Ever wonder why dogs bury bones in the backyard? The reason is simple: to store and protect the bone or food item from scavengers. Not many scavengers in your neighborhood? Well, most dogs will continue to exhibit this behavior because it is an instinct that has been transferred from over 12,000 years of breeding the current domestic dog away from gray wolves.
In the wild, wolves have many competitors for their food, especially ravens and other avian scavengers. In an attempt to protect food that cannot be consumed immediately, wolves have adopted a behavior known as caching. To cache is to bury food in a shallow depression thus preventing avian scavengers from detecting the item. Wolves then return and unearth the item later for a snack between kills.
The Sawtooth or Owyhee Pack caches food constantly, nearly every feeding, and the amounts per cache vary from a small mouthful up to 15 pounds or so. The process of caching is simple. A wolf tears a small fragment from a carcass and trots off to a secluded area, usually with moderate to dense tree cover, digs a depression suitable for the item, then places the item in the hole and uses their nose to cover the meat with the freshly dug dirt. The wolf then tamps down the food grave with their nose. It is easy to see when individuals have been caching as they have the telltale "brown nose" from tamping down the cache site. So the next time your dog has dirt over their nose pad you now know why.
A word of caution regarding cache sites -- all wolves aggressively defend their cache sites against all others. This poses the single greatest danger to handlers of any captive pack, and thus all dog owners should exercise caution when investigating any potential cache site. Amani, even though alone, exhibited the most frequent cache behaviors among the Sawtooth Pack, probably due to the ample amount of food he received. He subsequently must protect the food from the ever-present ravens. Ultimately, the behavior can be summed up as "bury it or lose it."
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