The Thoughtful Animal

Dog owners have a way – sometimes within DAYS of first becoming dog owners – of becoming EXPERTS on animal behavior. It blows my mind. These are people who observe their animals displaying interesting or curious behaviors and make up things like “dogs like being put in tiny cages, actually, because of when their ancestors were pack animals and lived in caves.”

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Figure 1: Do they look happy to you? I didn’t think so.

That said, a reader sent me an email inquiring about a particular behavior that she has observed in her female poodle. This reader is not one of the above-described self-proclaimed experts. This reader is generally awesome.

She writes:

My dog is pushing around her food, her food dish, or anything in the area. She noses it around every time before she eats, sometimes for a significant period of time. This video is of her pushing the towel under the dish around (which I put there to stop her from pushing the dish entirely across the tile floor and spilling food everyone). Sometimes she noses the food around and doesn’t even bother to eat any. What is this all about?

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Figure 2: “Shug”

One day she decided to set up a spycam so she could catch her dog in the act. She sent me the video and permitted me to upload it for the world to see:

It turns out that this behavior appears fairly common, and inquiries abound online in various forums and whatnot. Enter the self-proclaimed experts. One offers:

Many dogs push their food bowls around; it might be vestigial to the dog’s foraging instinct. Many dogs also pick food out of the bowl and carry it to another location to eat it.

Another suggests:

Depending on the breed of your dog, and dominance level, it’s food looks rather bleak. Meaning that it’s looking for something more alive; this would be the hunter in them call out. Ever wonder why dogs love a good squeakier? It’s because it resembles a dying animal.

Here’s a selection of other gems from the interwebz:

Maybe try switching food brands.

Maybe, just maybe, she doesn’t like the shape of the bowl it may be not the most convenient shape for her to eat out of. Having just a dog brain she doesn’t know it is a permanent shape. But more than likely it is just an inherited behavior left over from before dogs trained humans to be pet owners. Back then the dog (or dawg, or even dogg, spelling having not been domesticated yet) ate things it killed or found already dead. Sometimes the prey might not be quite dead yet and might try to bite back so Dog would need to check and one way to check was just give it a push and see if it moved.

I think they want you to pay some attention to them….They can’t speak so we have to listen to them without hearing words…If I were a dog pushing my bowls around I would be saying..I am bored..I am lonely eating alone every night, no one valadating me…I am tired of this same ole’ crap all the time…

He’s trying to get on your nerves, or he wants attention. Both ways are the same. Your dog and my dog know that once he does something bad, he’ll get your attention and you might scream at him or maybe slap his nose for him to stop, but he/she thinks it’s fun.

I think perhaps they feel they are “hunting” the food and then eat it.

If I was going to make up a hypothesis, I might conjecture that pushing food around with the nose will indicate if the food is beginning to rot, as bugs and other critters that munch on dead flesh tend to be found underneath the food item.

Time for some actual research.

How about first we knock down all those lay explanations:

ResearchBlogging.orgIn wild animals, food selection begins with foraging (or hunting, for carnivores) behavior, and ends with food consumption. Through domestication, however, hunting behavior in dogs seems to have been genetically modified if not entirely eradicated. Some evidence that this is so comes from studies of “village” or feral dogs. These are dogs that generally survive by scavenging, raising the possibility that domesticated dogs have not maintained a fully functional repertoire of hunting behaviors. It should be noted, however, that not much is known about how wolves decide what is palatable (e.g. appearance, odor, texture, flavor), so it is hard to determine if dogs’ preferences in that respect have changed in domestication. So it is unlikely that any food-related behavior you observe in a domesticated dog is “leftover” from their wolf ancestors. Possible, but unlikely.

Then, I asked this reader a few questions: are there other dogs in the house? Yes, a male dog. Does she generally feed the dog the same food every day? Yes.

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Figure 3: The two dogs. Dog owners love the thought that their dogs will be famous and get “discovered.” Unlikely on SB, but who knows. I’ll indulge the fantasy.

I could not find anything in the literature directly addressing this issue. Here are some things we do know about food selection in domesticated dogs, and my best guess as to the explanation of this particular dog’s behavior:

(1) It is certain that odor plays a strong role in food selection, because anosmic dogs (who can’t smell) show significantly reduced discrimination between types of meat that are otherwise highly discriminable.

