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Why Do Dogs Bury Bones? Vet-Approved Facts & FAQ

Grant Piper

By Grant Piper

Adult German Shepherd dog digging in the garden

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Dr. Athena Gaffud Photo

Reviewed & Fact-Checked By

Dr. Athena Gaffud

Veterinarian, DVM

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Dogs do many things that make people stop and wonder: Why on earth are they doing that? Dog behavior can be strange and sometimes even frustrating. One such behavior is bone burying. When dogs bury bones, they can make a mess. It can lead to muddy paws and unsightly holes in your yard. It can also lead to an expensive bone that you just purchased disappearing into your flower bed, never to be seen again.

So, why do dogs bury bones in the first place? The answer is actually quite interesting. Dogs bury bones because of the way wild dogs and their ancestors live and eat.

Here is why dogs bury bones and why some dogs never do.

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Ancestral Needs

Wild dogs live off of a “feast or famine” eating routine. In the wild, food is not always available. A wild dog, such as a wolf, might down a deer one day and then go days afterward without finding anything substantial to eat. That means that wild dogs tend to gorge themselves on as much food as possible in one sitting because they do not know when their next solid meal will be. (Many domesticated dogs still occasionally show this type of behavior by gorging themselves on kibble even though there is no need to.)

Wild dogs eat as much as they can in one go before burying the excess. This allows dogs to preserve food for later in case of hard times. While a piece of raw meat buried in the ground does not sound good to humans, it could be a means of survival in the wild. Wild dogs take excess food and bury it, and then they will sniff it out later and dig it up to eat. The meat in the ground, out of the sunlight prevents it from rotting or attracting insects to come and eat or lay eggs in it.

So, what does all of this mean for your dog at home that won’t stop digging holes in your beautiful yard? Dogs that bury bones are simply reacting to this instinct that has been driven into them after thousands of years of evolutionary behavior.

dog digging in the backyard
Image Credit: SabbraCadabra, Pixabay

The Instinct Remains

Dogs that bury bones in the yard are acting on instinct. When a dog feels that bone is valuable, they will bury it because they have a strong instinct to do so. In many cases, domesticated dogs might not even know what they are doing. One of the reasons dogs will bury bones and forget about them when they live in a suburban house is that they rarely ever experience the famine phase of a feast or famine diet. Without hunger to drive them to go and relocate their bones, many dogs simply forget or lose interest in them.

Our domesticated pet dogs are descended from wild dogs. Wild dogs today, including familiar species like Gray Wolves and Coyotes, still bury food in order to return to it when they need it. This instinct has been passed down to your dog, which is likely sleeping on a comfortable couch nearby as you read this. This is a visible behavior that connects your precious pet pooch to their wild and hardened ancestors.

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In the Wild, Food = Treasure

The best way to think about this is that food, including bones, is very valuable to dogs. Food is a treasure. Many animals have the urge to bury treasure, including humans. If your dog is burying things like toys or bones in the yard, that means that they feel like these objects are valuable and worth saving for later. Your dog is acting on their instincts. They want to bury a toy or bone to preserve it, keep it away from other animals (maybe even including you!), and save it for later so that they can return to it when they have more of a need.

German shepherd dog inside the digged hole
Image Credit: adamikarl, Shutterstock

Not All Dogs Bury Bones

Not all dogs bury bones. In fact, some dogs will never show any urge to dig or bury at all. That is because they don’t feel the need to. Since bone burying behavior is connected to the feast or famine diet experienced by wild dogs, it does not always apply to domesticated breeds. If your dog gets two good meals a day and feels secure in their surroundings, they might never feel the instinct that drives dogs to bury things in the first place.

Similarly, some dogs dig out of boredom. Dogs that do not have enough mental engagement in the yard might dig to give themselves something to do. If your dog is not bored or does not require high amounts of mental stimulation, they will not feel the urge to dig when they are bored.

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Dogs bury bones due to a lingering instinct that is passed down from their ancestors. Wild dogs today still live in a state of food availability uncertainty and are more likely to experience hunger due to resource scarcity. This drives animals like Gray Wolves to bury food and bones in the ground as a part of their survival instincts. A pet dog will emulate this behavior due to an instinct that remains firmly embedded in their DNA from thousands of years of evolution and survival in the wild.

Featured Image Credit: PeterCaramanos, Shutterstock

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