Why would a dog make an effort to bury another dead dog?

A photographer captures strange behavior in his dog. Is this unusual? What was the dog’s intent?

Invercargill Dog Buries Dead Dog

Field, who was at Oreti Beach, near Invercargill, was walking his dog June when they came across dead hares and a dead dog.

June, ignored the hares, but spent the next 10 minutes using her nose, to flick sand up to bury the dead dog.

According to conventional explanations, dogs bury things, like food or toys, in order to protect and conceal it to access it later. Was that the case here? Would this carcass be considered prey? Or was there something else going on? We can’t get into the mind of a dog, it could have been just instinct telling her this object should be covered.

I don’t have permission to publish these photos and respect the rights of this photographer, so click on the link above to see them. It is interesting.

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  4 comments for “Why would a dog make an effort to bury another dead dog?

  1. November 12, 2012 at 12:02 AM

    Dogs also sometimes bury things to hide it’s scent. I’d be interested in knowing if this behavior has ever been observed in wild canines because it could be a holdover from when you didn’t want to draw the attention of other predators.

  2. November 12, 2012 at 12:45 PM

    I suspect this is just the canine food-burying instinct operating blindly.

    Dogs carry a load of instincts inherited from their canid ancestors. Many instinctual behaviors are not in any way useful in their association with humans. Other such instincts have been hijacked by us humans for our own economic or entertainment purposes. Various breeds tend to have retained certain wolfish instincts and not others.

    Sheepdogs, for instance, have strongly retained the instincts which might be called Stalk, Intimidate by Staring, and Chase. Their Kill, Dismember, and Devour instincts are weaker. Young wolves would learn (by watching more experienced wolves) to use Stalk and Intimidate by Staring to set prey up for ambush by other pack members. Sheepdogs, though, are trained to use those first two instincts to group the sheep together and then to move them wherever the shepherd indicates, and are strongly discouraged from following this up with the deadly instincts. The instincts themselves are very simple and generalized, They need a learned context in order to be useful to dog or to wolf.

    The instincts themselves, without training or learning from other canids, are simplified, almost mindless and probably compulsive behaviors. In nature, these instincts form the foundation for learning more complex survival skills.

    I think that in the case cited in the OP, the dog’s meat-burying instinct may have been triggered out independent of any intention of later eating the deceased dog’s carcass, or of funerary practices learned from humans.

    For me, the go-to scientific expert on dog behavior is Dr. Ray Coppinger. He’s written some wonderful books on dogs. (He’s the guy who came up with the theory that the original dogs had domesticated themselves. They were, Coppinger believes, descended from wolves that hung around the garbage middens of early humans. The wolves evolved shorter and shorter “flight distance” as a survival trait, eventually becoming tame dogs.)

    Here’s Coppinger’s Web site:

    http://www.puppyworks.com/speaker/coppinger.html

  3. Adam Sumner
    November 19, 2012 at 4:05 AM

    I know this dog, June, (my dog is its mother) and I can tell you it is one very smart dog. Interestingly it has quite a distinct nature to its mother: for example June will chase and kill possums whereas her mother will not go anywhere near them. Also, June is a lot more reactive to other dogs and certainly doesn’t shy away from an unknown dog. I truly believe this is an act of reverence. The dead dog was not within June’s territory so the idea that she was covering up the bad smell doesn’t really fit and for the same reason I don’t think she was covering it up to store for a later snack (because she would have known she wouldn’t be able to come back anytime she wanted to have a chew.
    Maybe this is just a case of one dog recognizing another dog, and that it was deceased, and consequently showing it respect by laying it to rest in the only way it knew how. I would certainly like to know what the experts think.

  4. Doug Field
    November 19, 2012 at 5:29 AM

    I am the photographer and owner of June. If the dog was just burying food, then why didn’t she bury the dead hares nearby also?

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