What does it mean when a dog tries to cover its food?

Have you ever presented your dog with a delicious meal only to watch him bury it? Don’t be offended; it’s not that your pet hates the gift. So, why does your dog bury his food?

Most dogs have an instinctual behavior of hiding important things. They often bury their most prized possessions to keep them safely stashed for later. This is a natural behavior inspired by their wild ancestors. Dogs cover and bury their food to protect it from predators. You can stop this behavior by making them feel safe and comfortable. 

Read on to discover more about this behavior and how to fix it.   

The Root of the Behavior

Dogs living in homes with gardens have ample outdoor space to bury a bone or a favorite toy. They can live out the ritualistic behavior of their wild ancestors. They can dig a hole and bury the bone by covering it with their noses. It’s a safe way to keep the bone or food tucked away from other predators. Dogs often give their ‘buried treasure’ some bumps with their noses at the end. This action relates to the way their ancestors checked their prey was dead. A few nudges in the final burial act serves the purpose. If your dog covers food, it’s probably in their nature.

Here are other reasons your dog may want to cover food:

Instinct

Burying valuable items is an instinctual survival skill of your dogs’ wild canine ancestors. Wolves, foxes, and coyotes are protective of their food. If they have leftover meat after a hunt, they bury it in the dirt to protect it from scavengers and the sun. The soil is like nature’s refrigerator. It keeps food fresh so the animal can retrieve it when nourishment is scarce.

This dog behavior is known as “caching.” It is mostly harmless, but it can become an issue if your dog is burying perishable items. While some dogs have the hearty digestive tracts of their wild ancestors, others have sensitive stomachs because of selective breeding over centuries. If you give your dog fresh or raw meat, make sure they eat their food right away.

Anxiety

Some dogs may bury food and snacks due to negative experiences in their past. Dogs from backyard breeding and hoarding situations may have had to compete with other animals for limited resources. Even after their rescue, these pups can be very anxious and possessive of their toys, treats, and bones. They’d prefer to bury them in secret, safe spots.

This behavior may resolve on its own once your puppy realizes that you’ll feed them regularly. If the situation persists, you should seek professional advice from your vet.

Nausea

Dogs suffering from nausea-causing conditions may attempt to “air bury” their meals. They will nudge the bowl away with their nose or cover it with imaginary dirt. If your dog suddenly seems repelled by their food and has additional symptoms such as diarrhea, vomiting, lethargy, or behavioral changes, it may be time for a quick checkup.

However, “air burying” does not always mean it’s time to visit the vet’s office. Picky eaters or those adjusting to a new diet may also engage in such behavior.

Over-Feeding

Caching may be an indication that you are very generous with the treats and food. This behavior in a healthy dog suggests they have more than they require and can save food for later. If you feed your dogs on a reliable schedule, they should not feel the need to stash leftovers.

Commercial diets over-estimate the amount of food your dog needs to consume each day. On the other hand, raw and homemade diets are free from fillers and offer all the nutrients your pooch needs. Consult your local veterinarian if you need help determining how much to feed your dog.

Possessiveness

Some dogs are more possessive than others. Most dogs living in a multi-pet household adopt this behavior. They try to hide their prized possessions under the backyard dirt, tangled in the blankets on your bed, or inside the crevasses of your sofa. This could also be a symptom of anxiety, as discussed above.

If your dog seems nervous or becomes aggressively possessive of their food, seek the advice of a behaviorist or a canine trainer.

Attention-Seeking

Some dogs want more attention and hide food from other family members. Our intelligent dogs learn quickly that negative attention is better than no attention at all. They will act out when they feel neglected by their owners.

Keep in mind that attention-seeking dogs may put themselves in harm’s way. If your pet is letting you know he or she is upset, you should give them love and affection.

Environment

Dogs may behave this way for simple reasons, such as a sudden change in their environment. If you have recently moved houses or are camping or vacationing someplace new, your dog will react to the change by hiding their food.

It may not stop eating, but it will feel a little insecure and scared of the environment. Scared dogs may hide or cover up their food to protect it.

A change in environment can also cause your dog to lose its appetite. This leaves plenty of leftovers to eat later, so your dog may want to save them.

How can you stop this behavior?

You can stop this behavior by analyzing your dog for underlying conditions. Here are the steps you can take to stop your dog’s negative behavior:

Check for any illnesses

You have to make sure that there are no underlying medical issues. Try to rule out all the possible illnesses and evaluate their symptoms. Your dog may be dealing with lethargy, nausea, diarrhea, and loss of appetite.

Feed them less frequently

If your dog is symptom-free and has no underlying medical condition, you can try to feed them less. Try and give your dog a lesser amount of food than you usually do. This will ensure that your dog finishes every meal and doesn’t save for later. When there are no leftovers in the bowl, your dog will not have anything to cover-up or hide.

Use a heavier bowl

If feeding less doesn’t help you out, you can give your dog a heavier bowl. A heavy bowl is difficult for your dog to move or drag around. That means your dog won’t be able to move or bury his daily meals. He will finish his meals or just leave the leftovers in the heavy bowl.

Take dogs for a walk before mealtime

Take your dog out for a walk before his mealtime. Try to get your dog a little tired or exhausted before feeding him. You can get him to play and work up his appetite. Plus, your dog will have less energy to dig a hole and cover leftover food. They will be hungry and eat all of their food.

Final Verdict

Dogs display many different instincts and traits from their wild ancestors, but no dog in the modern world should worry about survival. If your dog is burying excess food, the simple solution is to stop feeding your dog too much! This will make your dog more comfortable and less wild in the long run.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why do dogs fight over food?

As pack animals, dogs can show aggression over food at mealtimes. They want to achieve the top position in the pack order. This instinctive behavior can be triggered when you have multiple dogs in the household. One dog may feel entitled to more food than the other.

Why does my dog hide his treats?

Dogs always hide their most prized possession to keep it safe from predators. Just like other common behaviors like whirling and digging, hiding treats is natural for them. 

What are signs of aggression in dogs?

The signs of an aggressive and dominant dog include staring, excessive low-range barking, snarling, growling, and snapping. You might also notice them standing tall and holding ears erect. However, some dominant and aggressive dogs will show no sign before attacking.

Should I pet my puppy while eating?

Once you set down your puppy’s food, it’s best to back off and let them eat without interruption. You might make your furry friend nervous petting them. You should also avoid creating a noisy ruckus 

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