(2) Dogs combine olfactory information (smell) with social information to select what type of food they want. In this study, dogs preferred eating something that smelled like the breath of another dog who had recently been fed.

I wonder if perhaps Shug (white poodle) smelled something on the other dog’s breath, and was looking for it. This reader insisted that the two dogs are fed the same foods. It is possible that there is some odor produced by the interaction of the other dog’s saliva and the food that Shug was trying to find in her food bowl.

One other bit of interesting information that I stumbled across concerns laterality in dogs. Laterality is an observable measure of functional asymmetry in the brain. The human brain, for example, is strongly left-lateralized for language. This means that much of language processing occurs on the left side of the brain. Human handedness (whether you favor your right or left hand) has to do with laterality as well. Human handedness may be a topic for another day – this day, we shall focus on dog paw-edness. Do dogs favor one paw over the other?

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Figure 4: Negative values indicate right bias, and positive values indicate left bias.

So the answer is yes, and is actually related to their sex. Females tend to prefer the right paw, and males tend to prefer the left paw. What is most interesting to me is that task #3 was a food retrieval task.

I am well aware that I might be reaching here and over-interpreting – but I wonder if perhaps Shug, if she is right-pawed like most other female dogs, is simply trying to move the food away from the wall. Kind of like, if you’re at a restaurant, and you’re right handed, it totally sucks to be the guy at the end of the booth with your right hand against the wall.

So, there you have it. Both may be stretching it a little, but you’ve got two workable hypotheses that are totally testable. Oh, and I promise, we’ll do one for the cat people next week.

Bradshaw JW (2006). The evolutionary basis for the feeding behavior of domestic dogs (Canis familiaris) and cats (Felis catus). The Journal of nutrition, 136 (7 Suppl) PMID: 16772461

Wells, D. (2003). Lateralised behaviour in the domestic dog, Canis familiaris Behavioural Processes, 61 (1-2), 27-35 DOI: 10.1016/S0376-6357(02)00161-4

LUPFERJOHNSON, G., & ROSS, J. (2007). Dogs acquire food preferences from interacting with recently fed conspecifics Behavioural Processes, 74 (1), 104-106 DOI: 10.1016/j.beproc.2006.09.006

Comments

  1. #1 Kat
    April 19, 2010

    My female cat moves her bowls around too. But she seems to be doing it to get the two bowls closer together so she can dip her food into the water. Why she does that, I don’t know, since she doesn’t eat it once she’s put it in the water. And she only does it with the wet food, not the dry.

    Off topic, but my first cat would take dry food in his paw, swirl it around in the water bowl, and THEN pick the “dry food” back out of the bowl and eat it. Weirdest thing I ever saw.

  2. #2 Tsu Dho Nimh
    April 19, 2010

    Maybe dogs are nudging the food to make sure it won’t bite back?

    My cats moved their food dishes around mostly while making burying motions with their paws, not by shoving with their noses.

  3. #3 yud
    April 19, 2010

    I have six dogs. Our female shepherd-mix dog often grabs a mouthful of food from her bowl in the kitchen, walks a couple rooms away, then drops her food and eats it off the floor.

    Four of our dogs are pomeranians, and they get special small-dog food. Our other two dogs get ordinary plain dog food. When we feed them in the morning, we feed the pomeranians in the bedroom and our bigger dogs in the kitchen. In the evenings when they start to get hungry again, the pomeranians always graze from the shepherd-mix’s bowl instead of from their own. Which could be explained by that study that says dogs prefer to eat what they smell on other dogs’ breath.

    Now if only there was an explanation for why one of my cats loves pushing water bowls around the house. We have one in our living room with a non-skid bottom on carpet, and she’ll drag it up to five feet away from its normal spot during the night.

  4. #4 aratina cage
    April 19, 2010

    I’d like to see more examination of the apparently incorrect notion that dogs don’t mind being in a kennel (first paragraph) if you haven’t already covered it.

  5. #5 Darin
    April 19, 2010

    Both your ideas stem from natural/instinctual behaviors, right? What if what we are seeing is the remnants of a poorly shaped behavior, something that has been shaped by application of a neg stimulus?

