Why dogs bury their bones, dig up soil, and other things

March 12, 2020

Why dogs bury their bones, dig up soil, and other things


A fresh mound of dirt in the back yard is evidence that your pooch did a little excavating. Underneath Indiana Dogs crypt lies forbidden treasure, such as a delicious bone. Why do dogs fulfill such stereotypical, cartoon-ish behavior of burying their bones?


A breed's predisposition for digging

According to The Spruce Pets: Several breeds are more predisposed to digging and burying than other breeds. To name a few; Terriers, Dachshunds, Beagles, Basset Hounds and Miniature Schnauzers. Carin Terriers, for instance, were originally bred to chase and hunt small game, and they have maintained their excellent digging skills and their instinct to search. Since these breeds are bred specifically to dig, they may also have a heightened desire to save their resources, and therefore are more likely to bury bones. This is a normal behavior for them. Remember, regardless of a dog’s breed, all dogs have the potential to dig.


Instinctive behavior

All dogs have a universal characteristic - they bury their bones. Sometimes in the ground, other times in the abyss of the couch cushions, and even in their own beds. Unfortunately, it’s not the dog bone fairy rewarding your pooch for hard day’s work. It’s their primal instincts kicking in — particularly, food hoarding. Back in the day it was difficult to find food and if our dogs’ ancestors did find good, they’d have to compete with the other pack members for a bite (and other animals) before the food goes bad. To combat this, they started burying animal carcasses and bones in the ground near the dens to prevent the other members of the pack from finding them. This technique was particularly helpful when they gathered enough food on the hunt to last more than one sitting. If food was scarce, they’d dig up their prize and enjoy a meal.

Dogs aren’t the only animals that practice food hoarding behaviors. Leopards drag their prize up trees to eat them without being disturbed, beavers accumulate vegetation around their lodges in preparation for the winter, squirrels keep acorns in tree hollow, and don’t forget the famous fable of the ant who spent the whole summer collecting grains of rice and the grasshopper that almost died of hunger in the snow. It all dates back to the feast or famine mentality that their predecessors have endured.


Natural refrigeration                                                    

Before the invention of the refrigerator, canines of old had the decreased temperature of the earth to store and preserve the meat. Burying animal carcasses in the soil maintained the freshness of their catch and kept it safe to consume longer than if it were to sit in direct sunlight. Dogs would dig deep enough cavities where other animals wouldn’t find their catch and store their game in their little “refrigerators.” It is believed that the organic content of the earth marinated the meat imparting great flavor on it making in a satisfying snack for when the carcass is dug up. 


Abundance of food

Naturally, domesticated dogs don’t have to hunt for food. But old habits die hard. Despite their bowls being refilled at the same time every day, you’ll still find kibble lying around in the most unlikely places. Because modern dogs don’t experience such scarcity, their hidden bones may stay hidden. They lose their ability to find their loot in a sense.

Another reason why dogs bury their food is that you give them too much! Such thing exists, can you believe? Spoiling your pooch with an abundance of food, treats and toys can result in them burying their treasure in the ground (and forgetting about it).

Observe how much your dog is actually eating and only put that much food in their bowls. You don’t want kibble going to waste!


It's all fun and games

If not for instinctive reasons, then your dog is probably burying their items as a game. It’s a way for them to urge you to play with them by making you play treasure hunt, adorable isn’t it? Dogs burying things aren’t limited to their food and toys, sometimes they steal their owners’ socks, jewelry and even phones and hide them in the ground. Golden retrievers and Dalmatians we’re looking at you. Dogs that take and hide things important to you such as the ones that you use on a daily basis are probably bored. If you notice that your things go missing and find them covered in garden soil, they’re probably lonely or seeking your attention.

The solution? Play with your dog and give them more attention. Dogs are simple creatures, what you see is what you get. If they’re hungry, they’ll tell you. If they’re sleepy, they’ll doze off in the corner. And if they want more attention, they’ll do everything in their power to get it. Increase the quality of your bonding time with your dog by doing something that they actually enjoy. Sure, cuddles are great. But dogs are satiated by physical activity. A good game of fetch for fifteen minutes or going on a run should satisfy their need for attention.


