Have you ever found a dog biscuit in your pooch's bed and wondered how it got there? No, it's not the dog fairy at work. Your dog is just practicing the canine instinct of food hoarding. To understand this peculiar behavior, it helps to look back to your dog's wild ancestors.
In the world of early canines, food was often hard to come by. If a dog was lucky enough to find something to eat, he had to compete with other dogs in his pack—not to mention other animals—to keep his spoils. So dogs would bury bones and carcasses near their den. This hoarding was also helpful if the hunting was exceptionally good and there was more than enough food to devour at one time. If food became scarce again, the dogs would just dig up their old kill and enjoy a meal.
Dogs aren't the only creatures that practice hoarding. Leopards drag their kill high up in the trees so they can eat without fear of intruders. Beavers collect piles of vegetation around their lodges in anticipation of a cold winter. And squirrels store their nuts and acorns in a tree hollow or bury them in the ground.
Of course, your family dog doesn't need to hunt or hoard his food in order to survive. His bowl will always be filled and refilled. But you may still see the instinct of hiding kibble and bones resurface from time to time. One thing has changed, however. Because today's dog doesn't experience the lean times that his canine ancestors did, chances are his hidden treasures may stay hidden.
Playing and having fun helps to eliminate stress from your life—and the same holds true for your dog. In fact, incorporating various forms of play into your dog's daily routine is vital to helping him develop a healthy, loving personality.
The benefits of play
Here are some of the ways that playing and having fun is important:
Physical health. Active play helps keep your dog's heart healthy, keeps the joints lubricated, and improves his overall balance and coordination.
Mental health. Games with rules force your dog to use his brain, not just his body. This can help keep his mind sharp and focused.
Social skills. When your dog plays with other dogs and other people, it helps improve his overall social skills. He learns basic rules and how to play by them.
Bonding. Even if it's only for a few minutes a day, playing with your dog helps strengthen the bond between you.
Your health. What better way to alleviate the stress of a busy workday and get a bit of exercise than to come home and play with your dog? It's a win-win for both of you.
How to play with your dog
There are right ways—and wrong ways—to play. The most important thing to remember is that you're the boss. You decide what games should be played and you set the rules. This helps establish your credibility as the pack leader. It also helps keep your dog from getting overly excited and out of control while you play. If your dog does become difficult to manage, simply put a stop to the game until he calms down again.
When you're teaching your dog a new game, reward him when he does well. Remember, rewards don't have to be just treats. You can also reward him with his favorite toys or lots of hugs and praise.
When you start out teaching your dog a new game, keep it simple and go through the game slowly, until your dog fully grasps the rules. Also, wait until he fully understands one game before you teach him a new one, otherwise it will end up confusing him.
Avoid games like keep away, wrestling, or tug-of-war. Those games encourage biting or dominant, aggressive behavior.
Stay in control of the game at all times. Show your dog that you're the pack leader, not just another member of the pack. Retrieval games are good at teaching control.
Don't include your body or clothing as part of any game.
Incorporate the SIT or DOWN and STAY commands in every game.
You decide when it's time to end the game, not your dog. The best time to stop the game is when your dog is still eager to play.
If, for some reason, your dog doesn't seem to understand the game at some point, go back to the beginning, or simply leave it and try again a few days later. Don't get angry if you're dog isn't "getting it" right away. Remember it's supposed to be a fun experience for both of you!