If you’ve ever discovered a dog’s toy buried in your couch cushions, your yard, your bed or your laundry basket, you’ve probably wondered: why do they do this? As annoying as it can be for dogs to hide their precious toys everywhere, it’s actually an ancient instinct.
What your pup is showing you is that they value their toy and want to protect it—just like their ancestors would do with their food. Wolves and wild dogs bury food and conceal it so they can come back to it later without worrying it will be taken by another animal or go bad in the hot sun. In a way, it’s a compliment!
Burying is totally normal and natural. It’s more common in houses with multiple animals, because your dog might be concerned about his or her furry sibling getting their prized toy. If burying is becoming a problem, however, there are things you can do to mitigate the behavior.
If your dog is hiding and burying toys obsessively, there are a few possible causes. Read on below to find out what could be causing your dog to bury and hide, and how you can encourage more positive behavior.
Does your pup have too many toys?
Our human brains would think that with more resources—like toys—there would be less need to be protective of them. But dogs don’t think that way.
When there are more toys, dogs just feel that they need to guard more to protect their growing stash. They could be becoming overwhelmed, leading to compulsive burying. Just like humans, dogs can fixate on things, and if there are too many toys around it can lead to overstimulation and obsession.
The best solution for this problem is limiting the supply of toys available. You don’t have to throw out all your dog’s bones and stuffies, but consider moving them to an area of the house where they don’t immediately see them or have access to them—even just a shelf away from their reach—so that they aren’t actively trying to “guard” those toys. Keep just a few out at a time.
You can also limit the number of new toys that you buy, and instead engage your dog with the toys they already have through training and games.
Is your dog bored?
Like people, dogs can get bored without things to occupy their brains. Especially if you’re staying home more often due to COVID-19, it’s possible that obsessive burying is your dog’s way of using their pent up energy.
To help, try playing games or doing some new training with your dog; some dogs especially like being given “jobs” like fetching things. You can also rotate toys to keep dogs from becoming too bored.
Make sure your dog is getting regular exercise through walks—which is allowed even with stay at home orders—and if you have a nearby open space or a yard, give your dog time to run around.
That's a nice ball - you don't need to bury it!
What not to do to stop burying
The best way to stop dogs from burying things is not through reactions like yelling, because the dog likely won’t know why they’re in trouble—after all, burying is an instinct for them.
Especially if your dog is taking things that don’t belong to him or her, like your keys or your remote control, they probably want to play with you! They know you will have to look for whatever it is they have taken, so chasing them down can actually encourage the burying. While you are working on training your dog not to take these things, it’s probably best to keep them out of reach—having a designated hook for keys or a basket for phones that is above their level will limit their access and stop the cycle of hiding and chasing.
The best way to stop your dog from hiding, well, everything—is to use positive reinforcement. When your dog brings back their toy from wherever it’s been hidden, praise them and play with them for a few minutes—that way they know that bringing things back leads to positive results!
Have a designated area for toys that are currently in rotation which the dog can see and access themselves. When you find a hidden toy, place it into the toy area and show your dog. Eventually, they will learn that is where there their things go.
If you see your dog sneaking off with their toys, call them over and ask for the toy with a “give” cue. When they drop their toy, reward them with a treat and some pets.
If you have multiple dogs that are taking toys from one another and hiding them, try training them together with treats-if they don’t move to take a toy from the other dog, they are rewarded with a treat or an even better toy.
Hopefully, with some training and some patience, your dogs’ toys will stop turning up where they don’t belong!
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