What do noses, digging, and food have in common in the canine world? They are part of instinctive behavior related to saving food and hoarding treats for another day. All sorts of dogs will go out and bury their food and cover their hidden treats with their noses. This is a direct natural behavior handed down the ancestral line through wolves and remembered by our dogs today. The behavior is part of digging a hole to bury extra food after the hunt. It was necessary to bury food to keep it safe from other predators. Burying a bone in the backyard has the same instinctive behavior behind the ritual. Dogs find a suitable burial place, dig the hole, and drop the bone in. Then with noses pushing in a sideways sweep, they cover the bone. They add the final touch to the burial by tamping the soil or pushing it down with their noses. This looks normal out in the garden but can be a bit disconcerting when the act of burying and hoarding food happens indoors when there is plenty of food and no need to bury it.
The Root of the Behavior
Dogs living in homes with big gardens have plenty of outdoor space to go and bury a bone or even a favorite toy. They can live out the ritualistic behavior of their ancestors and after digging the required hole, bury the bone by covering it with their noses. All four feet are firmly on the ground and the nose is used as a tool to cover the bone and stamp down the soil over it. It’s a neat, safe way to keep the bone or other food tucked away from predators. Dogs can be seen to give the ‘buried treasure’ some bumps with their noses at the end. This action could relate to the way dogs in the wild checked their prey was truly dead, a few nudges in the final burial act served that purpose. Food buried in the ground would stand a better chance of being preserved especially in countries where the ground level was colder. This seems to explain the behavior in simple terms, but what of the dog that insists on playing hoarding, nose pushing games, inside. You may find the odd bone tucked behind your cushions or watch your dog nosing his bowl across the room to a safer place. While hoarding and hiding food inside is linked to instinctive behavior it may not be what you would like to encourage. Nosing a bowl of food across the room or taking food out of the food bowl and putting it somewhere else could be part of an anxiety that your dog has towards something at home. It is a good idea to have a food routine. Cesar Milan, the dog whisperer, suggests you take your dog out for a long walk before supper. Let him feel he has worked for his meal. When you are about to feed Fido, then a sit and stay ritual could also help show him who's boss and in charge of the food. When he has finished eating, even if there is food left, remove the bowl. Don’t leave food lying around that might tempt your dog into hoarding or hiding the leftovers. Pushing food along the floor could be part of the hoarding instinctive behavior. If there is a new pet in the house your dog may feel a bit insecure and want to hide his food. If the behavior becomes obsessive, get professional help to learn how to handle the situation.
Encouraging the Behavior
Dogs have become part of our world and have made many adaptations to enable them to fit in and be accepted. The act of burying food and using their noses to finish the job is one of their ancestral behaviors. Generally, it does not cause any harm to man or dog but it may cause some damage to your precious garden! Understanding dog behavior is always an advantage when it comes to addressing unwanted rituals. It gives you a chance to look at other signs and decide how to react. Nosing and pushing food around could be a sign that your dog is unwell and does not feel like eating. This behavior could alert you to other problems if you know your dog never pushes his food around his feeding bowl. When you see the unusual behavior you can look for other symptoms that may indicate your dog is not feeling too good. Food plays a very important role in your dog’s life. Burying food usually means your dog enjoyed that tasty treat and will go back again later for some more. Dogs tend to avoid food they don’t like or they lose their appetites if they are sick. Puppies and young dogs will keep you amused at their attempts to bury toys and food treats. It is fun to watch them act out the behavior they know instinctively. If it becomes an issue for you then replace the treat with an exhilarating alternative. Treat dinner time as a routine part of the day.
Other Solutions and Considerations
Dogs noses are a very vital part of who they are. They lead the way with their noses and sorting out a hiding place for a favorite treat is also an important function of the dog’s nose. Once the digging is done and the food dropped into the hole, the final piece of the action involves the dog’s nose. Pushing and prodding the soft mound of earth to try and return it to its flattened state helps conceal the treat. Later your dog, like his ancestors of old, can return to the spot and use his nose once again to retrieve that treat.
It makes perfectly good sense for a dog to cover his food with his nose. He digs the hole with his paws, holds the food with his mouth and naturally the only other part of his body available is his nose. A sensible organ to choose. The dog’s nose will never let him down. When he decides to retrieve that tasty treat what will he do?
He’ll ‘paws’ for a minute,
Sniff his nose on the ground,
‘Fur’ sure he’ll be thinking,
There’s a bone to be found!
And before you know it he will naturally find the bone he buried.
By a Rhodesian Ridgeback lover Christina Wither
Published: 02/15/2018, edited: 01/30/2020