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!