Bone up on this canine behavior

My service dog, Morgan, is not much different from your average dog, something I frequently forget when I slip my hand into his harness and he walks close beside me ensuring my balance.  Then there are the times when he comes to my chair, without my asking, stands stock still (“brace”), and carefully steps forward pulling me up to my feet. Or in a store yesterday when another dog snapped at him, and he simply looked astonished rather than responding with justifiable menace in return.

Morgan, in fact, seems so in-humanly human, with his gentle spirit, attentiveness to my needs, and endless capacity for play, that it’s no wonder I often forget that he, as one would say, is “just” a dog.

This morning I gave him a bone and off he went into the yard. I expected him to lie down and munch away as he’s often done on other occasions. Instead, he wandered about, poking his nose hither and yon until, finally satisfied, he carefully dug up the dirt under our hydrangea bushes and buried the bone.  He had canvassed the yard for the perfect spot as carefully as an interior designer might set a priceless vase on exactly the right table. Morgan has, of course, buried bones many times before yet I am always amazed when, sometimes weeks later, he seems eminently able to recall exactly where he hid one of these treats.

But why do dogs do this?  Do they consider bones as we would precious jewels, to be hidden away lest some unscrupulous person try to steal them?  Or do dogs worry that we might not feed them, so they use these buried bones as we would a pantry closet, with items that can be brought out to assemble a quick dinner?

Animal behaviorists tells us that dogs bury bones as a trace element from their wild history. Long before the dog became tame and domesticated, its wild forebears seized the remaining bones after the pack had eaten the carcass of its kill.  The leftover bones did not decay, as does meat. Furthermore, many types of bones contain nutrient-rich marrow. Finally, bones are much easier to transport than, say, the remains of a large antelope, and they are also much easier to store. The bones provided a source of food to satiate the dog, particularly when other food was scarce. In addition, gnawing on bones cleaned the dog’s teeth and actually changed their dentition to the modern set of teeth dogs have today.

It seems that bones are an inherent part of the dog’s previous historic existence as a scavenger (a life which, sadly, still exists for dogs in many parts of the world).  Today, we see that dogs bury bones in places that we quickly forget about.  But the dog remembers.

We hope you enjoyed “boning up” on this bit of history and knowing something about why your own dog might dig up the entire garden to find that one perfect spot to bury his calcified treasure!

Bone Appetit



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9 Responses to Bone up on this canine behavior

  1. Gloria Yarina April 9, 2014 at 11:46 am #

    Very informative. And I thought dogs buried their bones just cause they can.
    My dog, Sonny, buries a toy now and again. I often wonder, why? Anyone have an idea?

  2. Marie Grime April 9, 2014 at 11:48 am #

    Bone Appetit!?! OK, you seldom use puns, so I’ll forgive you this one. Especially since it ends the article about my very favorite subject — dogs.

    Sampson, a shepherd mix I had on an island off Charleston, had bones buries all over the neighborhood. It was a heavily wooded community with little traffic, so no one had fences, and our dogs seemed to think the whole neighborhood belonged to them.

    I always supposed that Sampson was afraid I was a murderess and he was aiding and abetting me by hiding the evidence.

  3. Jaana Hatton April 9, 2014 at 12:28 pm #

    How true that we tend to “humanize” our pets. They have names that we similarly give our children, like Bobby and Stacey -or Morgan. They hang around the house, doing what we do. Maybe the only separation is that they don’t eat at the dinner table. On occasion, they feast under it.
    I had known about their instinct to hide bones. Goes to show you, you can’t take the animal out of a domesticated pet. They can learn manners to please us, but the biological traits are still strongly present. So, to any gardening enthusiast: think carefully whether you would love your dahlias or Dalmatian more.

  4. Mary E. Trimble April 9, 2014 at 1:31 pm #

    My dog Toby’s favorite bone is a hollowed out beef bone that I fill with peanut butter. It’s his special treat if I’m going to be away for awhile. He doesn’t bury it. I’ll find the cleaned out bone in the garage,on a scatter rug by the door–right where I gave it to him. I fill it and put it in the freezer for next time.

  5. Norman W Wilson April 9, 2014 at 3:08 pm #

    Now we know. Bones and dogs go together like peanut butter and jelly. You just can’t have one without the other.

  6. Bill Thorn April 9, 2014 at 8:48 pm #

    I must be part dog. I have stuff “buried” in the backs of closets and my freezer. My problem is that I often can’t remember where I put it!

    As a young man I had a beautiful, blond, purebred Cocker Spaniel, High Toned Townsman, II. I called him Junior and he was smarter than some people I know. We lived in a second floor apartment in New Mexico with a psudo-patio (flat roof) outside over a part of the first floor. The roof was covered with tar and topped with an inch or more of gravel. When I gave Junior a bone and let him out on the roof, after a brief chew his burying instincts would kick in. After finding a suitable spot, he would clear away a small area of gravel, lay the bone in the hollow, and proceed to pile up gravel on top of it. There were small mounds of gravel all over the roof the whole time we lived there. I don’t recall him ever digging one up though.

  7. Kathleen Kaska April 9, 2014 at 9:34 pm #

    My dog used to bury his rawhide bone between the cushions of the sofa. At least he didn’t dig.

  8. Ann Barbas April 10, 2014 at 4:56 pm #

    Wow! How interesting. I never knew, THANKS

  9. Hemlata Vasavada April 12, 2014 at 6:24 am #

    It is interesting and informative to learn why dogs bury their bones, and how nutritious bones are. I loved the Bone Appetite!

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