Dog Talk: Why your pet will bury its bone treat somewhere, anywhere

A dog bringing a muddy bone inside the house after digging it up and leaving a trail of dirty footprints on the floor. Photo:

We were walking home from the pub last week when we passed by our lady neighbour who was talking to her dog. Her precise words were, “Ayoh! I give you this and you bury it in my carpet? And now here? Why, ah?”

And there was her pet, wagging her tail and looking totally triumphant. The dog’s nose was caked in dirt and she was standing over a pot plant that looked somewhat the worse for wear.

It was pretty clear what had happened. The dog had buried her best bone under the rug and when her mum had moved it, her pet had stuck it in a safer spot: a rather nice shrub with pink flowers.

It took me back instantly to Lucy, the pet dog my family adopted after she was dumped by the side of the motorway one summer. Lucy was a sweet girl, very friendly, but she was absolutely fanatical about burying her bones in the garden. At first we didn’t think much of it because Lucy was a bit weird.

She had never seen a dog basket, so when she first moved in, she’d dig a hole in the soil and try and sleep in it. Thankfully, she got the hang of a soft mattress practically instantly. And sleeping on the bedside rug also became a hot favourite.

The other thing was that Lucy would panic at raised voices or waving arms, cowering away. We gathered that the monsters who dumped her on the busy road, probably beat her.

As Spanish tends to be spoken more stridently than English and involves mandatory body language, that took a bit of relearning. But we all got over that bit. The bone-burying, though, was indelible. We would hand over a nice bone, knowing it’s an essential element of a healthy doggy lifestyle.

What a toothbrush does for humans, a bone does for dogs. Our pets chew to keep their gums and teeth healthy. And with pups, there’s the added advantage that chewing relieves sore gums while their adult teeth grow in.

As dogs who don’t have bones chew shoes and rugs – and sofas, if they’re big like Huskies and Retrievers – we handed over bones religiously. Lucy adored them, chewed them, and after having a grand old time, she’d trot into the garden. We’d hear furious digging and then she’d walk in with a nose dirty with soil.

We thought it was part of her upbringing: dogs who have been starved as pups have food security issues. As they don’t have refrigerators or cupboards, they bury extra food, knowing that if times are tough, they have a meal waiting.

Wild dogs do it, too, with mums teaching pups. Animal behaviourists point out that burying food has many advantages. Most of all, it means there is always a treasure pot for when times are rough. If you have a bone buried, you will never miss a meal.

In addition, soil keeps the food cool, preventing it from spoiling quickly, and as it’s hidden, it’s safe from competitors like ravens, cats and wolves. So, we let Lucy bury her bones, thinking that if it made her happy, that was all good.

But when winter came, and the ground was frozen and buried under a foot of snow, Lucy decided she needed a new plan: she buried her bones under the rug and sofa cushions.

At that point, we had words with her but it was water off a duck’s back. She couldn’t help it, that natural drive was a part of her doggy soul. When we tried to stop her, she became anxious.

Lucy was clever and sweet but we understood that this was something we couldn’t change about her. Dogs have been domesticated pets for thousands of years, but sometimes nature comes out on top. We might as well have tried to turn her from a dog into a cow.

So we accepted it as one of those compromises you make when you live with a dog. We let her do her thing, quietly removing the bones from the sofa when she wasn’t looking, and became adept at avoiding treading on suspicious lumps under the rug.

As for our silly girl, she went through the winter months with a raw patch on the top of her nose that came from “digging” up the sofa and the rug. In spring, the raw patch healed and would be replaced by a smudge of soil.

So, as I saw our neighbour’s pet wagging her tail with a dollop of expensive black topsoil on her nose, I had to smile.

We don’t know that neighbour well as our acquaintance is based mostly on waving hello as we reel by after our libations but she’s a nice woman who adopted her pet from our local shelter.

And while she was lamenting her rug and her pot plant, she was laughing as she scolded and she didn’t try to remove the bone. Clearly, she knew exactly what was going on. As we waved and walked by, she petted her dog, saying, “No, leave that. Come, I give you another one inside. A clean one!”

It was a loving response that really made me smile. That rescue dog may have had a rough start in life but she’s got it made now. She got a treasure pot in her front garden, a new bone inside – and my bet is that she’ll have a nice stash under the rug or behind the sofa, too.

It’s a pawsome life.


The perfect bone for your pet

There are tonnes of options for your pet, so here are a few things to think about.

Natural bones are available from the wet market or you can chat up the butcher in the supermarket. They’re iconic and people love them as they’re so natural. Note, though, that fresh bones should never be cooked as this process makes the bone fragile and prone to splintering. Splinters can hurt mouths, cause choking and even create digestive tract issues. So a fresh bone must be uncooked.

Fresh bones are awesome but may also splinter, so pick a solid marrow bone. Aside from robustness, fresh bones are messy, and spoil quickly in tropical heat. If it does spoil, taking it away is like taking sweets from a toddler; your dog will be devastated. So make sure it’s not too meaty and, if it’s truly disgusting, sneak it away when your pet is eating dinner and replace with a new one.

Commercial bones made from bull penis and deer antler are processed so you may feel they’re not very “real”. However, they do have some important advantages: they don’t spoil, smell or stain. And if bits do come off, your pet can eat them safely.

What’s also good is that they come in lots of sizes, so you can pick one that suits your pet. You can size a bone by checking how easily your dog eats it. The bone should fit comfortably between the front paws and your pet should be able to nibble easily at one end, and carry it about comfortably.

Plastic and rubber bones are good if they are specially designed with materials that are guaranteed not to harm your pet, should they eat it. There are no international guidelines for making these products; however, the good ones are endorsed by reputable veterinary associations.

The best are made from materials that will show up on an X-ray, should your pet accidentally swallow it. Do avoid cheap bits of plastic or rubber that have no safety guarantees. If it disintegrates and then chokes your pet or has to be removed via an operation, you’ll kick yourself.

Uncertain? Go and talk to your vet.

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