Why Do Dogs Hide Bones?

Some people have seen it in real life. Others have only seen it in cartoons. But everyone has definitely heard about it.

When a dog is given a bone and instead of eating it, he runs away and buries it somewhere.

And it’s not just bones – dogs like to hide many other things as well, including: their toys, meat, dead animals and anything else that they consider valuable.

But now you’re probably wondering – why do dogs hide bones and other valuable items? The answer is simple. They might need those bones (or other items) later on.

They hide the bones so they can come back and dig them up later.

The usually do this when they’ve eaten and their stomachs are full but they still have some food (like bones or meat) left over.

Instead of leaving the bones, they hide them so they can come back and eat them when they’re hungry.

If they leave the bones where they are, some other animal might come and take them. So burying bones is a natural instinct for dogs.

By storing food, they make sure that they’ll have something to eat in the future if they can’t find anything else.

But where does this instinct come from? Do all dogs have it? If they only care about having food, why do they bury their toys and other items?

And finally - when does it become a problem and what can be done to stop it? Read on to find out.

Why Do Dogs Hide Bones: It’s Instinctual

Puppy chewing on a bone

Dogs didn’t always live in houses where humans would regularly feed them. Centuries ago, dogs lived in the wild and had to hunt for food, which was often hard to find.

After catching their prey, they would eat as much as they could and bury the rest (including the meat and bones).

If they didn’t bury the rest of their food, other dogs (or other animals) would steal it. Even if no-one stole the food, the food would rot under the sun.

By burying their food in the soil, they were able to preserve their food for later. That’s because soil acts like a refrigerator and helps stop food from rotting.

So to sum up, food was difficult to find and hunting prey required energy and time. Once they’d caught their prey, dogs couldn’t risk wasting any of it.

Since they couldn’t eat all of it in one go, they stored the leftovers by burying it. The formal name for this is “food caching”.

In the future they would come back and eat the remains, especially when they couldn’t find any other sources of food.

The gray wolf is considered the ancestor of modern dogs, and this burying instinct actually comes from these wolves.

It’s not just dogs that bury or hide their food for later – beavers, leopards, squirrels and a number of other mammals do this.

You’ll even find that some birds do this too. Nowadays dogs don’t need to worry about not having enough food since they’ve got caring owners that feed them on a regular basis.

But that still doesn’t stop them from going back to their old instincts every now and then.

Some dogs, however, bury bones and other items much more often than others. Why? Read on to find out!

It Depends on the Breed

Beagle with a harness on

So you know why dogs hide bones, but why do some dogs like to do it more than others? There’s one important difference between these dog breeds and others.

Hundreds of years ago, these dogs were bred for hunting. They were historically used for chasing and catching small animals.

These small animals (e.g. rabbits) would hide in holes that they had dug in the ground and hunting dogs would have to dig into those holes to catch them.

These hunting breeds developed a digging instinct, and after all these years they still have that instinct – even if they don’t hunt nowadays.

Some famous hunting breeds that like to dig and hide their bones include Terriers, Beagles, Miniature Schnauzers, Dachshunds and Basset Hounds.

But keep in mind that any dog can dig up a hole and bury a bone or one of its toys. They all have the instinct, hunting breeds just do it more than others.

If It’s About Food, Why Do Dogs Hide Toys?

So if dogs have an instinct to store food so they can eat it later, why do they bury their toys or other items?

They can’t eat those toys, so what’s the point? Well, there can be multiple reasons for this, which we’ll look at.

Reason #1: Attention

Pug with small bone in his mouth

First of all, they might do it for attention. Dogs are similar to children and want attention from their owners, just like kids want attention from their parents.

That’s why they might hide the TV remote, or one of your shoes, or some other important item that you use.

They know that you will go looking for the item and it could turn into a game for them where they hide the item and you have to find it.

That’s one way of getting your attention and getting you to play with them. But they might hide it, knowing that you will get angry at them for hiding it – this is also a form of attention.

If you’re not giving your dog enough attention it will prefer negative attention over no attention. So make sure you spend enough time with your dog!

Reason #2: Boredom

Another reason they hide items is boredom. If they don’t get a chance to release their energy during the day, they will get bored and begin to occupy themselves.

As a result, they might start burying different items around the house as an activity to kill some time.

Reason #3: Stress

The third reason is stress. If a dog is feeling anxious it might start to bury its food and other items to calm itself.

If they feel unsafe in the environment they are currently in, they might bury their food and eat it later when it feels safer.

If there are multiple dogs in the house, they might bury some of their food instinctively so that the other dogs don’t take any of its food.

Finally, if a dog spent its childhood with other puppies where they had to compete for food, it might bury bones when it’s older.

That’s because he instinctively remembers his past and continues to hide his food out of habit.

This problem is often cured by feeding your dog on a regular basis and making sure he feels safe.

