Dogs can be incredibly mysterious creatures, despite their ordinary domestic appearance. Loving, loyal, silly and fun is the typical description, but their behavior can leave us with a big question – why is my dog doing that? Dogs are not humans, as much as we would like to believe they are as smart as we are and understand what we are saying. They follow behavioral patterns based on instinctual desires stemming from their wild ancestors who spend every day just trying to survive and procreate. These behaviors are seen in our silly pets chewing on bones, chasing cats and burying items such as chew toys, raw hides and bones.
Why do dogs chew bones?
A dog chewing a bone is not an uncommon sight. Give a dog a bone, and you’ve got a dog that will keep busy for hours. But why? What causes a dog to want to chew on a hard object that offers little to no meat, and why do they want to do it for such long periods of time?The answer is three-fold: fat, instinct and activity.
First, let’s talk about fat, or in this case, marrow. Marrow is found inside the bone, and is made up of mostly fat. This fat is not something to frown about, it’s extremely healthy! The marrow found in bones provides nutrition that your dog simply would not get anywhere else. Marrow contains the building blocks to create red and white blood cells. This is something that those who feed raw, whole foods to their dogs have known all along – bones are packed full of healthy goodness that helps your dog’s body function properly! To top it off, the taste, texture, shape and smell combine to keep your dog interested in this healthy and required activity.
Thousands of years ago, the dog’s ancestors lived day by day, meal by meal. They scavenged for food, eating carrion if they came across it. They also were effective and quick hunters, eating the whole body of their prey. This instinct of eating everything, down to the last bone if they could, carried on into your dog’s behavior. Other aspects of the wolf (and other canids) show up in our dogs from time to time. Pack mentality,howling, and yes, even chewing on bones.
As mentioned, wolves would eat every part of the animal. The reason for this was food was scarce, so they made the meals last as long as possible. In captivity, your domestic pooch may not get the opportunity to live out his full instincts, but he can sure spend hours and hours chewing on that bone. Activity levels in dogs is much different than that of wolves. Wolves are much more sedentary than your common dog, but most dogs have less to do than wolves. A bone is a great way for a dog to meet two of it’s needs while keeping it’s interest. You may provide for him a raw or smoked beef bone with marrow to gnaw on, and you have fulfilled that instinctual desire for hours!
Why do dogs bury things?
Just like with chewing on bones, digging and burying things is a very instinctual behavior. Unlike bones, there are two different instincts at play here, dependent on breed. Most breeds like to dig and bury things based off of wild instincts. As mentioned, the dog’s wild counterparts are expert predators. Since food can sometimes be scarce, they tend to kill more than they can eat at once. This often would lead to them preserving their food.
In order to preserve the food, wolves, coyotes and even foxes will dig holes in the ground and bury the carcass or remnants in that hole. Foxes and some coyotes will also mark the spot with urine (another trait that instinctively carried over to our domestic friends) in order to find the food again. Often times, in preparation for harsher climates, wolves will make several of these caches to store food, in hopes that it will last them throughout the time when food is harder to come by. Wolves and coyotes have also been known to dig up the cache of other animals, or even cattle burial spots, in order to get food.
Wild instincts, however, are not all that are in play when it comes to fido digging up the backyard. Several breeds, including Jack Russel Terriers, were bred to dig! Originally, these dogs were trained to dig out burrows of rabbits and other rodents, and were used as either hunting dogs to get food, or as work dogs to remove pests. Those instincts are still in play, and these famous “earth dogs” still show them through and through. With both of these instincts in play, dogs try to find an outlet to act on their natural behaviors. This will often lead to your playful pup burying his toys, bones or other things in the backyard. It could also lead to digging up potted plants (a favorite among earth dogs) or carpet! It is usually best to give the dog a meaningful way to act on his instincts. Some people like to section off part of the backyard that their dogs are allowed to dig in, others will make a dig box (similar to a child’s sand box) for the dog to play in. Others will keep their dog occupied with other instinctively satisfying activities, such as play, walking and yes, even chewing on bones.
Why do dogs hate cats?
Pop culture is well known to show dogs chasing cats. Cartoon and sitcoms on television portray dogs as aggressive and angry towards the presence of a feline for no real known reason. Now, you may search online or attend your local shelter to see a dog’s behavior profile as “not good with cats.” Even nursery rhymes teach us at a young age that dogs hate cats, but why is this?Dogs don’t really hate anything. As a canine, they are incapable of feeling the emotion of hate, and do not comprehend it. They may feel uncomfortable and dislike something, but they cannot actually hate it the way a human would. Thus, we know that dogs don’t actually hate cats. We turn to science to understand exactly why dogs are so well known to be aggressive towards and chase cats.
Dogs are predators, and were bred for thousands of years to be this way. That predatory instinct is what makes dogs wonderful hunting companions, guard dogs, and herding dogs. If something small moves, it is seen as prey and over the generations of selective breeding ha helped to hone in on those instincts to turn them into what we want them to do. Unfortunately, some dogs take that instinct a little too far and they may see other household pets, especially one as common as a cat as fair game.
Cats are not the only thing dogs see in this manner. Small animals from rodents to birds set off this same instinct in dogs, but just like other unwanted behaviors, this is something that can be trained out or you can offer your dog something they like more than the animal in question. A good way to do this is to use a leash and desensitize them to the cat (or other animal). Eventually, that prey drive will diminish as the dog gets used to the animal being around. While this is going on, you may also want to give them something they enjoy, a toy or even a bone, to keep them occupied and let them know that the cat isn’t as fun to chase as this toy is to play with!
Should instincts be suppressed?
Dogs have many instinctual activities they partake in, only a few are mentioned here. Scent marking, pack behavior and more are all ingrained, genetically, in your dog. Thousands of years of evolution and selective breeding have conditioned the dog into what it is today. Yes, some instincts can be troublesome, but none should be suppressed. Find healthy, safe ways to help your dog work his instincts, and you will find a loving, healthy, manageable best friend.