    Like, let’s roll with the idea that the dog has trouble eating, maybe because of left/right paw-edness, or I’m leaning towards shape of the bowl. As in, shape wise, the dog learned that it’s easier to eat off the floor than try to put her longish muzzle in at certain angle for kibble. SO, has the dog had a history of knocking the dish over? Has the owner than scolded the dog for the behavior? Are we seeing some shaped remnant of the dogs desire to flip the dish, but trying in vain to do it in some novel way that escapes the scoldings of the past?

    I mean, I’m not discounting your hypotheses, it’s just you can get a lot of odd behaviors out of a dog because of owners reinforcing or punishing certain things, you know?

  6. #6 John
    April 19, 2010

    I wonder if for some dogs the pushing isn’t a misdirected attempt to bury or otherwise hide the food. We have one dog, male, (very) mixed breed, who will occasionally try to “bury” larger pieces of food (meaty, edible bone or large chunks of meat) in his bed or under some loose clothing or paper that we’ve left lying around. We think he’s burying it mainly to keep it away from the cats (five in all, one of whom does try to eat from the dog’s bowl regularly), but also maybe to let it ripen a little bit.

  7. #7 Steph
    April 19, 2010

    I’d say the hypotheses aren’t that bad, but mabe you’re stretching a bit too far. From what i can tell she is trying to cover/bury the food, a behaviour i have seen in many dogs over the years. If this would have been for example a bone and if she’s had a blanket, she almost certainly would have kept on doing what she does until the blanket covered the bone, and be pleased after that. I can’t find any info on where that behaviour may come from, but i’ll keep on looking and see if i can find anything of value. None the less it’s something i’ve seen in alot of different individuals, mostly females, and they always seem content once they’ve properly covered the food with something; bowl, blanket, leaves etc.

    As an answer to comment nr 4; there are plenty of research on that, both in dogs, rats, mice and other animals.
    It all comes down to being able to choose where you want to spend your time. For examples, in some tests, mice were given the opportunity to enter a brightly lit, novel space. When the mice were denied access to their usual living quarters they were completely stressed out by being in this area. However once the mice were given the choice to either spend time in their usual habitat or this novel space they moved freely between the two, not showing signs of stress even when being in the novel area.
    The same principle often applies to dogs and kennels. It’s not the kennel itself, alot of dogs love to sleep or rest in them. It’s only when you deprive the dog of the choice to move out of the kennel that the bad things start to happen; the dog gets stressed. You can of course teach a dog to stay in a kennel without becoming stressed, and that might be a god thing if say the dog has to keep still due to an injury some time in it’s life. Other than that or similiar cases however i would never recommend or even think it’s okay keeping a dog closed in a kennel while at work, over night etc. (It’s even illegal to keep a dog closed in one while you’re at work where i live, and for good reason.)

  8. #8 rev.enki
    April 19, 2010

    I’ve had several dogs do that, at different times. I’m not entirely sure what triggers them to start and stop the behavior, but it always seems to come in spurts. In any case, they’ve all done more than just move it. They generally try to move it to a hidden area, like a corner, or behind the refrigerator, and if they can find something to do it with, they actually bury it. It often also coincides with the “standing over the bowl and guarding it” behavior.

    Maybe they aren’t really that hungry, but don’t want anyone else to get their food before they’re ready to eat it. Or maybe they just have a “hide it” instinct which can kick in sometimes whether they’re currently hungry or not.

  9. #9 tesla
    April 19, 2010

    We have a 13 year old male Jack Russell terrier – the only pet in our house and he has been eating the same restricted diet for about 7-8 years.
    Until recently, he was content with eating out of a bowl in the kitchen. Sometimes he would get a mouth full of food and take it into the living room to eat on the carpet.
    But within the past year, he began scratching at the rug underneath his bowl and pulling it onto the carpeted area. So, we moved his bowls and rug to the carpet.
    He kept trying to move the rug further into the middle of the room. So, we moved it again to an open area on the carpet, thinking maybe he didn’t like it being near a large plant.
    We finally removed the rug and just left his food and water bowls sit on the carpet. He seemed fine, until he decided to start barking at the food and water bowls before eating or drinking, still scratching at the floor.
    Now, the only way he will eat is if we poor his food onto the floor.

    I don’t think either of your hypotheses work though since he is the only animal in the house and every place we have put his bowl is open on all sides.

