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Does your dog have a penchant for burying bones or other pilfered items? You may find this canine behavior amusing, even endearing at times. You can chalk much of your dog’s love of burying and digging up to canine instinct. In a nutshell, dogs inherited this behavior from their wild ancestors, who hid surplus food for survival. “Dogs might also dig for other reasons, including boredom, getting to a neighbor’s yard, or escaping,” says Dr. Kristyn Echterling-Savage, certified applied animal behaviorist and founder of Beyond The Dog.
To get to the bottom of your dog’s desire to bury, keep reading for insight into the science behind this behavior.
What Does It Mean When A Dog Hides Their Bones?
The tendency to bury “treasures” can show up in different ways, but dogs will bury just about anything they consider valuable and want to save for later—which may help explain why your dig-happy Dachshund tucks toys under his dog bed or squirrels away kibble in the sofa.
Reasons dogs may burying a bone or treat include:
- They really love an object: “Bone burying could be tied to the value of the resource and a dog’s tendency to resource guard,” says Dr. Echterling-Savage. Essentially, dogs will bury anything they deem valuable to keep it safe from predators and thieves. You might notice this behavior especially if you have more than one pet—dogs who worry about competition may have a stronger drive to conceal prized possessions.
- They want to play: Bone burying can provide bored dogs with a way to initiate play with their pet parents. “Some dogs may bury bones or other objects simply because they find it fun or entertaining,” explains veterinarian Dr. Tehreem Puri. “Digging can provide them with an enjoyable outlet for their energy and curiosity,” she says.
- They’re anxious: In some cases, dogs dig to cope with anxiety or stress. “This behavior may be more common in dogs left alone for long periods or in those who experience separation anxiety,” Puri explains.
- Their breed is prone to digging: Your dog’s breed may play a part in their tendency to dig, says Dr. Echterling-Savage. Some hunting dogs bred to chase prey into underground burrows, for instance, may be more likely to dig. Breeds known for their tendency to dig include Miniature Schnauzers, Terriers, Dachshunds, Basset Hounds, Beagles, and Bloodhounds.
- They just love to dig: You may not always find it possible to pinpoint a precise reason behind your dog’s digging, and that’s OK! Many dogs just find digging in dirt a fantastically fun activity, so their tunneling could just be a favorite way to pass the time.
Is It Evolutionary Behavior?
Like many canine behaviors, bone burying is rooted in a dog’s ancestry. While domestic dogs have evolved far enough along from wolves that comparisons may not always prove useful, burying is one behavior that’s carried over, Dr. Echterling-Savage explains.
In the wild, dogs engage in what’s called “scatter hoarding” or “food caching.” This means they hoard items across multiple locations, rather than in one big stash. The goal is to preserve food for leaner times when prey becomes scarce.
Of course, pets don’t need to stockpile food for survival—but they may still bury items for safekeeping due to their instincts.
“The behavior has likely persisted in dogs because it gives them a survival advantage in certain situations,” says Dr. Puri. “While food scarcity is not a problem for many domestic dogs, burying bones is still a natural behavior that they engage in instinctively.”
Burying food doesn’t just help wild dogs hide meat from scavengers. It also preserves its freshness b shielding it from sunlight and heat. The deeper a dog digs, the colder the soil gets, so you can think of their underground cache as a type of natural “refrigerator.”
Do Dogs Remember Where They Hid Their Bones?
Dogs have an incredibly strong sense of smell, so they can detect their hidden prizes with a discerning sniff. A dog’s nose has up to 300 million olfactory receptors (your nose only has about 6 million), along with nostrils that can operate independently of one another. This unique nasal anatomy means dogs can identify not just a smell, but also where it comes from.
While their noses are off the charts, a dog’s stomach is another story. Compared to their wild ancestors, the domestic dog has a much more sensitive digestive system. So while retrieving buried items is a mostly harmless activity, it can become unsafe if your dog digs up (and then tries to eat) perishable items, like bones. This is why it’s best to ensure your dog enjoys their bone right away.
Additionally, make sure to supervise bone chewing. As a general rule of thumb, take away bones and chews after 10-15 minutes. Also, avoid giving your dog cooked bones and opt for raw bones or non-edible chews, as these make for safer chomping!
When Burying Becomes an Issue…
Hiding items can become an issue if:
- Your dog digs furiously enough to scrape their paws.
- Your dog digs near toxic lawn chemicals or sharp substrates, like rocks.
- Your dog tears up your yard or furniture.
If you’re hoping to discourage your dog from problematic digging, our experts recommend:
- Offering food-stuffed toys to prevent digging related to boredom.
- Rotating toys to prevent boredom.
- Treating bone-burying pups to a digging puzzle toy, like the iDig.
- Attaching chicken wire (and securing it in the ground) to your fence to prevent escape attempts.
- Making sure to give your dog plenty of attention and exercise each day.
- Contacting a veterinarian or certified pet behaviorist for more guidance, if needed.
All that said, keep in mind that burying and digging are natural canine behaviors. So you can let your pooch carry on, as long as their digging doesn’t disrupt your house or your garden!
There’s nothing inherently bad about burying bones, as long as resource guarding doesn’t become a threat to others, Dr. Echterling-Savage says.