Have you ever wondered why dogs bury their food? From an anthropic point of view this doesn’t make much sense, because domestic dogs have food always at their disposal, something they surely “have to know”. Do you looking for best collars for pitbulls?
The main reason for this type of behavior is vestigial traits inherited from ancestors. Not only dogs present them, since an example clearly known by all is the presence of wisdom teeth in a high percentage of the human population on Earth.
On canine domestication and its ancestors
To understand this type of behavior, it is necessary to go back to the phylogenetic tree and the evolutionary history of the domestic dog (Canis lupus familiaris).
Some genetic studies have tried to elucidate the past of the dogs that accompany us today. To our surprise, current wolves and domestic dogs are two mutually monophyletic groups, that is, clearly separated.
This means that the domestic dog is not genetically close to any current wolf population, and therefore, that its ancestor (probably some type of wolf from the Pleistocene) is already extinct.
Why is it necessary to delimit this type of evolutionary relationships? Well, to make it clear that, in many cases, when it comes to discovering domestic dog behaviors, we don’t need to turn to the wolf. In any case, it would be necessary to study the characteristics of its ancestor, already disappeared.
Why do dogs bury their food?
The American Kennel Club society gives us the answer. The provisioning of resources is a vestigial behavior, which responds to a habitat where food is scarce.
This term is known in English as surplus killing and is presented by many mammals, including polar bears, lynxes, foxes, killer whales, coyotes, raccoons and of course, the domestic dog.
Food accumulation behavior has also been observed in wild wolf packs, as wolves bury their prey under the snow, where the meat is preserved for days to weeks. This is an evolutionary mechanism that is easy to understand, since it responds to a need for food.
It is very interesting to know that this habit of burying excess food also manifests itself according to the breed of dog. For example, dogs genetically selected for hunting seem to show more tendency to do so than dogs trained for the sport.
It is theorized that this group of hunters show more of their “predatory instinct” on a daily basis, so it makes sense that vestigial behaviors such as the aforementioned surplus killing would be more evident.
For this reason, dogs of the breeds Dachshunds, Beagles, Basset Hounds and Miniature Schnauzers are more likely to dig holes when they receive some reward.
What to do about this behavior?
Of course, repressing a dog for a vestigial behavior that is embedded in its genetic code does not make much sense. The trick to avoid this type of behavior is to channel the activity in another way.
For example, a space of blankets or pillows can be reserved where the dog can bury its toys and precious belongings. Another solution would be to give the dog its own litter box, where it can make holes without ruining the tutor’s yard.
Boredom can also be an important factor that conditions this behavior. If the tutor provides the dog with enough stimuli, he may not have to resort to his more instinctive side to channel the energy. Therefore, games are always good solutions to behavioral problems.
Finally, it is also recommended not to give bones and treats to dogs with a full stomach. This way, the dog will not interpret those elements as an “excess of food” and its desire to store them underground will be reduced.
An inherited but positive behavior
As we have observed, that dogs bury food is something completely normal and responds to a vestigial evolutionary trait. However, as long as it does not become an obsession, repressing the dog to show its most basic instincts could be counterproductive.
It is necessary to remember that dogs require environmental enrichment and games that enhance their instincts, such as activities that promote the sense of smell. Allowing the dog to eventually come into contact with its most ancestral “self” is necessary for it to be happy.