Your dog, Lula, loves to dig up your yard and hide her bones. Sometimes she doesn’t even go back to retrieve them. In fact, there must be at least five buried back there right now. You try to steer her clear of the molehills, but you also see that this digging seems to be a good emotional outlet for her, and she does seem to be getting some well-needed outdoor time and exercise. Still, you wish your yard didn’t have to look like the carnival game Whack-a-Mole. Why is it that Lula seems to be so compelled to bury her bones anyway?
The Root of the Behavior
The first root of this behavior goes back to digging in general. Wolves would dig dens to raise their young in. These dens kept the pups warm. Wolves also used to rely on hunting for survival. In order to hide the smelly meat from other carnivores, the wolves would bury it in the dirt, which acted like a natural refrigerator, concealed the smell, and even provided an earthy marinade, yum! This process, which is referred to as hoarding food, made it possible for the wolves to preserve the meat and return to it later. It was a way for them to keep their food safe and protected. Sometimes, the wolf would eat all of the meat and just bury the bones. This was a safety net. If the dog was not successful with killing another meaty prey, they would return to the bone and eat the bone as a sort of substitute. Although not as delicious and nutritious as succulent meat, this preserved bone did have nutritious marrow and nutrients that would get the wolf through until the next kill. Lula still possesses some of these instincts, but since you feed and take care of her basic survival needs, it is not always necessary for her to return and retrieve her bone in the yard, unlike her wolf ancestors that depended on those bones for survival.
Domesticated dogs sometimes bury things because they receive too many excess gifts. If you are giving Lula a bone a day, she will be more inclined to bury some of them than if a bone is offered as a once-in-a-while treat. They also might bury bones because they are bored, lonely, or because their breed is known for doing so. Terriers and Dachshunds tend to dig more than other breeds. Dogs are not the only animals that like to hoard food. Squirrels and foxes also are known for this instinctive behavior.
Encouraging the Behavior
Although digging may be hardwired into your canine’s brain, you probably do not want Lula taking out your tulip garden. If you have spots that are off limits, you could fence it off. You could also create proper digging spaces like a sandbox. Praise Lula with treats when she digs into a space that is okay, and remove her when she digs in a place that is not okay. You also can deter Lula from inappropriate places by using pepper and citrus on those undesired areas. Lula’s digging is a good way for her to get exercise, and if you train her to dig in spots that do not destroy your yard, such as a sandbox, then this behavior can actually be harmless and beneficial. Letting Lula bury her bone provides her with a sense of control and happiness. She is ecstatic that she is able to conceal and protect this object for later. In addition to a terrorized lawn, you also want to make sure that Lula avoids digging in animal dwellings, such as mole and foxholes. You do not want to observe one of those battles. This is why it is also important to supervise Lula when she is digging.
Other Solutions and Considerations
If you are not a fan of digging at all, and you pride yourself on your yard’s appearance, there are some ways that you can prevent your dog from burying bones. One common sense answer is to not give your dog any bones. Train your dog with smaller treats but avoid the bones. Also prevent Lula’s urge to dig by taking her on frequent walks, rotating her toys, and providing her with a lot of attention. This will help Lula not think about the need to go to the backyard and start digging because she will be too preoccupied with other tasks.
So, Lula’s digging is mostly a result of her ancestor’s survival skills. Talk about a behavior being hardwired into your doggy’s brain for generations. The most major destruction of this behavior is what it does to your lawn. But if you can train Lula to stay clear of the tulip garden and bury that bone in the sandbox, then Lula should be doing no harm. If anything, this will get you both outside and result in some exercising and mental stimulation, and even humans need those things from time to time. And sometimes, watching Lula all excited and digging can also be entertaining and humerus.