    Sorry to bombard you with my dog’s eating history, but we are at our wit’s end trying to figure out what is happening. Is he senile? Is it the bowl (which has been changed many times)? Is it the floor surface?
    He had some teeth removed in December, but he shows no visible signs of pain when eating. And while he has hidden food/bones before, I don’t think that is what’s happening here; he has never done it with his own food and it only happened a couple of times.

    Maybe I am the senile one!

  10. #10 Deborah
    April 19, 2010

    My dog does fine with her food in the bowl. But any “stolen” food she will take somewhere else to eat. It’s definitely good pack related behaviour that if you aren’t the alpha and you get some food, your chance of keeping it and getting to eat it improve if you take it somewhere else to eat it. So if she steals food from the kitchen, she runs outside to eat it, which makes good sense. However, it’s definitely instinct-driven, and not logic-driven, because if she steals food from the garden (she loves peppers) she will then bring the pepper inside to eat, and wind up eating it right in front of me!!!! And then I take it away from her. So “dog logic” can be very funny.

  11. #11 Bear
    April 19, 2010

    Personally, I think they do it simply because they know it will drive humans nuts trying to find a logical answer. (“Psst Rover! The cat gave me another idea! Before we lay down, be sure to turn around a few times, trample hard and then look reallly satisifed when you drop. They’ll go nuts trying to find out why!”)

  12. #12 Laura
    April 19, 2010

    I don’t think the shape of the bowl has anything to do with it. The only time my dog tried to flip his bowl was when I put a raw food patty in it.

    He will sometimes nudge his marrow bones in the same way Shug nudged her bowl. He’ll nose them until they are covered by a blanket or hidden in the cushions. When we moved, we found a whole boneyard under the couch. He’s not picking them up and hiding them, he’s nudging them to a different location. Makes no sense to me.

  13. #13 maedoc
    April 19, 2010

    my dog started this, i think, as an act of defiance.
    the behavior started immediately after i put her on a long lead during dinner while in a campground.

  14. #14 jspenc
    April 19, 2010

    Could it be related to a “herding” instinct?” I had a collie who pushed anything within sight with his nose – food dish, chairs, pictures on the wall. In his case, it was clear that he was herding. As one of the other comments indicated, he also nudged his bones under the couch.

  15. #15 Penelope
    April 19, 2010

    In response to Yud, I also have a cat that pushes her water bowl around … what IS that about?

  16. #16 Comrade PhysioProf
    April 19, 2010

    My cats moved their food dishes around mostly while making burying motions with their paws, not by shoving with their noses.

    Dunno about dogs, but I have seen many cats do this, and it is clearly burying behavior. PhysioCat will even cover up his food bowl with the little throw rug in the room.

  17. #17 Hillary
    April 19, 2010

    My dog was a very picky eater as a young puppy and eventually would ONLY eat food off the floor. There would be a handful on the floor and a handful in the bowl right next to the floor pile and she would only eat what was on the floor. She also loves to find scraps, garbage, leafs and eat them, so I think she just started to associate her dog food on the floor with good food that I accidentally dropped on floor. However, I have recently trained her to only eat in the bowl, putting the food in the bowl and no where else, if she wants to eat, she has to eat this way. This leads me to believe that Shug (like other readers said) probably wants to dump the food, but B/C her lovely owner doesnt like that and disciplines shug for doing, this nosing is a last attempt….
    I am in total agreement with the dog liking things other dogs have had in their mouths. My dog will only want a hard bone until after my housemates dog has already started chewing it a bit… new bones are no good to her.

  18. #18 Helen
    April 19, 2010

    My dogs don’t do that but if they get a special “treat” (leftover bread, off-cuts of meat etc.) then they will move it to the side and save it for last.

  19. #19 Mishal
    April 19, 2010

    I don’t know what to tell you about nudging food bowls around, I’m curious if it’s a trait from puppyhood or something spontaneously developed as an adult. Case in point, I only have one dog at the moment, a Keeshond mix, for reference her name is Star. However, she did have 2 littermates that she grew up with, out doors, until about the age of 8-9 months (when the other two were stolen and Star got to live in the house with her navigationally impaired mother).

