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Home > Dogs > Why Do Dogs Bury Bones? Vet Approved Explanation & How to Prevent It

Why Do Dogs Bury Bones? Vet Approved Explanation & How to Prevent It

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Dr. Maja Platisa

Veterinarian, DVM MRCVS

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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There are few animal behaviors as well-known and caricatured as dogs burying bones. But while it’s amusing to watch in cartoons, it’s a little more frustrating when it’s happening to your yard.

Whether you’re looking to get your dog’s toy or bone-burying under control or simply want a better understanding of the behavior, we break it all down for you here. It all comes down to their instincts, and once you know why they do it, you can take the first steps toward breaking them of the habit.

Also, bones are not necessarily safe for dogs, and there are risks to be aware of if you decide to give them to your dog.

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Dogs should always be supervised when eating bones, as some may damage their teeth or get a piece of bone stuck in their soft palate between the left and right upper jaw, or at the back of their throat if they try to swallow it. Ingesting bones can lead to an upset stomach, vomiting, diarrhea, painful defecation, straining, and constipation, and may cause a blockage of the stomach or intestine, all of which require veterinary attention and may be life-threatening. Bones are not an adequate treat for most dogs due to these known risks, and it’s best to consult with your vet before offering them to your pooch.

Why Do Dogs Bury Bones?

Burying bones is an instinctual behavior for your dog, and in the wild, it would have numerous advantages for them. For starters, the deeper they could bury bones and carcasses, the longer it would preserve the meat for consumption. This method works in two ways. First, it removes the food from direct sunlight, which helps break down carcasses, and that isn’t good if you’re trying to save it for later. Second, it lowers the temperature, which helps slow down the decomposition process.

The farther down they dig, the cooler it gets. The ground is nature’s refrigerator, and ancient dogs figured out how to use it!

Today’s dogs might not dig holes to achieve maximum food preservation, but those instincts still remain strong. Therefore, they try to dig holes and bury things that they value, and bones are often chief among their favorite things!

parson-russell-terrier on grass with bone
Image Credit: Jeannette1980, Pixabay

Do Dogs Remember Where They Bury Their Bones?

Absolutely! It wouldn’t do a wild dog any good to bury a bone or carcass and forget where they buried it. Just like their instincts drive their desire to bury bones in the first place, it also helps them remember where they buried them after the fact.

Dogs have both spatial and associative memory, and they come in handy when they’re tracking down bones that they buried. Spatial memory enables them to remember exactly where they buried a bone, and associative memory helps jog their memory in case they forget some of the finer details.

What Does It Mean When Dogs Bury Their Treats?

There are two reasons that your dog might be burying their treats, and they both refer back to a dog’s instinctual drives. First, dogs bury food and treats during times of excess. If you give your dog a few too many treats or if they’re simply full when you give one to them, they can bury the treat as a way to save it for later.

Second, sometimes your dog simply thinks that the treat is so good if they have already eaten, and they may want to save some for later! Just like you don’t finish a full pint of ice cream every time you dig in, your dog might want to extend the experience over a longer period. Of course, if they are hungry, it may be gone straight away.

dog eating bone
Image Credit: Piqsels

How Do I Stop My Dog From Burying Bones?

While there’s no foolproof way to kick the burying and digging habits out of all dogs, one of the best things that you can do is give them only one or two toys and avoid bones altogether (especially because of the safety risks we discussed). While this might seem counterintuitive because dogs are prone to burying excess stuff, it makes sense when you think about the instinctual side of it, as the toy is now scarce.

Dogs developed burying tactics to help hide excess food or other resources. If your dog realizes that food and toys aren’t scarce, they may not feel as strong a need to bury their stuff in the first place!

Of course, the first thing that you want to do to stop the digging habit is to take away the bone. But if you do, you might be inviting your dog to dig a hole the next time that you give them one!

Allowing them to dig in a certain area of the garden, providing them with a dirt box or a sandpit, or hiding toys under a blanket may help stimulate them mentally and physically, enriching their everyday life.

dog in the grass licking nose
Image Credit: 753204, Pixabay


Final Thoughts

While it can be frustrating when your dog is digging up everything in your backyard to find a place to bury their bone or a favorite toy, at least you have a better understanding of why they’re doing it, so you can take the necessary steps to address it. Giving dogs bones is not something we would generally recommend, as it may lead to a long list of health issues we discussed above.

Just keep in mind that it’s a deeply ingrained instinct, and your pup’s not doing it just to tick you off! All you can do is try to redirect their behavior with positive reinforcement and training, ensure they get plenty of physical and mental stimulation, seek help from a professional canine behaviorist, or allow them certain areas to exhibit digging and similar behaviors. This should help you keep the rest of your yard intact throughout the years.

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Featured Image Credit: sanjagrujic, Shutterstock

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