Have you ever had a puppy or grown dog drag a blanket or clothes over their food bowl?
A lot of the time we think this is them being silly, but it stems from when they were wild animals.
It is an instinctual behavior to hide things that they value or view as resources.
They could be covering their food to protect it from other predators or even you, their friend.
Dogs cover their food bowls because it is a holdover from when they were wild animals. It is similar behavior to dogs wanting to bury bones in the backyard. They view their food and bones as an important resource and do not want to lose it or have it taken from them.
You will often see your dog bump their food a few times before or during the covering process because it is ensuring that the food won’t be leaving on its own.
That the food will be there when they come back to uncover it or dig it up later.
Causes of This Behavior
1. Natural Instinct
Wolves and other wild canines will bury valuable items as a measure of protection against losing their resource.
This could occur after a successful hunt and the animal is wanting to protect and preserve their food for the future.
This would also ensure that food or other resources would last longer because the ground does an excellent job of preserving food.
Their anxiety over food could come from their first experiences with food.
Were they raised with a large number of other animals and had difficulty getting access to the food they needed.
This will often present in rescue animals as they are more likely to have experienced a scarcity of resources.
This will often present as your dog attempting to remove their food from its normal location.
They will pretend to cover their food with imaginary dirt or nudge it around instead of eating.
This will often be situational and not a persistent issue.
It could also just be that your dog is being a picky eater.
Often, we want to give our dogs as many food items as their pet food recommends.
However, just like human diets, pet food companies will often recommend more food than dogs need.
Premade pet food will often have a large number of fillers that are not needed.
Similar to anxiety above many dogs that experienced resource scarceness when they were puppies will be possessive of their food.
It can also present in dogs that live in multi-dog homes.
This can sometimes lead to aggressive tendencies and it is best to correct this behavior as quickly as possible so that it doesn’t become a problem.
6. Seeking Attention
Many smart dogs will hide food because when people discover it they receive attention and enrichment.
This is often one of the behaviors that they learn when they feel they aren’t getting the attention they deserve.
7. Their environment
If you recently moved or made major changes to your dog’s living arrangements covering food may occur as a response.
It is a sign that they might not understand what happened or is happening and they want to ensure that they are prepared for the future.
Should You Stop This Behavior?
The general verdict is to only stop it if it is damaging your property or causing other problems.
This destruction could come in the form of them tearing up the yard or even destroying clothing inside the house.
Dogs will frequently hide their food through various means that include the following:
- Burying in the backyard or the garden
- Hidden in or under furniture
- Under your bed covers if they are allowed on your bed
- Covered by blankets or other loose clothing they can find
If this behavior seems to be increasing in frequency, you should analyze the reasons above and communicate any concerns you may have with a professional trainer or veterinarian.
A professional will be better suited for identifying the underlying cause and determining the best course of action to correct the behavior.
How Can You Fix This Behavior?
There are a few different things that you need to check off in determining the problem.
First, check for any illnesses if this is a new or sudden behavior.
Signs of an illness can present as lethargy, loss of appetite, nausea, diarrhea, or stomach issues.
After ruling out an illness the next step is to determine if they are doing this as a reaction to the amount of food they are being given.
Once they have no food leftover they won’t have a desire to hoard or bury it.
Often we don’t realize it but we overfeed our dogs and they know they are full but don’t want the food to go to waste.
Another option if your dog drags their bowl around is to buy a heavier bowl.
They will be less inclined to drag it into the backyard or under furniture and this can quickly fix the problem.
Finally, you can take your dog for a walk before their meal time so they have less energy.
Also when they are tired they will often eat more food to compensate for their expended energy.
You could also play with them to get them to expend energy, so they have less to bury or hide their food.
Your dog will often cover their food bowls or bury their food because of instinctual behavior from their wild ancestors.
It is a form of resource management for them and they want to ensure they will always have a backup food supply.
It is often not a problem, but if it becomes something they obsess over then speak with a professional trainer or veterinarian about ways to adjust your dog’s behavior.
Also, it is not because your dog thinks you don’t love it enough.