    Because I was still going to school every morning, I usually only had time to fill up a large single container for their breakfast. Before you ask, no there was no fighting over food, I trained that out of them early. One weekend, I had the time to hang around and watch them eat, and I noticed that all three (two females, Star & Misty; and one male, Sunny) would each grab a mouthful of food, turn about 45-degrees away from the bowl and each other, drop the mouthful on the ground and then eat the kibbles individually.

    I found out that that was originally an adaptation to get around the fire ants that had found their food, a mouthful, that was quickly grabbed and suddenly dropped, disturbed any sitting ants, which then scattered off of the food and the kibble was safe to eat. Poison controlled the ants, but the behavior remained, even in Star, after she was moved into the house.

    Now, indoors the behavior changed a little, instead of a step off to the side, Star would pick out a mouthful of kibble, carry it ten feet to the living room carpet, drop it there and then stand and eat it. However, she only did this when there were people sitting on the couch behind the rug, if there was no one on the couch or in the living room, food would be dropped to the side of the bowl and eaten there (I watched her one quiet day from the loft to see if there was a difference) or she would sit and nibble out of the bowl directly.

    I suspect, that it was really a matter of personal comfort at that point. But otherwise, it looks like it was done out of sociability, a few times she’s stopped with a mouthful of food if someone walks into the living room, if they continue through she’ll spit the food out on the floor and eat it there, but if they take a left turn and go sit on the couch she carries the food to eat on the rug. Any thoughts?

  20. #20 Mishal
    April 19, 2010

    By the way, it took me a while to find it, but the movements the dog was using to “bury” it’s food look a lot like it was trying to cache it. See the link in Name.

  21. #21 SMoore
    April 19, 2010

    My dog was a stray and he definitely does not like eating out of a bowl. He’d rather it be on the floor and anytime he grabs food, he runs to a different spot to eat it. I wonder how long this behavior has been going on in Shug? Who is super cute by the way!

  22. #22 Ari
    April 20, 2010

    I saw all those cat comments and thought I’d chime in on them, even though this post is about a dog behavior. I didn’t realize that cats moved their bowls around normally. I have a cat water dispenser for my two cats that looks kind of like a water bowl with a sparklets water jug on top. The cats kept knocking it over, so I taped it to a box to keep it from falling over. I thought perhaps that they were accidentally knocking it over when they stood on top of it or something, but now that I hear about them moving it, I wonder if that is the case. I recently gave them a fountain and the have tried moving it a few times, too.

  23. #23 David L
    April 20, 2010

    I’m Shug’s other owner… a couple relevant points.

    First, she did this before we got a second dog. In fact, if anything, the behavior is somewhat less pronounced now. Though she could also be looking for something she smelled on our breath. What dog doesn’t want human food?

    Secondly, we don’t discipline her for pushing her food around. We are greatly entertained and intrigued by it. So it’s not like she’s curtailing her “preferred” behavior out of fear of punishment. This is just what she wants to do.

    Sometimes she will push food out of the bowl, but I think it’s just incidental, because she doesn’t show a preference for the floor food over the bowl food, and she will just keep on pushing the bowl food around. Once she’s done with her little routine she’s happy to eat out of the bowl.

    Additionally, she always does this BEFORE she eats. I’ve read accounts of dogs that do this with the food remaining after they eat, or when they aren’t hungry, and it seems plausible that in those cases it’s some kind of burying instinct. But Shug does this for a minute or two, then commences eating.

    She also doesn’t do it all the time, and she does it with varying degrees of intensity. And as far as I can tell there’s no pattern to when she does and doesn’t do it.

    To me the most compelling explanation remains that there is some ass-backward instint to check for carrion beetles or something and this is the 15,000-years-removed-poodle-mix version of it.

  24. #24 Jason G. Goldman
    April 20, 2010

    It’s also possible she’s just playing. When I used to have to leave my dog alone during the day, he’d never eat the food I left out for him; instead he’d spill it out and arrange it into a row of neat organized piles. It’s not a small thing to create order out of disorder – but that aside – I think he was just amusing himself. Maybe Shug is doing the same.

  25. #25 H. Houlahan
    April 20, 2010

    The nosing motions are burying motions. The dog is “attempting” to bury her food. If the owner put her food outside near a nicely mulched garden bed, the dog might actually bury her food. She’d first dig a hole, then drop the food in, then cover it with the exact nosing motion you see in the video. Of course she would have no idea why she was doing it, nor does she have any idea why she’s making the burying motions in the house. It’s a triggered complete “program,” much like nest-making behavior. (When a dog is successful in indulging either pre-programmed motor sequence, she can look immensely satisfied and befuddled at her own actions at the same time.)

