppy is hoarding “treasure” like shoes, socks, toys and food, don’t worry. It’s pretty normal!
Burying treats or toys is common in all kinds of dogs, for many different reasons. Because it stems from instinct, burying possessions is not a habit that dogs unlearn. If your pup is burying things now, they’ll probably do it in the future.
But here’s some good news: you can try these techniques to encourage your puppy to stop stealing everyone else’s stuff!
- Make sure your puppy is trained to “give” items to you – hold out a treat to trade, and you’ll find this is pretty easy!
- Keep their toys in a place that’s accessible and tidy.
- Close bedroom doors and prevent the puppy from getting things they shouldn’t.
- Close the door while puppy eats so they can’t save or take food out of the room.
- Tire your puppy with exercise or training (which has the added benefit of increasing obedience).
Never punish, yell at, or chase a puppy who has stolen or buried something. Punishments are thought to increase your dog’s defensive response, and positive techniques are known to be more effective.
If your dog is older and still hoards or digs, you might want to know...
How can you stop your dog from digging?
The AKC says that hunting dog breeds (like Spaniels, Retrievers and Beagles) are more likely to be diggers.
Why? A heightened hunting instinct is linked with capturing prey, and burying it is the natural next step.
If your dog loves to dig, your yard can end up looking a bit pock-marked. So you might want to take preventative action! There’s no simple solution here. But you could try some of these suggestions:
- One way to save your yard is to add a sandbox just for your dog. Yes, it’s a real suggestion! Introduce your dog to the sandbox and encourage them to dig there rather than beneath your prized roses.
- If they’re digging purely to hide treats or toys, you could instigate a similar game in the house. Hide their toys beneath some couch pillows and praise your dog when they sniff out the prize. If it becomes a game, they’ll likely want you to be involved, instead of running off outside to hide things alone.
- Don’t give your dog too many toys at once, because that increases the likelihood that they’ll hide lots of “surprises” around the house! Let them use one or two toys at a time and they’re less likely to hide and forget it.
- Finally: if your dog is hiding treats, it may be because they’ve had enough to eat – so they’re preserving the excess for another time. That’s what their instinct tells them to do with leftover food. So give treats only when your dog is hungry, and not too often.
What should I do with a bone that has been buried?
Okay, so your dog has buried a treat or bone. What should you be doing about that?
Firstly, ask yourself where the dog is choosing for burial, and what hazards might be present. Do a little risk-assessment on your yard. Have you recently used weedkiller or pesticides? Are there plants which are toxic to dogs? Is your dog digging beneath a fencepost that could collapse? Or are they disturbing the roots of a large tree?
It may be necessary to fence hazardous parts of your yard in order to prevent your dog from digging there. Or you may have to consider alternative ways of preventing your dog from digging in the yard (and first see the suggestions above).
It may also be necessary to stop giving your dog the items that they bury.
Note: Most veterinarians recommend that owners do not give bones to dogs. This is because they are a raw food source and can carry dangerous bacteria. They can also splinter and damage the throat and stomach.
Should my dog eat the bones that he buries?
Your dog is not a wild animal; he has evolved from wild dogs but his stomach is now adapted to commercial dog food. He is not biologically equipped to eat the raw prey that his ancestors killed and ate (bones and all).
Once it has been buried, that bone begins the process of decomposition. It’s affected by bacteria in the soil which can often be harmful. So if your dog retrieves and eats a buried bone, they are at risk of gastrointestinal upset (diarrhoea or vomiting) caused by bacteria or other chemicals present in the soil. While that bone may have been fresh and refrigerated when you gave it to your dog, it is far less safe after some time in the ground.
Will your dog remember where they buried their bones or treats?
Well, they might not remember. But your dog is likely to be able to sniff out the treats they buried.
Your dog’s sense of smell is estimated to be around 20,000 – 100,000 times (depending who you ask) stronger than yours! There’s no machine on earth that can beat a dog’s olfactory detective powers. They can sniff out explosives, drugs, and cancer cells – so your dog is certainly capable of finding their buried treats in a matter of seconds.
The problem is that despite their super-sensitive nose, most dogs don’t care about the way their buried treats smell – or the bacteria the treats have attracted. They’ll still eat them!
So if your dog is trying to bury food on a regular basis, don’t assume it will decompose before he finds it again: consider some of the preventative suggestions above.