The Old Trainer: Wolf DNA tells dogs to save treats

July 25, 2013 

Dear Old Trainer: Ralph is a 2-year-old Shih Tzu. I give him a bone when I get home from work, but he never eats it. He walks around with it in his mouth for a while then hides it. Most of the time he drops it in the corner and acts like he is covering it with dirt using his nose, even though there is no dirt and it is left in plain sight. Sometimes he retrieves it and hides it in plain sight again. What is going on? Is this common behavior?

— Kelly, Merced

Answer: Ralph may not look like a wolf, but he is descended from wolves and is just doing what his wolf DNA tells him to do.

Wolves were great hunters and frequently killed animals so big the pack could not eat it all in one meal.

They didn't get to the top of the predator world by allowing other animals to share their leftovers, plus they knew they had to plan for times when they could find no prey.

Wolves, like modern dogs, are great diggers, so came up with the idea of storing bones and other tidbits by burying them. It seems simple to us today, but was a giant evolutionary leap for the wolf pack. It enabled them to dominate the food chain until man arrived.

Dogs, even little guys like Ralph, retain far more of their wolf ancestry than people realize. Something deep in his brain tells him he may need that bone one day. It satisfies a primal urge to put something away for a rainy day.

It is common and many dogs do it. Three of mine do it, but they are as haphazard as Ralph in hiding them. Push a leaf over it and it's buried as far as they are concerned.

The interesting part is that none of the other dogs ever disturb a bone when the others bury it, even though it is in plain sight. They think like a wolf too, and realize it has been buried for the good of the pack.

Dear Old Trainer: You mentioned several times you turn on the TV for your dogs when you leave them alone. Have you heard anything about a channel specifically for dogs from Animal Planet channel?

— Kirby, Shamrock, Texas

A: Yes, DOGTV is on the way, Kirby, but from DirectTV, not Animal Planet. It is available August 1 at a cost of $4.99 per month. The picture does not look the same as the one humans watch. According to the suits at DOGTV, it is scientifically calibrated to appeal specifically to dogs.

For instance, they claim that dogs are red and green color blind so they adjusted the picture to increase red and green colors.

Other modifications to the picture make it slightly blurry to the human eye, but perfect for dogs. It has special music and other sounds that appeal to the canine ear. It was tested in San Diego and the DOGTV folks claim that dogs loved it.

My pack has a low opinion of people TV, so we'll give DOGTV a try and let you know how it works.

Jack Haskins writes as The Old Trainer. A trainer for more than 30 years, he has rescued, trained, and placed more than 2,000 dogs. Send questions to

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