    It is possible that the behavior is related to the dog not being hungry when in the presence of her full food bowl, but still wanting to “save” the food for later. If her rations were reduced, the behavior might stop. Might not. It is much more common among dogs in multi-dog households, as is actually burying especially fine treats. (My pack of pirates likes to indulge in advanced farce when I distribute a heap of cow hocks or other amazing and not entirely edible booty. They will bury their prizes around the farm while continually checking that no one is looking, second-guess themselves, dig up, rebury, obsess and run back outside to guard — and heaven help any oblivious chicken or turkey who wanders near the X on the map. This can go on for days. Keeps them out of the bars.)

  26. #26 Mary Mulroy
    April 21, 2010

    Our dog is an only dog and she has always nosed her food bowl around, no matter what she is being fed or where she is when she is being fed. Honestly don’t go for any of the explanations here. Can comment though that I have noticed that the more she seems to like the food the more she pushes it around before she eats it! We just laugh and say she is saying her Prayers or blessing before she eats!

  27. #27 spit
    April 23, 2010

    It may also just help Shug feel safer about eating. My dog — an only dog, for the record — is incredibly insecure about food and treats, and if we give her something really good, she’ll take it somewhere, “bury” it, and then eat it, unless we are obviously watching, in which case she’ll simply whine and eye us with suspicion until we stop looking at her. I can’t “prove” it, of course, but it seems pretty clear that she wants to make absolutely sure that nobody knows where her tasty, tasty chewy bone has gone, and this seems to trigger the burying process, even though she immediately unburies it and eats it. From her point of view, I strongly suspect that it just alleviates her stress to hide it, at which point she’s comfortable enough to eat.

    Many dogs do this sort of thing, and in my experience, they don’t have to be in multi-dog households or necessarily have an obvious reason to worry about it. To them, you’re not necessarily totally safe; they love you, but they still seem to think you might eat their food. Many dog bites occur when owners try to fiddle with the bowl while the dog is eating. Mine is extremely well trained about her food — it’s been a special focus of mine, since she’s so food insecure — but she was a pound dog and quite possibly spent her first 6 months underfed, neglected, or fiercely competing with other dogs. No way to know.

    Dunno if Shug has any food insecurities, but something more along the lines of alleviating stress or simple enjoyment of the burying behavior (play, essentially) sounds infinitely more likely than a handedness issue in an animal that doesn’t need clearance on either side to put its face in a bowl.

  28. #28 balu
    April 29, 2010

    My dog sometimes shows the same behavior Shug is showing. I think it has something to do with her state of hunger. One could easily test that. If a dog shows this behavior regularly you could for instance give a smaller portion to increase the state of hunger or maybe leave out the evening portion and see if they immediately eat without showing this behavior in the morning (in case you feed twice per day). Of course there are some confounding variables (e.g. the behavior could just be so integrated in the behavioral repertoir that even an increased state of hunger would not change anything). But give it a try! In case of my dog it works.

    Another possibility which could account for my dog is that she would first need to “empty herself” outside and afterwards feels comfortable to eat. So first satisfying the more urgent needs! It puts hunger in the background.

    And generally I think changes during domestication regarding hunting behavior does not exclude the possibility that dogs show any food-related behavior of wolves. And wolves do show caching behavior. Why not being a “leftover” in dogs?

  29. #29 Namnezia
    May 4, 2010

    It almost looks like the little mat is in her way? Did you try moving the mat and putting the bowl on the floor directly?

    Also, some dogs (like humans) express some some degree of obsessive-compulsive behaviors or habits/rituals, probably due to some genetic factor or another, and in this case it is being manifested as bowl-pushing.

  30. #30 rijkswaanvijand
    May 8, 2010

    “if you’re at a restaurant, and you’re right handed”
    Dogs don’t eat with their hands or paws dude!

    “hunting behavior in dogs seems to have been genetically modified if not entirely eradicated”
    That’s just dumb!
    You did some genetic research on this? Probably it’s only socially eradicated.. Most dogs I ever met(a lot!)will initiate hunting behaviour on the right cues; like a nice little bunny making a run for it. The basics for hunting are still there; actual kill and dine should probably be learned though.. And as we don’t teach are dogs the kill and dine, they generally don’t show these behaviours.

