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Dog holding chew treat in mouth

The essentials

  • Dogs hide things everywhere — Whether it’s a yummy treat or their favorite toy, dogs will hide things under carpets, chairs, in beds, couches, or randomly on the floor covered by  invisible dirt.
  • It’s not always for a good reason — Dogs will sometimes bury their treats or favorite toys because they don’t feel safe. Stressed dogs will bury their food when they’re experiencing anxiety so that they can come back to it later.
  • Some breeds do it more than others — Certain dog breeds have a predisposition to dig and bury their favorite things. Dogs bred to hunt, like basset hounds, have a strong tendency to do this.

Dogs hide their treats out of natural instinct. This canine behavior occurs in modern dogs just as it did in ancestral wolves. Burying and hiding leftovers is a way to ensure that in the wild, wolves and dogs alike will have food if they can’t find their next meal. While that’s hardly a problem for pet dogs today, the instinct is still there.

Understanding the canine world

Dogs are the direct descendants of wolves, but for thousands of years dogs have developed their own unique personality as a species. Your toy poodle has long since abandoned any pack mentality their ancestors used to survive and today, is a social but solitary canine with scavenging tendencies.

While dogs, wolves, and other canids will bury their food, the reasons are very different. For example, a jackal may not bury their food at all, but their close cousins, wolves, will bury their food to come back to later. On the other hand, your rescue pup may bury food or treats to protect their favorite thing from other animals in the house.

Reasons why dogs hide their treats 

Just like their wolf ancestors, dogs hide their treats for a few reasons. Here are four reasons that your couch potato dog (or very active one) may hide their treats.

Instinctual practice

Hiding food to protect it or keep it for later is a part of natural canine instinct. But, modern dogs don’t just hide away treats. While hoarding behaviors are based in food, your pet dog may hoard things like their favorite toys or bones in an attempt to keep them safe.

Security measures

For wolves, this might be to keep food safe from other predators outside of their pack. For your dog, it’s to protect their favorite treat or toy from other pets in the home.

Storing for later

Just like their wolf ancestors, dogs today will hoard treats and toys for later. This amounts to finding their favorite bone between couch cushions, likely one of many safe spaces for your pup’s treasures.

Anxiety and stress

Anxious or stressed dogs may hoard treats, toys, or food. This can be due to another dog in the home, or environmental situations, like frequent loud noises or past trauma. Other signs of stress in dogs might include:

  • Peeing on the bed. Dogs will sometimes urinate on your bed, or in other inappropriate areas, if they are feeling stressed.
  • Not eating. While hoarding can be a sign of stress, so can not eating at all. Watch for signs of a lack of appetite in your dog.

Eating too fast. Eating too fast can also be a sign of stress for dogs and lead to other serious situations, like bloat.

The role of domestication 

Humans have been domesticating dogs for thousands of years — at least 30,000 according to recent findings — and in that time, certain instincts have changed due to training and selective breeding for certain behaviors.

As wolves developed a mutually beneficial relationship with humans, their pack mentality was less vital to survival. Wolves didn’t have to work as a team and within a hierarchy to take down large prey to feed their pack. In exchange for protection, humans could provide that security. As humans domesticated wolves and developed dogs, these canines became social animals that, while trained to work in teams toward a common goal, are largely scavengers.

How to handle your dog’s treat hiding behavior

Hiding treats and toys isn’t always a behavior that owners want from their pets. Here are some tips on how to curve your pet’s hoarding tendencies.

Correct through training — Dog training, either by yourself or with a professional, can help curve these tendencies.

Provide a safe space — With giving treats, provide your dog with a safe space to enjoy them where they don’t feel threatened by other pets or environmental factors.

Remove the toys — Gather up toys that your dog is hoarding and put them somewhere out of reach with only a few toys out.

What to do if your dog’s hiding habits become excessive

In some cases, your dog’s hoarding habits can become problematic. This can be due to several reasons, including stress and anxiety, or resource guarding. For your health and safety as well as your dog’s it’s important to consult with your veterinarian or a dog behaviorist when a dog’s tendency to hide treats or toys becomes excessive or causes aggression.

Squirreling away treats and toys is one of many things that dog owners find cute (and sometimes irritating) but, it’s a natural instinct for man’s best friend. Whether it’s to protect their toy from the cat or save it for another day, your dog is likely following natural instincts when it comes to hiding their treats.

Frequently asked questions 

Should I let my dog hide their treats?

This is a natural instinct for dogs, and it’s fine for them to do. To minimize the behavior, remove leftover foods or keep their favorite things, like bully sticks, out of reach to prevent dogs from hiding them.

How do I get my dog to stop hiding treats?

Restricting access to items that you know your dog will hoard will help prevent them from hiding treats. Remove temptation altogether, or only allow them to have special treats or toys with supervision.

Why do dogs hide their food instead of eating it?

Some dogs will hoard and hide a large amount of food as part of a survival strategy. In the wild, this may be for periods when wolves experience a lack of food. At home, this can be due to stress, such as another dog who is food aggressive, or as a tendency of dogs who overeat.

Why does my dog hold his treat in his mouth?

Dogs may hold treats in their mouth as they look for a comfortable place to relax and enjoy their tasty treat. Dogs often do the same thing with their favorite toys.