Your pup is storing his extras away, but the holes in your yard are less than ideal.

By Jennifer Nelson
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You give Max plenty of yummy bones to chew on practically whenever he wants, so why do you keep finding them buried in the yard, hidden under blankets, or at the bottom of the dirty clothes pile?

"Dogs bury bones mainly out of instinct," says Dr. Chyrle Bonk, a veterinary spokesman at Doggiedesigner.com, a dog owner's resource.

Dr. Bonk explains that in the wild, dogs live from meal to meal, never knowing where or when they'll eat next. So, when they end up with a surplus of food, they save it for later by burying some of it close to their den. "That way, it's there when they need it most and it keeps other dogs from eating it," she says.

Even though our domestic pups don't have to worry about food the way their wild relatives did, some of them still carry that strong instinct to save and prepare for the future.

Dogs may also be inclined to bury toys, treats, or bones when they're being overfed. Their thinking is there's excess, so I'll save some for later. And anxious dogs or those whose resources were limited when they were a young pup with their litter may have had to fight for or hide food or toys to ensure they got some. Once pups realize they don't have to do that anymore, often the behavior lessens.

And if you've got more than one dog, he may be doing it, so his canine housemate won't steal his prized bone!

Breeds that bury bones

While almost any breed or mixed breed can bury bones, some are more into this holdover habit than others. "Hunting breeds, like Dachshunds, actually tend to bury bones and toys more than herding breeds, for example," says Dr. Bonk. Hunting breeds may have a stronger desire to save resources. Hunting breeds include labs, spaniels, and retrievers, while herding breeds include Border Collies, shepherds, and sheepdogs.

Should you try to curb the burying habit?

Coming across bones or toys under the couch or behind doors is usually a harmless habit unless the dog is digging and damaging the yard. "While most dog parents don't want to encourage burying, for some dogs it's an itch that needs to be scratched or they could become destructive in other ways, even to themselves," says Dr. Bonk.

For those dogs that have burying bones or toys ingrained, there are a few things you can try to lessen the behavior.

  • Consider giving your pooch only one or two toys at a time. That way they won't feel like they have a surplus that needs to be saved.
  • Avoid excess treats, chew sticks and bones right after meals when a dog isn't as hungry and instead may choose to bury or "save" their treat for later.
  • You can also encourage them to "bury" bones in a designated spot like a doggie blanket or pillow pile or designated area in your yard. Dr. Bonk says you can use a small kiddie pool with some sand in it to be the burying spot. This way they're satisfied, and your yard won't suffer.

Make it a game

You can even make a game of it by encouraging them to retrieve the bone once they've hidden it. Teaching them a command like "Go get your bone," can be a fun game they learn to play that's less destructive and still satisfies their instincts of hiding and rediscovering prized objects.

Now that you know why your pup buries his bones, you can be a little more forgiving when you end up with one in the washing machine. After all, he's driven by thousands of years of survival instincts.

As always, consult your vet about any questions or concerns regarding your pet's behavior.