  31. #31 rijkswaanvijand
    May 8, 2010

    Might she just be attempting a cover up?
    They like to hide their goodies you know

  32. #32 rijkswaanvijand
    May 8, 2010

    @29
    Genes don’t encode behaviour, they encode proteins and protein-expression

  33. #33 Kitty
    August 20, 2010

    I have a dog that takes her food out of the bowl and then carries it to another part of the room. She doesn’t eat it though she just leaves it there. Or puts it in the clothes that are laying on the ground. She also tends to put clothes into her food bowl or water bowl, which makes a huge mess… any comments as to why or how to stop it?

  34. #34 Megan
    August 20, 2010

    I have observed canines, including captive bred and raised wolves, exhibiting this behavior as a “caching” response. Not wanting to be one of your “self-proclaimed expert commenters,” I won’t claim that I KNOW what this dog is doing. I will simply offer this is another hypothesis, based on personal observation.

    When a wild canine is not hungry, they will cache or bury the food and come back to it later. I have seen this behavior become more prevalent when another canine is present, as they are naturally possessive animals. Frequently after caching the food, the canine will urinate over the freshly buried food item. Sometimes they will even guard the location of the buried item from the other canine.

    I have watched wolves not only do this with a free fed item, like a bone in the habitat, but also when being hand fed. As the wolf becomes satiated over the course of several days, eventually, when handed a small sized meatball, they will drop it, guard it from the other wolf, and then cover over it with dirt using their nose. So this behavior has occurred both with a large, long lasting food item that cannot possibly be eaten in one sitting, as well as a small, fresh hand-fed item that could easily be swallowed whole.

    Lastly, I’ve watched my own dog attempt to bury not his food, but his vomit. He has a gastrointestinal condition, and freqeuntly vomits before his food is fully digested. He will then hover over the vomitted food and begin shoving his nose all around it. If there is a loose article of clothing or a rug present, he will attempt to push it over the vomit. If we are outside, he will use his nose to bury the vomit in dirt.

    I am a professional wolf trainer for company with a large zoological collection, and interact with both wild and domestic canines daily. I’ve observed their behavior for over 5 years. I also have a degree in Animal & Veterinary Science. Given that backround and what I have witnessed, my suspicion is that this is a caching behavior, which also explains the instances where the dog does not proceed to eat the food after moving it or covering it.

    She could try feeding the dog in a puzzle feeder, like a Kong or a treat ball. This would dispense the treats slowly, and would allow the dog to exhibit this natural “nosing” behavior without dumping all the food at once and making a mess. It also will encapsulate the food, so if the dog is guarding the food from the other dog, it might be less inclined to feel the need to “hide” the food, as it is already “hidden.”

    If she does not want the dog to rehearse the “nosing” behavior, and wants it extinguished entirely, I would offer less food at a time, and offer it in an area where the dog is isolated from the other dog. If he does not eat the offered food within a reasonable window of time, maybe 10 minutes, take up the food. The dog will learn to eat faster and stop messing around with the bowl if it doesn’t want it’s opportunity to eat to disappear. Don’t worry, you won’t starve the dog. He will eat when he’s hungry. If you make the rules clear (you get 10 minutes and no more) he will follow them. It might just take a while.

    As the unwanted pushing behavior becomes less prevalent and he will eat small amounts in 10 minutes, she can start adding a little more each time. Then he will learn that no matter how full the bowl is, he gets 10 minutes. Once he’s solid on that, I’d start to feed him with the other dog near and see if he starts burying and pushing again. Just out of curiousity….

  35. #35 abadidea
    August 21, 2010

    My dog (also a Keeshond mix!) spent the first six months of his life with 10+ other (grown) dogs in an ordinary house with a small yard. (City found out. Lady suddenly had a lot of dogs to give away.) To this day, ten years later, his habit is to take anything you give him, from food to toys, into a different room before he does anything with it, and to act protective towards other pets smaller than himself, both dogs and cats. He also noses his food around a lot and often succeeds in creating a kibbles tidal wave that slides out of the bowl. I’m pretty sure it’s largely an artifact of having been bullied around during his formative months. He also reacts to strange men and strange women totally differerently. He reacts to women like potential new friends and to men like probable new enemies. He took a shining to my very petite, long-haired, beautiful, and ultimately male friend… who did not appreciate being told my dog had mistaken him for a girl!

