Puppies are, in my humble opinion, some of the cutest creatures on earth! With their playful personalities and innocent loving hearts, they can do no wrong (at least for the most part).
Even though they are super cute, they are a lot of work (Check out this article to find out just how much) and they can do some strange things.
One of those peculiar habits is taking their food and treats and hiding or burying it. If you are wondering why they do it then you are in the right place!
Puppies are instinctual hoarders, when they have an excess of something or fear that food or treats might be scarce in the future they will find places to hide it or bury it for later. This is not only a natural behavior but can be caused or amplified by stress, anxiety, boredom or possessiveness.
Squirrels do it, Birds do it, and even beavers do it, so why not puppies? Of course, we know that they don’t need to save any nuts for the winter, but what is going through your puppy’s head when they are furiously looking for a great hiding spot…… and should you stop them from doing it? Continue reading to find out.
Reasons Why a Puppy will Hide its Food, Treats, or Toys
Puppies tend to adapt to our family life and being in our homes fairly quickly so quickly that sometimes we forget that at some point in the past their ancestors, whether they be wolves or wild dogs, had to survive the wild by finding and gathering their own food.
Food gathering and storing has been deeply rooted into the survival instinct of a dog’s brain. This literally makes it an instinctual behavior that is rooted in their genetic makeup. They don’t easily forget that there could be a need to save some kibble for later.
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Being in a new place and away from its mother can be a bit nerve-wracking and scary for a new puppy.
Before coming to you they had a reliable source of milk and food when close to their mother, but being in a different environment may make your puppy unsure about where his next meal is coming from.
By hiding his food your puppy is ensuring that he will still have a meal when times get hard and food is scarce. If he is trying to bury it in the bedsheets, or backyard this is his instinct to keep it away from other animals or out of sight of competitors that may be searching for an easy meal.
Anxiety, Stress or Boredom
If you free-feed your puppy (which I don’t recommend) then you may wonder why they still feel like they need to hide it.
Since it is in your puppy’s nature to save some grub for later, it makes sense that after a while they would figure out that their food is never going away and they don’t need to save it for a time when it may be scarce.
Some puppies will still continue with this habit even though they don’t need to and it’s most likely out of stress, anxiety, or boredom.
It’s sad to think about, but if you have rescued a puppy from a previously abusive home or environment he may have some experience to draw on that proves to him he could end up going a few days without any food available.
The anxiety or stress of previously going without food is enough to keep him fixated on this habit of storing food for later.
I talked with an owner who has a puppy who was rescued from a puppy mill and was most likely being abused. Their 5-month-old puppy is very concerned about taking it’s food and finding places to hide it in the house, or even bury it in the yard. They are working on training techniques (which will be discussed further down in this article) to help him overcome this anxiety and fear.
As far as boredom goes, puppies are so full of energy and love a good game of hide and seek. Hiding their food is self-made entertainment. If they don’t have a lot of distraction and mental stimulation from you this seems to be a good way for them to entertain themselves by hiding their food and then going back to it later as a bit of a surprise meal for them. Unfortunately, sometimes they may hide it with that intention, but then they forget to go back to it later.
No Appetite or Upset Tummy
Another reason they may be saving it for later is if they are just not feeling up to eating right at the moment. This is likely the case if your puppy doesn’t have the habit of hiding their food but may do it every once in a while.
This could also happen if it’s within the first few days that you have brought your puppy home. They may be feeling more stressed about being in a new environment and are unsure about their food.
Often they will hide it for later and then forget about it or choose the to go for the fresh stuff from his bowl once his appetite is back.
If you notice your puppy not eating their food for more than two meals or there is a sudden change in their eating habits you should take them to your vet.
Think about what your reaction is when your puppy hides his things. It can be absolutely adorable and cause you to ooh and awe and tell all your friends how funny he’s being, or maybe it’s super annoying, frustrating, and possibly causes you to scold your little pup. Either way, it’s likely that your puppy has gotten a reaction from you. This can oftentimes encourage the behavior.
Dogs are attention seekers and will do things around us or to us that get them noticed. If they get noticed by you for hiding their food, toys, or even your personal belongings chances are you are unintentionally reinforcing this behavior and they will continue to do it.
Along with trying out the solutions listed further down in this article you should also try not to make a big deal or bring a lot of attention to the behavior as this is likely to make it worse.
