Digging deeper: Why do dogs bury bones?

Why do dogs bury bones?

Most dog owners will, at some point, discover an item of food carefully stashed away by their dog. This might be a few pieces of kibble under a sofa cushion, or if they are really lucky, a pig’s ear under their pillow!

Have you ever wondered why your dog will excavate your yard to bury a bone instead of eating it then and there? Is this something to worry about? 

In this article, we will look at the reasons why dogs bury things and find out if there is anything you can do about it.

Table of Contents

Why do dogs like bones?

The ancestors of the dog were hunters and scavengers. This meant that a large proportion of their diet was made up of animal carcasses that they had killed or scavenged.

Unlike domesticated dogs who have their dinner carefully prepared, their ancestors had to chew and tear the meat from the bones. Once the meat had been eaten, they would also chew on the bones themselves (this behavior can be seen in wolves and dogs today).

During the process of domestication, dogs would often eat the leftovers from human food preparation- you guessed it, bones! Bones are highly nutritious– they are full of calcium and other minerals.

Dogs and wolves will often chew through the tough part of the bone to get to the bone marrow inside, because it is particularly high in fat and is calorie-dense. Bone marrow also contains vitamins, minerals and amino acids.

Even though domestic dogs today gain all their nutrition from specially formulated dog food, they still retain the instinct to chew on a bone.

Chewing is also enjoyable for dogs- there is evidence that it causes the release of serotonin, dopamine and feel-good endorphins, so it is great for your dog’s sense of well-being.

What type of bones can I feed my dog?

Feeding bones to domestic dogs is a controversial subject. Traditionally, dogs would have been tossed a leg bone from the Sunday roast, or an owner would have asked the butcher for some bones to feed to their dog, alongside scraps and leftovers.

Many owners still feed their dog raw bones for the health benefits, and to keep their teeth nice and clean. Other owners worry about the risk of bacterial contamination and the risk of illness.

Even vets are divided on the subject– some advocate feeding raw bones and others consider it too risky.

If you would like to feed your dog bones, do your research before you decide whether it is right for you and your dog. Speak to your vet to get their advice.

If you do decide to feed your dog bones, it is really important to never feed cooked bones (this is something that vets all agree on!).

Cooked bones can pose a health hazard, as they can splinter and cause internal damage when your dog swallows them. This is particularly true of cooked chicken bones, which should never be fed to dogs.

If you choose not to feed your dog raw bones, the good news is that there are still plenty of long-lasting dog chews out there for him to get his teeth into- some examples include dried pig’s ears, paddywhack, cow hooves, dried tripe or pizzle sticks.

Why do dogs bury their food?

So why do dogs hide bones and other food items? This behavior is known as ‘caching’ and it is very instinctive. In the wild, dogs would eat what they could from a carcass and save the rest for later. 

They did not know when their next meal would be, so it made sense to bury it so they could come back to it when needed. By burying their food, they reduced the chances of other animals stealing it.

The cool temperature underground would also help to stop the meat from spoiling. Domestic dogs may bury their food if they don’t want to eat it right away but want to stop other dogs from finding it. 

If your dog is not hungry he may carry his bone around and make a crying noise, before finding somewhere to bury it. Sometimes if a dog is too stressed to eat, he may bury his food with the intention of eating it when he feels safer. 

Burying may involve digging holes in the backyard, or pushing food items under cushions or into the corners of a room. Some dogs will even drag blankets over their food bowl to hide it!

Why do dogs hide their treats?

Dogs are more likely to hide high-value food items. So they might eat their usual kibble straight away, but will bury treats and bones to save for later. 

It is likely that they recognise the higher nutritional value of some foods through the taste and smell, and instinct tells them to save them for when they are really needed. 

It might just be that your dog is not hungry when you give him a treat, so he decides to keep it safe until he wants to eat it.

Why do dogs bury toys?

So we understand the survival value of burying food, but why do dogs bury things that are not edible? For example, some dogs will bury toys. Others will bury items belonging to their owners- even mobile phones and remote controls. 

This can be down to how strong the instinct to bury things is for that individual dog. Some dogs go through their whole lives without burying anything, others have a very strong instinct to bury high value items. 

Dogs who love their toys may value them just as much as food, so want to keep them safe. Some dogs are able to work out which items are highly prized by their owners, so help them out by burying them!

Which dog breeds are more likely to bury bones?

Some breeds are certainly more likely to dig and/ or bury bones and toys. 

Terrier breeds love to dig and bury items of food. Owners of dachshunds and beagles also report that they are serial buriers.

Surprisingly, Labradors and golden retrievers also like to bury their favourite items and can be efficient at excavating rather large holes in the backyard.

Should I worry if my dog buries his food?

Food burying- known as ‘caching’- is a normal and instinctive dog behavior and is usually nothing to worry about. However, if your dog suddenly starts to bury his food instead of eating it, it may be an indication that something isn’t quite right. 

If your dog has abdominal discomfort, or is stressed, this will affect his appetite and make him more likely to hide his food away. If you notice your dog burying his food more often that he used to, or if it is a new behavior, speak to your vet for advice.

How do I stop my dog digging up my yard?

It is very difficult to stop your dog from digging up your yard if he is that way inclined. You could stop giving him bones and treats- but that would be a shame for your dog. 

The best solution is to fence off the areas you really don’t want him digging in, then give him his own digging area so that he has an outlet for his excavation instincts. This may be a patch of dirt, or even a child’s sand pit for your dog to have fun in.

Why do dogs bury bones – final thoughts

Dogs like bones because they are a natural and highly nutritious food that was very important for the survival of their wild ancestors. 

Bones and other high-value foods will often be buried as dogs still retain the instinct to save excess food for leaner times. 

Some dogs certainly dig more than others, this may be related to their breed or just their individual personality. 

Burying food can be annoying for owners, but it is a normal behavior for dogs and it is usually nothing to worry about.

Leave a Comment