    Incidentally, my horse does the flip-over-grain-bowl thing. And every time, he doesn’t realize until it’s too late that while it’s easy to use a hoof to flip a grain bowl upside down, it’s hard to get that turned-over bowl off the little grain mountain freshly deposited on the dirt. We don’t know much about his colthood but since we’ve had him he’s been sharing a pasture with other geldings (sterile males). We DO know however that his immediately previous owners severely underfed him for over a year. Probably as a direct result, he will literally eat himself sick if given the chance. If food is available, he will stuff his face until his digestive system rebels. So, like other posters have suggested, we can’t just leave him a round bale and assume he’s good for a few days; we have to give him small portions at frequent intervals. The other horses in his field don’t have this problem.

  36. #36 Max
    October 11, 2010

    My dog is a mix, boxer, chow, rot. It drives us crazy the way he eats sometimes. The strange thing is, he doesn’t always do it. He stands in front of him bowl and circles the rim one way then the other and then half way on each side and pokes his head in the bowl cicles the inside of the bowl and may or may not take any food with all the attempts. When he finally does get some food it goes on the floor and then he will push it around starting in the kitchen and ending up in the living room, dining room, hallway or where ever. Until reading these other stories we thought there was something wrong like an illness. It is a relief to know that our dog is not as bad as some but worse than others. Glad we found this site.

  37. #37 Sara
    December 2, 2010

    My 2 yr old shepherd husky mix is refusing to eat fresh marrow bones which she used to eat immediately. She wants to save/cashe them so badly that when kept on the deck with a bone and no dirt around she will scrap her nose raw trying to “bury” it in the deck cushions. Failing that she’ll leave it out but ignore it in an obvious way as if it was buried. At the same time she will bring me kong toys to fill with treats (with a fresh marrow bone waiting to be chewed on). When I sat with her to encourage her chewing the bone instead of throwing the kong in my lap for refilling, she acted almost scared of the bone (she has no food guarding issues with humans, but she does guard with other dogs). How can I get her back to chewing fresh bones? She will chew on the old ones that have been previously cleaned up but she has taken to avoiding the new ones like the plague. I’d rather have her spend her time and energy on those than working for the dried chicken treats I put in kongs. It’s clear she’s hungry enough to work for those, but not interested enough to go for the meat and marrow on a new bone. I hate to let her bury them all since they then present a guarding issue when other dogs visit and they are pretty nasty when they do resurface!

  38. #38 doreen
    December 10, 2010

    Our 7 year old boxer pushes her food dish around as well. However, it seems to be when she feels a bit off- as having a queezy tummy. Loud stomach/int. gurgling could mean an upset.—- And cats prefer water from running sources to insure it’s good and clean, which is why ours liked to try a sink or bathtub faucet and move or test her water dish.

  39. #39 candice
    January 3, 2011

    or maybe the dog is just trying to burry the food and keep the other dog in the house from eating it before she is actualy hungry. my dog does the same thing. she covers her chew bones and bowls. and then uncovers them when she wants something out of them.

  40. #40 shannon
    January 26, 2011

    my german shepherd will get a mouth full of food and drag it across the livingroom and diningroom. she doesnt even eat it because after she drags it everywhere she will often go back to her bowl ant eat.but we get stuck picking up the mess. why does she do this and how do we get her to stop? she doesnt get people food and she has to eat iams dog food because the vet said her digestive system is basically “different” from other dogs. please help!

  41. #41 Diane
    February 17, 2011

    I believe the nose pushing of dish indicates a medical problem with the pet. I suspect neurological, mayabe a vision issue. I don’t know if I’ll ever know. Chocolate Lab 12 years old. Well trained, very obedient, ex bird hunter(because of arthritis). Started this about 2 years ago. Only dog.(I’ve had numerous dogs-never saw this before). Started seizures about 5 years ago. Maybe a total of 10 seizures. Cause unknown-hasn’t had any for approx 2 years now. I am disturbed when he does this-intuition tells me something is wrong. Vet has no answers. Any research updates would be appreciated.

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