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Ask A Vet: Why Does My Dog Bury His Stuff?

| Published on March 6, 2015

Has your dog ever hidden a treat or bone? Have you ever wondered why? The answer lies in who your dog is and where he comes from. My staff members and I frequently give treats to the pets boarding or dropped off for treatment (We are not above bribery!) I would estimate that maybe 1 in 10 will then proceed to bury the treats in his or her bedding. It is really quite cute and endearing.

I can think of one little Dachshund in particular who would push and push with her nose to hide the cookies we had all given her. We did not realize until she was gone home that she had a cache of treats hidden in her blankets because each of us like her and would give her something as we passed, not realizing that she was stashing them all! When her bedding was removed for the laundry, 5 or 6 treats tumbled out. It was the whole day’s loot.  From that day on, we have suggested that she take a “doggie bag” of treats and eat them when she is hungry at home.

We can never forget Canis lupus familiaris or Canis familiaris descended from wild canids. According to a study published in Science in November 2013, our dogs derived from a wolf population in Europe that has since become extinct. Early dogs never knew where their next meal would come from so the stashing behavior evolved. Their sensitive noses would lead them back to the hiding places when they wanted a snack. Any food item that is in excess of hunger at the time is a surplus that must be saved and not wasted.

Instincts Take Over

There is a part of your dog that instinctively remembers this impulse. The soil acts as a good insulator to keep perishable items (like bones or meat) cool and slow decomposition. So your dog can follow her nose back to her “refrigerator” to retrieve her leftovers. If you have provided more than your dog wants at the time (like we did for our cute little Dachshund I mentioned), she resorts to hoarding the extras. Many dogs will also stockpile toys and other resources. At any given time, my dogs has 2-3 favorite stuffed “babies” in her bed. When I remove them to clean the bed, my actions are always met with a look of disdain.

We have to remember that the wild is a pretty tough place where all types of animals compete for resources. The ones that are savvy and smart are the ones who win in the game of survival. Remember, however, your dog might think that the soil keeps that bone fresh, but we know better.

If you know that your dog is a hoarder, it might be best to make sure that perishable items are not carried outside where they can be saved to later cause stomach upset. Even though your dog may be wired to resist competition, make sure that you are always able to safely take away anything dangerous that he may have in his mouth. When his safety is in danger is not the time for him to decide that he wants to hoard a resource away from you! Practice with him, having him sit and release the item to you without snapping or growling. This is a critical training step for the safety of you both.

For thousands of years, dogs have been looking to humans to provide for them, but vestiges of their wild roots are still there. The best way to love them is to understand and embrace who they are and be so grateful that they have chosen to evolve with us.

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