Reason #4: Too Many Toys

White shepherd puppy with a soccer ball

Finally, having too many toys can be the reason why your dog is burying them. When dogs have too many toys, they often feel like they have to guard them all.

This causes them to start burying their toys and it can even turn into an obsession.

This not only creates a “burying problem” but is also bad for your dog’s mental health since they might get overwhelmed by all those toys.

The solution to this problem is simple – don’t give your dog too many toys. This doesn’t mean that your dog should only have 3 or 4 toys.

Your dog can have many toys but he should only have access to a couple of toys at any given time. You can keep the rest of his toys somewhere else.

Whenever you want to give him a different toy, you can put one of the old ones away.

That way your dog will be able to play with a variety of toys but won’t have access to all of them at the same time.

Keep in mind that dogs are like people and they have different personalities.

Some of them might feel like guarding their toys more than other dogs and this can make them hide whatever they consider valuable.

So other than their historical instinct, the answer to “why do dogs hide bones?” lies in one of the 4 reasons mentioned above.

Do Dogs Forget About the Things That They’ve Buried?

Dogs never forget about their bones or anything else they buried. If they don’t come back to dig up their treasure it’s because they probably don’t want it at the moment.

But they definitely remember the location of every bone they’ve buried.

Is Burying Bones and Toys a Problem?

Big brown dog with a bone

Burying their bones, food and valuables is a natural instinct for dogs and it’s definitely not a problem. However, there are times when it can become a problem.

First of all, if your dog is burying things because it is stressed, that’s a sign that you should find the source of his stress and help him relax.

Secondly, if your dog starts to dig in places where it shouldn’t be digging, you might get into trouble.

For example, if your dog digs in your neighbor’s garden and destroys your neighbor’s plants – that’s a problem.

The same might happen in your own garden, so in these cases you’ll have to do something about it.

Shouting at your dog, punishing him or getting angry at him in any way will not help.

He won’t understand why you’re angry, and it is part of their instinct so there’s not much he can do about it.

But there are some steps you can take to manage it (if it becomes a problem).

How to Stop Your Dog From Burying Bones, Food, and Other Things

As this behavior is instinctual, you can’t really “stop” it. But you can try to control it or take some steps so it doesn’t happen as often.

The solution depends on why your dog is hiding these things in the first place. Here are the main tips.

Give Regular Meals and Affection

If your dog is digging and burying because he’s stressed – make sure you’re feeding him regularly and giving him lots of love.

He needs to feel safe in his environment and in your presence. He also needs to know that he always has food and doesn’t have to worry about storing it.

Put Some of His Toys Away

If your dog is hiding his toys because he has too many – don’t give him all of his toys at once. Put some of them away and only let him play with 2 or 3 toys at a time.

Exercise Your Dog Regularly

Jack Russell sitting in a field

If your dog is burying/hiding bones or other items out of boredom – make sure you’re taking him on regular walks, so that he’s getting enough exercise.

Your dog needs to get tired and use up his energy, otherwise he will start thinking of ways to occupy himself. This includes digging and burying whatever he can find.

Spend Time With Your Dog

If your dog is burying items to seek attention – spend more time with him. Set aside some time every single day to play with your dog and give him plenty of attention.

If he feels like he’s not getting enough attention from you, he might take away your shoes, slippers, cushions, remotes and anything else he knows is important.

That’s because he knows you’ll give him attention if any of those things go missing.

Don’t Overfeed Your Dog

Don’t overfeed him. If his stomach is full and still has food left over, he might want to bury some of it for later.

Don’t give him a bone right after dinner. He won’t be able to eat it but he won’t want to lose it either, so it’s very likely he’ll bury it.

This point is very similar to the one about toys – having too much of something activates a dog’s instinct to bury it.

Turn It Into a Game

Small black and white dog eating a bone

A great way of controlling this behavior so that both you and your dog are happy is by turning it into a game.

Your dog has a natural instinct to hide bones and toys so you can make him happy by letting him do that.

But at the same time, you don’t want him to dig up holes in places where he isn’t allowed to. And you don’t want him to take your TV remote or your shoes.

So a win-win solution is training your dog to bury whatever you give him in places where he is allowed to (e.g. under a pile of cushions which you’ve made for him).

You can even train him to bring back whatever you gave him when you tell him to! This way your dog will know what he’s allowed to take and where he’s allowed to hide it.

This means you won’t have to worry about him taking away an important item or digging a hole in someone else’s garden.

At the same time your dog will be happy since you’re letting him satisfy his natural instincts!

Final Thoughts

So now you finally know the answer to “why do dogs hide bones?” and how it’s part of their natural instinct.

They’ve had it for hundreds of years and it’s not going to change any time soon.

It’s not a harmful habit but if it does become a problem and your dog does it often, you should try to understand the reason behind it.

There are four main reasons which we’ve already talked about and once you identify the reason, you can easily solve the problem.

The best solution is turning the habit into a game to make sure both you and your dog are happy!