Whether it’s a bone, a stinky shoe, their favorite toy, or your human child’s favorite toy (uh oh), our beloved canine companions often find themselves digging knee deep in a hole, stowing away yet another wonderful treasure. Sometimes they even pick your couch cushions or your new duvet cover as a great place to hide pilfered goodies. No matter the location, it appears dogs often find it necessary to store away preferred items from any potential robbers. Including you. But why?
Well, the reasons dogs may decide it’s wisest to hide that brand new (probably too expensive) chew toy are a bit more complicated than you might think. Dogs often have good reasons for doing the things they do, and this includes digging and attempting to bury all sorts of things.
We dig deep (see what I did there?) into three common reasons behind this interesting behavior.
3 Common Reasons Dogs Might Hide and Bury Things
Burying bones and other things is just something many dogs love to do, and it happens to be a behavior that’s shared by their canid cousins and wolfie ancestors. But most modern dogs don’t need to bury their food the way their ancestors did, so why do it? We look at the three most likely reasons your dog might try to DIY a graveyard in your home or yard.
“The general thought is that burying treasured objects is an extension of natural caching behavior seen in other canids, like wolves, coyotes, and red fox,” says Leslie Sinn, DVM, DACVB, CPDT-KA, and owner of Behavior Solutions in Hamilton, Va. Caching is the storing of available food for the purpose of consuming it later. It’s a common behavior in many species of birds and mammals.
“Canids are scatter hoarders, meaning they hide things for later consumption throughout their range. The thought is that dogs take after their ancestors and hide things (primarily food) for later consumption or retrieval,” says Sinn, who’s also a member of the Daily Paws Advisory Board.
Your dog may find that you give them plenty of tasty things to consume and they don’t need to worry about their next meal. You might even be overfeeding them. So instead of eating it all at once they will save some of it for a snack later. Stashing away food and covering it with dirt is a good way to keep the food fresh while also keeping the smell hidden from other animals that might want to partake.
The majority of the time caching new treasures isn’t something you need to be concerned about. However, if you find your dog is constantly trying to bury bones and food or if she won’t consume any treats in front of you or other pets in your home, it could mean there’s an issue and you need to step in or make an appointment with your veterinarian. Pay close attention to your pet’s body language right before they go off to bury something. Ensure you are feeding them meals in a location in the home that feels safe and comfy to them. And make sure your other pets aren’t hogging or stealing all the nummies.
Stress or Anxiety
When a dog lives in an environment that’s stressful and causes them to feel anxious or they are new to a home and not sure how they fit in just yet, they might feel the need to bury or hide things they want to keep for themselves. If a dog has lived in a previous situation where things were often taken away from them, they are likely to hide things they value in a safe, secure spot. In multi-pet households, a dog could be concerned another pet will steal away their goodies. This makes your canine keen to hide really preferred items, like food or treats, chew toys, and bones—and then consume them out of view of the other pets (think your Halloween candy and your greedy older brother).
In severe cases, a dog may feel the need to hide or guard all types of items they find really valuable, and this can lead to resource guarding, a more serious issue that needs attention from a certified canine behavior consultant or veterinary behaviorist.
It’s no surprise that a dog whose environment is lacking in mental and physical stimulation will find something to do. Oftentimes that thing takes the form of a behavior that’s undesirable (to us humans), like digging up the backyard or creating a nice, muddy hole in the flower garden. Eventually those holes can serve as additional just-for-your-dog storage compartments where they can keep their favorite toys or that brand new marrow-filled bone you gave them.
To prevent your yard (or your living room) from becoming an excavation site, always offer your dog daily enrichment opportunities that engage both their mind and body. Take them for walks and let them sniff, play games of fetch and tug, and do some fun trick training using positive reinforcement. Schedule time in your day to practice basic skills so your dog gets access to stimulating reinforcement opportunities every.single.day.
Canines do all sorts of things that might appear odd to us humans but serve a very real function for your dog. Making sure your dog is healthy and happy, has access to safe places for eating, and lots of great opportunities to use his brain and body, will go a long way in ensuring your dog doesn’t turn your yard (well at least not totally), or your home, into a doggie-goodie burial ground.