Have you ever wondered why your dog, or other dogs for that matter, dig down food? From an anthropic point of view, it does not make much sense. After all, our pets always have food at their disposal, and they are certainly aware of this.
The main reason for this type of behavior is vestigial traits that it inherited from its ancestors. Dogs are not the only animals that manifest such characteristics. For example, a high percentage of the human population gets wisdom teeth.
Regarding the domestication of dogs and their ancestors
To understand this type of behavior, we must go back to the phylogenetic tree and the evolutionary history of the domestic dog ( Canis lupus familiaris ). Some genetic studies have tried to shed light on the history of the dogs that follow us today. Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, modern wolves and domestic dogs are two mutually monophyletic groups, that is, they are clearly separated.
This means that the domestic dog is not genetically close to any current wolf population. Therefore, its ancestor (probably some type of Pleistocene wolf) is already extinct.
Why is it necessary to define this type of evolutionary relationship? To begin with, we must make it clear that in many cases we should not turn to the wolf when it comes to understanding a pet’s behavior. However, it would be both beneficial and necessary to study the characteristics of its ancestor, which has long since disappeared.
Why does your dog dig down his food?
The American Kennel Club Society gives us the answer to this question. Acquisition of resources is a vestigial behavior in response to a living environment where food is scarce. This term is known in English as “surplus killing” and is a common behavior in many mammals. It is common, for example, among polar bears, lynx, foxes, killer whales, coyotes, raccoons and, of course, domestic dogs.
This behavior has also been observed in wild wolf packs. Wolves, for example, dig their prey under the snow, where the meat is preserved for several days to weeks. This is an evolutionary mechanism that is easy to understand, as it is a response to a need for food.
It is interesting to know that this habit of burying food that is superfluous also manifests itself in different ways in each individual dog breed. For example, dogs that are genetically selected for hunting have a greater tendency to do so than other dogs.
There are theories that claim that this group of hunting dogs daily shows more of their “predatory instinct”. Therefore, it is logical that a vestigial behavior such as excess killing would be more noticeable. For this reason, breeds such as dachshund, beagle, basset hound and dwarf schnauzer are more likely to bury their food in a hole.
What should I do about my dog who digs down food?
Of course, it does not make much sense to punish a dog for a vestigial behavior that is part of its genetic code. The trick to avoiding this type of behavior is to channel the activity in a different way. For example, you can reserve a space in the house for blankets or pillows where your dog can bury his toys and valuables. Another solution could be to give the dog its own sandbox, where it can dig without destroying the garden.
Boredom can also be one of the main factors that conditions this behavior. If you as the owner give your dog enough stimuli, the dog may not need to resort to its more instinctive side to channel energy. Therefore, games are always a good solution to behavioral problems.
Finally, it is recommended not to give bones and sweets to dogs that are full. In this way, the dog does not interpret these elements as an “abundance of food”, which reduces the desire to store them underground.
Digging down food is a hereditary but positive behavior
As we have noted, the fact that dogs dig down food is a completely normal behavior. It is simply due to a vestigial evolutionary trait. As long as it does not become an obsession, it can be counterproductive to punish a dog for showing one of his most basic instincts.
It is important to remember that a dog requires environmental enrichment and games that improve its instincts. Activities that promote, for example, the sense of smell are very beneficial. In order for your dog to stay happy and content, it is important to let the dog get in touch with his ancestors’ ancestry a little now and then.