If you have other pets in the house your puppy may feel a bit of competition with them. If he routinely hides his toys or food it could be that he is trying to claim them as his and keep them in a safe place away from others.
She could still be hiding her things if she thinks that someone in your household may be a threat. Do you have a toddler who has recently become mobile? We all know how much little ones love trying out doggy toys and food! This could be a trigger for your puppy as well. Check out this article I wrote about getting your toddler to leave the dog alone).
Why Your Puppy Hiding their Things Could Cause Problems
Watching your puppy scurry around looking for a place to hide or bury their food can be quite entertaining, funny, and endearing.
A lot of owners have no problems with allowing the behavior to continue and may even encourage it by unintentionally providing attention and positive reinforcement. However, there may be some reasons you want to curb the behavior. Here are some things to think about.
Whether your puppy likes to hide it under the couch, behind the door, or in their kennel, it’s likely that they won’t be keeping their buried treasure in just one location.
Part of their instinct is to have multiple areas to go to in case one gets found out or lost. It can get quite messy when your puppy starts hiding dog food all over the house.
If you are not aware of all the hiding spots or can’t keep track of them after some time the food may start to mold or stink and could cause other problems like attracting rodents or ants into your home.
Digging in the yard to hide their treats, food, or toys can also cause problems as it will lead to habits of digging and can cause destruction in your garden and yard as well as track dirt into your house.
If you are providing your puppy with the best high-quality food you can like this one from Amazon, (and I know you are because of how much you love your pups!) it can get quite expensive for them to hide their food and potentially waste it or let it spoil before they eat it.
Luckily our puppies usually eat very little at first so it’s not as big of waste when they are small, but as they get bigger, if they continue to do it you will continue to see a drain on the amount of money you waste on uneaten food.
It Can Cause Health Problems
This might not be the first thing to comes to your mind when you notice your puppy hiding their food, but it’s something to think about.
I’ve talked to several owners who have had problems with their puppies rubbing their nose across the floor so much they end up with carpet burns on their nose. Also if this becomes an obsessive behavior for your puppy it could lead them to even more health consequences such as Compulsive disorder.
Compulsive disorder is defined by a repetitious, relatively unchanging sequence of activities or movements that has no obvious purpose or function. Hiding their food may have an obvious purpose to them, but if it makes them engage in repetitive behavior like rubbing their nose on the floor, or digging relentlessly you will need to take them to the vet for a consultation.
One owner told me about their small puppy that would hold their bone or treat in their mouth and growl and grunt while running around the house trying to find a spot to hide it, just to leave it there for a few minutes, go back and get it and start all over again. It was turning into a concerning repetitive behavior.
Another potential health problem is if your dog is burring its food or treats outside and then digging it up later and eating it. Sitting in the ground for some time can not only cause it to mold and go rotten, but it can soak up chemicals or fertilizer from lawns or gardens ant that could be dangerous for your little puppy’s sensitive system.
If the problem is serious enough your vet may prescribe anti anxiety meds as wells as a behavior modification plan.
It may Promote Aggression
If your puppy’s food hiding is accompanied by any kind of aggression like growling or nipping then it may be cause for concern. If this happens when someone gets close to your puppy’s food or toys then allowing them to hide their food could be promoting and reinforcing that. This would be a huge red flag and could indicate that your dog has or will have problems with resource guarding.
It Can be Destructive
One of the problems with your puppy’s affinity to hiding their food is that in the process of finding their perfect hiding place they don’t really seem to care what they bulldoze over.
Luckily they are small so the damage may be limited, but you might be surprised at how much tenacious little puppy is really capable of. This may include chewing, scratching, or digging which can be very destructive.
It’s not fun to see your pretty petunia patch turn into a digging ditch for your little pup. If your puppy isn’t causing destruction with this behavior now it’s something you will want to keep an eye on and watch for in the future. Chances are if he continues the destruction will get worse.
What Should you do About your Puppy Hiding their Things?
Some puppy owners choose to do nothing. If you enjoy watching your little pups antics and it doesn’t seem to be hurting anything or bothering anyone that’s quite all right!
But if you have experienced some of the negative side effects that were mentioned above and want to improve your and your puppy’s quality of life as well as train them to be a well-behaved dog in the future, here are some simple tips and tricks that may help you in the process of getting your pooch to curb their desire to hide their delectables!
Schedule Their Meals
This means not giving them free access to their food all the time.
