If you have a dog that likes to hide toys, chews or bones you will be familiar with the process. Some dogs like to ‘bury’ items in their beds or in the sofa using their nose to ‘cover’ it up.
Other dogs like to do things properly and hide their items in a large freshly dug hole in your garden. So why do dogs bury bones?
Creating a cache
Whether your dog digs a real hole in your garden or a pseudo hole in the bed, your dog is tuning into their distant ancestor’s behaviour. Before they were domesticated, dogs would hunt or scavenge for food.
As there were no guarantees when they would get their next meal storing excess food made sense. By burying their food, dogs not only helped to preserve it, they also protected it from rivals and other interested parties.
The soil kept the food cool and ensured that if times were lean there would be a food supply to fall back on. In fact, burying food ensured that the ancestors of our modern dogs survived.
Although most of our dogs today can be sure of regular meals it is a behaviour that is still favoured by many of them.
A caution about caches
It’s worth noting that most animals that create cache sites will guard them aggressively. From wolves through to foxes and to our domestic dogs hoarded food is highly valuable.
Even if your dog is not hungry most will feel protective over their buried booty. If you do need to approach your dog’s cache site for any reason, then do it cautiously or make sure to move them to another area before you do.
Dogs that are more anxious, shy or fearful will hide food if they are not comfortable eating in a particular environment. This can happen easily in multi pet households or in busy or noisy kitchens.
Your dog may leave their food completely or remove food from their bowl and take it to another part of the house to eat later.
If your dog doesn’t look comfortable at meal times try feeding in a quieter area of the house where they won’t be disturbed. Monitor your dog’s behaviour and check if the hoarding stops.
Preventing food hoarding
If you do find that hoarding is an issue for you and your dog then there are steps you can take to minimise it. Not all dogs will show guarding behaviours if you discover their cache, but it’s probably best to manage the behaviour before it becomes a problem;
- Feeding several small meals a day rather than one large one can help. Once your dog walks away from the food, remove it to prevent your dog from trying to store it for later
- Stick to a feeding routine so that your dog gets used to a regular supply of food at certain times of the day
- Ensure that your dog is not over-fed. If your dog is not hungry when food or treats are offered they are more likely to store the food for leaner times
- Choose a quiet location for your dog’s bowl. Somewhere that your dog feels comfortable and safe
Preventing toy hoarding
Not all dogs cache food. For some dogs their most valuable possessions are their toys. If you have a toy hoarder then you may be used to lumpy sofas, buried treasure in the bed and chewed toys in the laundry basket.
There is nothing wrong with your dog having a variety of toys. Lots of dogs will be happy with one or two favourites stashed in their beds with them.
However if your dog is constantly ‘burying’ toys or moving them from place to place it can become an obsessive behaviour that creates a guarding issue if you try to remove the toy;
- Remove all toys apart from two
- Teach a reliable ‘give’ or drop it command
- If you remove a valuable item from your dog, always offer a valuable item in return
- Swap toys regularly, so that no one toy becomes more precious
Why do dogs bury bones?
It’s instinct. Despite having regular access to food, caching is a behaviour that still remains common in a lot of dogs.
If you have an anxious dog or live in a multi pet household you may find that your dog is more likely to hoard than others. Although hoarding isn’t an issue in itself, it can lead to unwanted guarding behaviours. So even if you think that it is harmless, keep an eye on your dog.
Prevention is a lot easier than cure, dealing with the behaviour early can prevent bigger issues in the future.