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Dogs like digging and burying items like toys and bones ( or your things like your favorite pairs of shoes) for many reasons. They dig instinctively to build a den to whelp puppies, to hide resources for later, or when they need a cool place to lay down.
Since it is instinctual, they might dig when they are anxious. Dogs with extreme anxiety will dig out of enclosures or destroy beds, floors, and walls trying to get out of confinement.
But is your dog burying things or are they appearing to bury things without actually doing it? Do they halfway put a toy under a blanket, or push invisible dirt on their ball with their nose while on your living room carpet?
So why do dogs pretend to bury things?
Dogs pretend to bury things because they are storing, or hoarding, resources for later. Some dogs have a stronger instinct for it than others, driving them to pretend-bury as play, when bored, or when they are anxious. It might also be a symptom of general anxiety or vision problems.
So let’s figure out the weird reason (or instinctual reason) that makes your dog pretend to bury things and if there is any reason to worry about this behavior.
8 Reasons Your Dog Might Pretend To Bury Things
If your dog does not have the opportunity to dig, they might have to resort to pretending to bury things instead. They simply might not have the opportunity to bury things outside, or they might prefer to be inside with their things, not have the strength, or are weird about getting dirty outside.
Maybe the weather was bad outside, which could be why this Weimaraner brought his stick inside!
Dogs like to pretend to bury things because of instincts that they have inherited from their wolf ancestors. Some breeds more than others will incorporate it into their play style and attention-seeking behavior, but it also might manifest itself as a symptom of anxiety or health issue.
Before we explore what you should do if you are worried about your dog pretending to bury things, we will take a look at why they pretend to bury things and when it becomes a problem.
Reason 1. Instinct
Dogs possess an instinct to hide resources from other animals. Wolves and other large predators still do this in the wild when they have brought down large prey that cannot be consumed in one sitting.
Many dogs have inherited this instinctual trait from their wolf ancestors, even if it is not about food. Some dogs do like to pretend to bury their food, but others prefer toys and bones and might steal random items from you to bury.
And if they are not able to bury it, they might pretend to bury things instead. Inside the house, your dog does not have the luxury of physically burying things with dirt, so they might pretend to bury things instead. From hiding their favorite toy to a smelly sneaker, evolution might be the reason they enjoy pretending to bury things.
Reason 2. Your Dog’s Breed
Some breeds are more likely to enjoy pretending to bury things than others. Their instinctual need to bury things inherited from wild ancestors is simply stronger.
According to the Hillspet, hunting dogs like terriers or small hounds are trained to dig for prey, which makes them more likely to enjoy pretending to bury things.
For example, a breed like the beagle was bred to hunt hole-dwelling animals like rabbits. Terriers also love digging after small prey animals, and if they do not have an outlet they might start pretending to bury things instead.
Dogs that have to dig their dens, like huskies, will also pretend to bury things. Working huskies in the arctic were responsible for digging their dens for sleeping in the snow.
Of course, your husky that sleeps in your bed every night does not need a snow den anymore, but the innate behavior drives them to pretend to bury their favorite squeaky toy instead.
Reason 3. Your Dog is Hoarding Things
Your dog’s instinct to bury could lead to hoarding. If they feel like they cannot properly bury things, they might pretend to bury things instead. From food to balls, to squeaky toys, picky dogs might pretend to bury these items rather than use them.
However, while they appear to be hoarding toys for later, in reality, your dog is pretending to bury things because they have an excess of toys or bones. Take a look around your house and make note of all the toys you have out. If it looks anything like my house, you probably have toys, bones, or balls scattered all over as well as a toy box stuffed full of squeaky toys.
Some dogs feel the need to pretend to bury their excess toys in blankets, or couch cushions, or keep them with them while they are sleeping under the bed.
Resource 4. Resource Guarding
While it is a charming habit to store their things by pretending to bury them, be careful that their hoarding does not become compulsive or turn into resource guarding.
Resource guarding is a behavior that some dogs develop over valuable resources, like toys, bones, food, or even people and furniture. These dogs will get aggressive when you, another dog, or another animal approach whatever they seem to be protecting.
If your dog is storing things by pretending to bury them and growling when you or another dog comes close, they might be trying to resource guard. Zak George has a great video using positive reinforcement methods to help improve resource guarding.
Reason 5. Your Dog Is Playing
Dogs inherit their instinct to dig and bury things from their wolf ancestors, and many dogs like hunting dogs, terriers, and huskies are more prone to pretending to bury things.
But what if you have a dog that does not fall into these categories, like a Rottweiler? They might not be natural diggers like some hounds, however, some of the wolf traits still shine through during play.
Dogs that love to play resemble wolves playing in the wild. Chasing, wrestling, tugging, and burying things are innate play behaviors that wolves exhibit in preparation to hunt and survive.
Domesticated dogs play like this too, they just do not need to learn how to survive in the wild like their relatives, they are simply having fun and pretending to bury things.
So if your dog is not bred to be a digger, they might still have fun pretending to bury things for playtime. Especially it gets their owner involved in a good game of keep away!
