Why do dogs bury bones underground? Because they can't bury them in trees! Or so goes the popular joke. But jokes aside, when it comes to burying things, dogs are deep down into serious business. It all boils down to natural instincts. Despite being domesticated over 12,000 years ago, dogs still remain hunters at heart and will engage in a variety of interesting behaviors that often leave owners clueless.
Burying items is linked to a dog's spirit of survival. If Scruffy heads toward the yard to bury his treasured bone, he is simply doing as dogs do in the wild. In the wild, as meat-eaters, dogs used to hunt large prey. This meant they were often left with too much meat. To preserve surplus meat and bones, they found it helpful to store some under ground. This helped keep the meat at cooler temperatures and away from pesky bugs.
Another reason dogs used to bury excess food was to protect it from other predators. In the wild, remnants of large carcasses would attract opportunists such as vultures and hyenas. By burying bones underground near their dens, dogs kept their food a little safer from these other animals. This basic, natural instinct has helped canines in the wild stay alive for many years.
Another good reason your dog's ancestors buried food was to be better prepared in case of food shortages. In the wild, prey is not always easy to come by. Once dogs killed a large animal, there was no knowing when they would be able to hunt and eat again. By burying some food underground they were accomplishing three goals: preserving food from spoilage, protecting food from predators and saving food for later so when food was scarce again, they could rely on these underground treasures and feast.
Domestic dogs may not need to bury bones, but the instinct is still there and they bury all sorts of stuff. How many times have you had your guests sit on your sofa only reach behind them and pull out a toy? In this case your dog was simply hiding his prized treasure so he could enjoy it later. Don't bother telling him no one wants to steal it; dog logic trumps human logic.
With no need to survive and fend for himself, your dog may bury his treasures simply for the fun of it. You may have seen Scruffy entertain himself by burying stuff and then digging it back up. Many owners provide their dogs with a sandbox filled with sand or loose dirt. Even an old tennis ball, once buried, becomes a gift a dog happily opens again and again.
By Adrienne Farricelli
About the Author
Adrienne Farricelli has been writing for magazines, books and online publications since 2005. She specializes in canine topics, previously working for the American Animal Hospital Association and receiving certification from the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers. Her articles have appeared in "USA Today," "The APDT Chronicle of the Dog" and "Every Dog Magazine." She also contributed a chapter in the book " Puppy Socialization - An Insider's Guide to Dog Behavioral Fitness" by Caryl Wolff.