This is the easiest way to monitor what they are doing with their food. This will also aid you in other training aspects like house training your new puppy.
Consult with your vet on how much and how often you should feed your puppy, but usually, 3 meals a day will suffice.
You will want to watch them to see if they leave the area where you feed them, where they go and where they put their food.
When they are done eating take the food away until the next mealtime.
Monitor at All Times
If your puppy is leaving the area to eat then having them in a large playpen or restricted to a small room that has no hiding places for their food will take away their ability to hide their food and encourage them to eat it instead of stash it.
Keeping a strict eye on your puppy should be standard practice at all times anyway. We all know how much time and work it is to monitor a puppy correctly, but it’s really in the best interest of the health and safety of our little guys to keep a close eye on them. Especially when they are eating or chewing something.
Plenty of Playtime
If your Puppy seems to be hiding their food as a game then these food puzzle toys or this Snuffle Mat from Amazon (affiliate link) may help to fulfill that need. Giving them plenty of playtime and training them commands and tricks will help them feel valued and establish worth, which will in turn help them feel more secure in their environment.
Put Things Away
Instead of leaving all their toys out all the time put them away in a specific place, like this adorable basket from Amazon at first, you may need to keep them in a place where your dog can’t access them.
You can rotate her toys to keep her from getting bored.
It’s also a great idea to work on training your puppy to put her toys away in that specific place after she’s done playing with them.
This is a great replacement behavior because they can learn that when they put their toys in their special box (instead of hiding them) they will know where they are and not be in danger of losing them or having someone else take them away.
Check out this fun video on how to train your dog to put their toys in a box.
What Not to Do about Your Puppy Hiding Their Food
So we’ve talked about what to do about your puppy hiding their things, but what you should not do is just as important. Make sure not to do any of these things or you may be causing more problems further down the line.
Make a Big Deal About It
Drawing attention to your puppy’s behavior is a sure way to reinforce it. Whether it’s good or bad attention Dogs are smart and they know when something they are doing is affecting you and getting a reaction. Sometimes that’s about as smart as they get though.
There have been some studies done that suggest dogs learn in a way that is very similar to how children learn.
It’s been my experience that sometimes our dogs may act like mischievous children as well, and that includes being smart enough to know how to push your buttons just to get your attention.
You also want to be careful not to turn it into a game. Your puppy will catch on quick If you are trying to chase them down to retrieve the food, or working to get at their stash in front of them they may interpret that as you playing a game with them. This could make the behavior even more appealing because it’s fun!
Use Harsh Punishment
Yelling, spanking, or hitting your dog to try and get them to stop a behavior will only make them try to hide the behavior from you.
You may think it has worked because you don’t see your puppy hiding their stuff anymore, but they will most likely still be doing it behind your back.
This also breaks the trust and bond you have with your dog and will harm your relationship in other aspects.
Especially as you are working to establish a bond and authority over your dog, this can make them a very nervous or untrusting dog as they grow if they are used to being yelled at or threatened for poor behavior.
Why Does My Puppy Take his Food Somewhere Else to Eat it?
It may be a bit puzzling when our puppy picks up a mouth full of food and runs across the room to sit down and eat it, or what about when they go to another room altogether. Why do they do this?
It really boils down to the pack mentality and instinct. Your dog is either preserving his food for later, keeping competition down, wanting to eat near you, or trying to make sure he’s in a safe space before eating.
- Saving it for later – After reading this article it should be no surprise to you that your puppy is taking it elsewhere so he can stash it for later. If you have more than one Dog this could possibly be to avoid confrontation.
You may think it’s the very dominant aggressive dogs that will do this, but it’s often the more anxious, quiet, or reserved dogs who feel like they need to do this in order to preserve their piece of the pie without getting into a fight.
- They don’t want to eat alone- Puppy’s and dogs, in general, are very social and always want to be near us, that goes for mealtime as well. Have you ever noticed that if you are in another room your puppy will get a mouthful of your food and follow you?
- Your puppy doesn’t like the bowl- Some dogs prefer to eat things off the floor and not out of a metal or plastic bowl. In the wild dogs don’t use plates or bowls, so it’s not too surprising that they may not enjoy it in our homes too.
Sometimes it’s the feel or texture of the bowl and other times it’s the sound it makes when their dog tags hit it and clank. Try putting your puppy’s food on a paper plate or straight on the floor and see if that changes his behavior.