Possessive puppy behavior

Puppies born in large litters tend to hide their favorite toys and treats from their siblings to make sure they don’t get a hold of them. Of course, with such a short attention span, puppies tend to forget that they’ve committed the act itself leaving their toys half buried in the ground forever. If you’re housing more than three puppies at time take note of their preferences and find them each a toy to play with. You’ll avoid fighting and hiding if each of the pups have their own favorite toys.



Digging isn’t limited to burying bones. It applies to the young too! It’s natural for mamas to dig up the paper and blankets inside her whelping box as she attempts to make it more comfortable for delivery and puppy care. Again, similar to the principle of food hoarding, this behavior is a remnant of their past. In the early days, female dogs had to birth their pups in burrows to keep the pack from smelling the young. In times of desperation, dogs turned cannibalistic and would feed on the helpless pups. It was also a way of shielding her puppies from the elements whilst she nursed them to maturity.

However, if you notice your mother-to-be digging outside of the box, it’s an indication of anxiety and she feels that the pups need to be moved to a safer place. The mother will most likely find solace in a secluded area of your home which can sometimes be under the couch, inside the cabinet, or even on a family member’s bed. She’ll start digging again to make a comfortable den to transfer her puppies to.

This can easily be avoided by placing her whelping pen in a low-traffic density area of your house. New mothers are extremely anxious and protective of their puppies, so they need to be in a space where they feel like their puppies are protected.


It's their day job

Some dogs dig to make a living. Cadaver dogs for instance are trained to locate the remains of a person and alert their handlers. They can smell remains up to fifteen feet underground and detect the smells up to thirty meters underwater. Sometimes all they need is a fraction of bone or drop of blood to determine the location of a cadaver. It takes most canines eighteen months to two years to become a fully equipped cadaver dog. That’s up to 1000 hours of training to do their jobs! What good boys (and girls)! Handlers have a preference for Labrador Retrievers and German Shepherds but a dog’s breed isn’t important as long as they have a good hunt drive, strong nerves, and confidence.


Holes in the ground are a great place to cool off

Again, this behavior dates back to prehistoric times. On hot summer days, you’ll often find a panting dog digging holes in the ground to sit in. The top layer of the soil is pretty baked from the sun but underneath it, it’s pretty cool. Your doggo is probably just trying to cool off if he doesn’t have access to cold water or a pool. It would help to freeze blocks of ice in your freezer and dump them in a bucket, so your dog has something to lick during the hottest hours of the day. And try not to leave your dog outside as much during the summer because they may develop heat stroke. This isn’t a hard and steadfast rule because different breeds were bred for different climates. Chihuahuas for example would rather spend their days sunbathing while Huskies would rather chill with the A/C on.


How to get your dogs to stop digging

Find a good distraction. One efficient alternative to digging is giving your dog fun diversions they can channel their energy to; such as an assortment of toys that you keep rotated to retain the novelty factor. Dogs of different intelligence levels require a variety of challenge when it comes to their toys. Consider a toy with multiple aspects such as a tennis ball attached to a rope that squeaks. That should be good enough to keep your dog challenged and entertained. If you have the money to spare, try purchasing a treat-dispensing toy. After solving the problem, they’re rewarded with a treat. Or even better, build a sandbox in your backyard! It’s the best way to solve the digging problem because you give them an allocated space to fulfill their primal instincts. Throw a couple of toys in the mix for a bit of a challenge. It will take a bit of training for your dog to understand that they can only dig there, but it’s all so worth it.


It’s quite simple really why dogs bury their bones: it’s the call of the wild kicking in. It’s not a behavior that you should be worried about because it’s innate in them. Just make sure to keep them away from certain plants when they dig because some garden plants may be toxic for them.


P.S. you might find bones in your shoes too. Don’t forget to empty out your trainers before you go for a run.

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