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Your Happy Pet: Why dogs hoard

Original Publication Date: June 15, 2015
By C. Sue Furman, Ph.D.

Dog-like critters called canids appeared on earth about 40 million years ago.

Wolves, the ancestors of our present-day dogs, evolved from them about 30,000 to 15,000 years ago.

Every meal was a challenge for these ancestral carnivores. After a successful hunt, food was divvied up. Those highest in the pack's pecking order got first choice.

Competition was great as food meant survival. Every dog strained to quickly eat all they could and take a portion to bury and save for a future meal. The instinct to hoard was basically hard-wired into their behavior.

Twelve-thousand years of domestication and selective breeding have made today's dogs quite different from their ancestors in many ways, but the instinct to hoard remains strong. Even pampered, well-fed dogs that have no need to stalk prey for their next meal have that built-in instinct to plan for later meals.

A dog that hoards food can cause problems for their owner. It may carry bits of their dinner off to another room to save for another day.

Hiding places vary with the dog and perhaps with a dog's mood. Scraps may be hidden under furniture, between couch pillows or in your tennis shoe. No one wants to find bits of kibble or a doggy bone between the couch pillows or in a shoe, but the mess is probably manageable.

However, a stashed morsel of wet canned food can quickly produce an unpleasant aroma and potentially cause a great deal of damage.

An instinct is ingrained, but you can discourage food hoarding by feeding your dog at regular times.

Watch them carefully. When they seem full and start to turn away from their bowl, pick it up.

Simply remove the opportunity to cart scraps of food off to hide.

Not all dogs hoard food. Some amass stores of toys, your socks or other objects that for some reason catch their interest. They may hide them in a special place, put them in a large pile or line them up as if putting them on display.

These behaviors may upset your tidy house and decor, but are usually not destructive unless the pup digs into furniture or an expensive rug in an attempt to bury their treasures.

Hoarding toys can become a problem if a dog guards them and is aggressive toward other dogs that show interest. You can try to avoid competition by only allowing toys when other dogs are not around.

Is your dog a hoarder? Do they hide food, toys, your socks or other things in their special places? Are they stingy? They just feel the instinctive need instilled in their ancient ancestors to hoard for survival.

Determine how to work with your dog to appease their need to accumulate a stash of goodies and your need to maintain order in the household.

Sue Furman, Ph.D, has published two books and a DVD on canine massage and teaches classes in pet massage, acupressure, first aid and CPR. See her schedule and submit questions at