Why Do Dogs Take Things Outside

Common
Normal

Introduction

Have you ever come home to find your favorite pair of shoes in your backyard? Gone out to do some gardening only to discover that Fido has hidden a bone behind your petunias? You are not alone! Many pet owners experience this interesting phenomenon with their canine companions. Sometimes our dogs' antics leave us scratching our heads, yet their actions always make perfect sense to them. What's the attraction to turning your yard into a giant toy box? While it's challenging trying to figure out what makes Fido tick, the truth is dog behavior is always rooted in logic. If Fido is dragging his most prized possessions into your yard, there is a payoff for him in some way. The fun part for us is trying to identify just what it is. Is it an ancient ingrained behavior or something with more immediate gratification? Whatever it might be, it is amusing for us to watch this activity that seems to bring our dogs such joy.

The Root of the Behavior

Dogs love toys. And dogs love bones. Dogs even love things that belong to us. We understand these things. They make perfect sense to us. What seems to make less sense to us is why these items are even more fun if they are scattered throughout our backyards or even buried. History tells us that this behavior may be preserved from early days when wild dogs had to hunt for their food. With food sources more difficult to come by, happy discoveries of already dead prey or left behind bones would be a rare treasure to find. With survival instincts vitally strong, the wild dog would drag their "score" to a safe place to hide or bury it for use at a future time. The act of burying food provided many benefits. Often, a dog was unable to finish his entire "meal" in one sitting. To leave this meal out in the open would subject the dog to "visitors." These visitors might not be friendly and would even be willing to fight or kill for the food if necessary. Burying or hiding food provided a vital survival strategy for dogs. 

More than this, dogs seemed to instinctively understand that food left out in the elements would be prone to rot and decay and would also give off aromas to attract other animals. Burying or hiding the food was an excellent means to provide a form of "cold storage" for meat and bones. Once encased in the earth, the meal no longer gave off any indication of its presence. This ensured that the food source remained safe for future use and undetectable to other canine competitors or more dangerous predators. Of course, today, our dogs no longer need to hunt for their own food. Food is available and plentiful for them. Yet instinct remains powerfully strong in the modern canine. Yet there are other things that could explain this curious behavior in our dogs. It is common for owners to overfeed their dogs at times. Free feeding can contribute to obesity in pets who are unable to recognize their own satiety. But equally common and perhaps a reason behind the bones you find in your garden is the fact that when a dog is full but really enjoys his food, he may opt to "save it" for later by burying it in the yard.

For some dogs, the act of burying or hiding food in your yard is simply a fun game. This is something we as owners sometimes reinforce; especially if we are chasing them out the door in an attempt to get the item back. When we run behind our dogs, our dogs see this as an exciting game of hide and seek. Your participation makes it that much more fun! Another consideration is dogs who live in multi-dog families. Resource guarding is a common occurrence in families who have more than one dog. This can particularly be a problem if one dog tends to be more protective of toys, bones, treats, and other special rewards. Many dogs will choose to take their prize into the yard and find the perfect location for it where it will be hidden from other canine family members but easily recoverable for them. 

Encouraging the Behavior

While this behavior on the whole is essentially harmless, there are some steps you can take to ensure your yard doesn't turn into a toy minefield. If boredom has your dog hiding toys as part of a game, choose to give your dog toys that are the most fun if played with now. Kongs stuffed with peanut butter, Cheese Whiz, or even the high value liverwurst, make enjoyable treats that exercise the brain and the jaws at the same time. Prefer to use toys that don't involve food? A game of tug with you is a great way to engage your dog with you. Few dogs can resist time spent in a pleasurable activity with their favorite person. 

Dogs, like us, enjoy the element of surprise. Instead of giving free access to a large number of toys, rotate Fido's selection to keep him excited. Limiting the number of toys but increasing the variety is an inexpensive way to alleviate boredom and reduce the tendency to hide or bury "favorites" for later use. This method attempts to help the dog focus on what he has access to now instead of worrying about whether something will be available later. The act of burying or hiding toys, bones, and other treats is very rewarding for our dogs. If burying things in your yard is becoming a problem, why not consider setting up an indoor "burial ground" for your pet? Piles of blankets or even a basket filled with soft materials like old socks or towels is a great spot for Fido to "hide" his treasures for later. It's a win-win situation as there is little mess for you, and Fido gets to happily work out his natural instincts. 

Other Solutions and Considerations

Maybe it's YOUR stuff that Fido really loves! It is not uncommon for our beloved dogs to "claim" things belonging to us for their treasure pile. Why do they do this? Things that belong to us often carry our scent, and that is very reassuring to our dogs. This is why some of their favorites among our belongings are often our shoes or even worn, dirty clothing. Still no one wants to come home from work to find a dirty pair of socks in their yard. The easiest solution to this is to limit Fido's access to your personal items. Place all dirty laundry in a dog-proof laundry basket or immediately remove it to your laundry room. Keep shoes, coats, and other belongings safely behind closed doors or in sealed containers. By restricting Fido's access to your things, you can limit the number of your personal items on display in the yard for your neighbor's enjoyment. 

The one time this behavior is worrisome is when it involves resource guarding. Resource guarding is a very serious issue that should never be taken lightly. In a multi-dog home, it is the number one cause of dog to dog conflict and can result in serious fights. If you suspect resource guarding may be the motivator behind your dog's penchant for hiding or burying things, consult the advice of a professional trainer immediately. It is not a behavior for a novice dog owner to handle on their own. 

Conclusion

Does your dog enjoy turning your yard into his own personal toy box? Do you spend the majority of your drive home from work wondering what you'll find on display in your garden tonight? Rest assured that Fido's behavior is perfectly natural. He's merely doing what his instincts tell him to do. By following these few simple tips, you can help your dog find different ways of fulfilling his ancient desires.