Why Dogs Bury Things & How to Control This Instinctive Behavior

Your dog burying their goodies is normal, but there could be underlying causes for this behavior, especially if it becomes obsessive.

Published June 21, 2023
Jack russell digging in sand

Dogs can display tons of puzzling behaviors, and a classic favorite of theirs is burying items. From their prized toys to their biggest bone, dogs love burying items. But why do they do it? And should you stop them?

Why Do Dogs Bury Things?

This instinct to bury items traces back to the days when our dogs' ancestors lived in the wild. Wolves would often bury surplus food or valuable items to hide them. Basically, burying valuable food items is a survival tactic to keep their stash safe from other animals. Your dog burying their toys or treats in your backyard or beneath the sofa cushions is their instinctual way of keeping prized items safe and saving them for later.

Quick Tip

This behavior in dogs is known as caching. Researchers have found that it doesn't differ substantially from similar behavior that wolves exhibit in the wild.

Other Reasons Your Dog Buries Items

Dog digging a hole in the public park

Although this behavior is instinctive, there are other reasons your dog may be digging, including:

  • Fear or Anxiety: Some dogs may bury items when they feel anxious or insecure. It's a way for them to exert control over their environment.

  • Entertainment: Burying can be a form of play or entertainment for some dogs, especially if they're feeling bored, giving them something to do and providing mental stimulation.

  • Attention-Seeking Behavior: If your dog gets a reaction or attention from you when they start to bury something, they might continue to do it to interact with you.

Can This Habit Be a Problem?

While burying behavior is typically harmless and can even provide mental stimulation, it can sometimes be problematic. Dogs might bury things in inappropriate places, damage household items in the process, or create holes in your backyard. Additionally, food items, when buried and forgotten, can spoil and pose a health risk if later consumed.

Quick Tip

Keep an eye on what your dog is burying and throw it away if it's something that will spoil later.

How to Curb Your Dog's Burying Behavior

While you may not be able to completely eliminate your dog's instinctual burying behavior, here are some strategies to manage it:

  • Provide enough resources: Make sure your dog has enough food, toys, and attention. A scarcity of these can drive them to hide and protect their resources.
  • Give them regular exercise and mental stimulation: Bored dogs often resort to behaviors like digging and burying. Regular walks, playtime, and interactive toys can keep them entertained and reduce digging behaviors.
  • Control the environment: If your dog is causing damage by burying things outdoors, restrict their unsupervised access to the yard. Inside the house, keep valuable or hazardous items out of your dog's reach.
  • Use deterrents: For garden diggers, try using safe deterrents, like citrus peels or a small amount of vinegar, in the areas they frequently dig. Dogs don't really like these smells and may avoid digging there.
  • Provide a designated digging zone: If feasible, set aside a specific area in your yard where your dog is allowed to dig and bury things. Hide some toys or treats there to make the spot attractive.
  • Train the "Leave it" command: Training your dog to follow commands like "Leave it" or "Drop it" can be very helpful in controlling their burying habits.

Create a Dig Spot for Your Dog

Pug with dirty nose looking at the camera after digging in the garden

If your dog is digging and burying in inconvenient places, you can create your own designated dig spot. Not only does this allow your dog to indulge in their instinctive behavior, it prevents parts of your yard from turning into an upturned mess.

To start, choose a section of your outdoor space that's both suitable and comfortable for your dog. A shaded area can protect them from harsh sunlight. You can use materials like sand or soft soil, making sure it's deep enough for your dog to dig into.

Encourage your dog to use this spot by burying their favorite toys or treats just below the surface. Remember to praise your dog when they dig in this designated area, reinforcing that it's their special spot for their behavior. With time and patience, this can become your dog's favorite spot.

Quick Tip

Some pet parents choose to buy a sandbox to serve as their dog's dig spot because it's easy to clean and monitor. Just make sure your box has high sides to keep at least some of the sand in place!

Address the Root Cause

While digging in the yard might be frustrating to many pet owners, it's important to remember that this behavior is often a natural instinct for dogs. It can serve as an outlet for their energy, a way to deal with anxiety, or something to do for entertainment. Instead of trying to stop this behavior altogether, providing a designated dig spot can be a win-win solution, allowing your dog to engage in this instinctual behavior without ruining your entire lawn.

Why Dogs Bury Things & How to Control This Instinctive Behavior