Nosy Border Collies


My Border Collie has a really weird habit of hitting his food dish with his nose trying to knock it over. When he has achieved this, his food is scattered all over the floor then he proceeds to scrape his nose along the floor gathering all of the food into a little pile. We have purchased a heavier ceramic dish that we didn't think he could tip over, but he still pushes it around against the walls until he can get some food to spill out. It makes quite a racket. Can you explain why he does this?


The following explanation for the above described behavior comes from Desmond Morris, in his book "Dogwatching":

"The burying action [of wolves] consists of digging a hole with the front feet while still clasping the meat in the jaws. When the cavity is big enough, the wolf simply opens his jaws and lets the meat drop into it. It then uses its snout to push earth back on top of the cache. Unlike a cat, it never employs its front feet to fill in a hole that it has dug. Once the hole is covered over, the animal makes a few pressing-down movements with its snout and then wanders off...."

"Some pet dogs, overfed with soft foods, can be seen performing a strange remnant of food-burying. They know the dish of surplus food is good food, but they are not hungry, so they attempt to bury the whole dish in a corner of a room. The burying actions are only fragmentary in such instances. Usually the animal does no more than make 'covering-up' movements with its nose. They often push the dish along the floor, but have no other effect and the dog soon gives up. What such an animal is telling its owner is that it has been given too much food. Rather than leave it to imaginary scavengers, the animal goes through the motions of saving food for a later occasion."

I, personally, agree with his analysis. I have one dog that does this and I have seen a couple of other Border Collies that mimicked this behavior. All are/were free-fed dogs. If you pay particular attention to the movement of the nose, it is almost always from the side and consists of a small "lifting-up" motion, consistent with trying to move earth on top of the food. It's also probably why your dogs "insist" on spilling something before they will quit - they need to see something spilling over the top. Dogs burying bones in the backyard display the same form and motion. I have also observed canids and wolves in the wild burying their food caches and the motions are identical to the food dish phenomenom.

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Page last updated April 1, 1997. All material Copyright 2004 Border Collie Rescue, Inc. and Dr. Nicholas B. Carter
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