Reason 6. Your Dog Is Bored
When your dog plays by pretending to bury things, do you become a part of the game? My dogs love when I take a blanket and throw it on and off their toys, then let them pretend to bury it too. It is fun for both of us and amps my dogs up.
Dogs are good at picking up patterns and learning what makes you happy. That is why positive reinforcement is such a great way to train your dogs; your dog learns the correct behavior via rewards.
So it is no wonder that if pretending to bury things always gets your happy and undivided attention, your dog starts doing it when they are bored.
Once they have learned how to get your attention, they might keep repeating the behavior when they are bored to get you to play with them. Suddenly misbehaving by pretending to bury things could mean your dog needs more structured playtime or exercise.
Reason 7. Your Dog Is Stressed
Reverting to base instincts like barking, hiding, humping their bed, or pretending to bury things could be a sign that your dog has anxiety. Because these are innate behaviors, it is easy for dogs to present these natural behaviors when they are stressed. Instinctual behaviors are a stress reliever, making it an easy outlet for anxiety.
Dogs with bad anxiety, especially separation anxiety, might try to dig out of places when they are stressed, and if they cannot dig out they will try to pretend to bury things instead.
There are several reasons a dog can develop separation anxiety, from genetics to a traumatic event like a tornado, re-homing, or death in the family. Other symptoms include:
- Whining and pacing
- Barking and howling
- Destruction (like digging or destroying things while pretending to bury things)
If you are worried your dog is developing separation anxiety, a certified trainer or veterinarian can assist you in creating a training plan to help your dog.
Reason 8. Your Dog Might Have Vision Problems
A dog who is losing their vision might start nudging their things around, making it look like they are pretending to bury them. In reality, they cannot see what they are trying to pick up.
The anatomy of a dog’s eye is similar to people with a few exceptions. Dogs see better at night because of the tapetum lucidum located behind the retina and their wide-set eyes give them better than peripheral vision. However the basic anatomy of the lens, pupil, retina, and cornea are shared between humans and dogs.
That means that dogs also lose their eyesight with age. Besides pretending to bury things (which might be the inability to see the items they are trying to pick up), you might notice other symptoms of vision impairment, especially if you have an elderly dog:
- Bumping into walls
- Trouble finding food or toys
- Suddenly being clingy
- Reluctance to get on or off furniture
- Cloudy eyes
Should You Worry?
Pretending to bury things is not something you should worry about unless you think it is an indication of anxiety, a health concern, or it becomes compulsory.
Watching your dog pretend to bury their toys with invisible dirt is cute, but without management, it could become obsessive and turn into destructive behaviors like shredding shoes or destroying furniture.
If you think your dog pretending to bury things is indicative of a health concern, you should always seek help. It is hard to watch our pets turn into senior dogs, but getting old and starting to lose their eyesight is normal.
However, if your young dog is suddenly pretending to bury things or there is swelling or any sort of discharge you should go see a veterinarian immediately.
How To Stop This Behavior?
Generally, your dog pretending to bury things is not bad behavior. Your dog is acting out an instinctual need, maybe for fun or to relieve a little bit of stress.
However, if it becomes annoying, they are stealing your things to pretend to bury, or the behavior turns destructive, you might need to figure out a way to make their lives more fulfilling.
Mental Stimulation And Enrichment
Dog enrichment gives your dog an opportunity to mentally, physically, and emotionally engage in natural behaviors like digging, running, chasing, and scavenging.
Enrichment for a dog that pretends to bury things could be something as simple as throwing a blanket or towel over their favorite ball, letting them scavenge through the cardboard recycling for scattered kibble, or building them their very own sandpit so they can bury things rather than pretend.
We have put together a list of the 10 best toys for diggers to help create the best enrichment possible for your dog that loves to pretend to bury things.
While a dog’s need for exercise is different depending on their age, breed, and health, most dogs live for their walks. Having a big fenced-in yard does not always cut it, especially if you have a high-energy dog like a German Shepherd. They need to get out and move!
If they are bored and need more exercise, they might start pretending to bury things to burn off that excess energy. Be careful this restlessness does not turn into something worse like the destruction of drywall or getting in the trash. Proper exercise, especially for energetic dogs, is part of your responsibility as a dog owner.
Generally, your dog slipping their favorite toy into a couch cushion or pushing fake dirt onto their ball is endearing; until it becomes destructive.
Providing your dog with proper enrichment and exercise is an important part of the responsibility of dog ownership. Dogs love to play, and their play styles often resemble that of their wolf ancestors, including pretending to bury things.
If your dog enjoys pretending to bury things there are many enrichment opportunities you can provide for them that use that particular behavior. Enrichment games will help your dog burn off energy and relieve stress.
So unless your dog has given your reason to be concerned about their health, embrace your dog pretending to bury things. Giving them a proper outlet for this behavior will keep them from becoming destructive and bored. Watching them have fun will also bring you enrichment and strengthen your connection with your dog.