SUMMARY: What wakes up the dogs' salivary glands?
Team Small Dog posted an excellent recipe for dog training treats, with explanatory photos, which you must read before you read this. Because here's my response.
This was an excellent recipe for hot dog rewards and one that I have used on many occasions when chopped-up-tiny Rollover (or the healthy choice alternative, which is what I usually use these days) wasn't quite special enough.
Although World Class Trainers have told me that hot dogs aren't special enough; they should be getting a whole roast chicken, probably with truffle sauce.
I don't get it. If my hypothetical dog (hypothetically named Tika) thinks that stale left-over puppy kibble is most delectable and so salivates heavily about it, why do I need a whole roast chicken? And do dogs really know the difference between orts (that's a useful everyday word I learned from crossword puzzles) of chicken and minutiae of hot dogs? I don't think so. But certain hypothetical big name trainers said that she felt sorry for my dogs if I thought that hot dogs were a special treat for them. Who am I to argue with success? I don't argue, I just usually use the stale leftover puppy kibble for everyday rewards.
And I use chopped-up Rollover (which I still call "rollover" even though I haven't used that brand in years) as a secondary level of escalation, and chopped-up hot dogs for a real treat. And, in-between, when I'm in a hurry and want something moderately stinky, not greasy (which kibble is, actually), very small (so dogs don't fill up on candy between meals), I use Zukes Mini Naturals, which have the added conveniences of being already chopped up into tiny pieces and of coming in sturdy resealable bags that can withstand almost anything.
But I'm still not certain how much difference it makes--at least, with any of my dogs, "high value" treats tend to be either "food" or "toy" but without a lot of levels of distinction within those categories. You know when vendors at dog shows offer your dog a piece of freeze-dried Alaskan Wild-caught Salmon or Free-Range Montana Organic Smoked Buffalo and say, "my dogs really love this stuff, and look, yours does, too!", I frankly see no difference in the quality of the tendril of saliva coming from Tika's lips or the level of frenzy with which she takes the treat and most of the fingers holding it.
I read somewhere recently that dogs don't taste food in the same way that we do and don't make that much distinction among flavors. I believe it, for the most part. Tika can quickly identify whether something is either "food" (snatch it out of midair and swallow in one gesture), "probably food" (including fingers that might be holding "food" but you can't tell until you've actually closed your teeth around them), or "not food" (say, gravel, which you can spit out quickly, or bananas, which are obviously not intended for consumption by canids of any level of intelligence).
Or there's Boost, who has to (a) evaluate via olfactory methodology whether it's actual food before she'll even open her mouth, and (b) decide whether perhaps there's something going on that might involve running that would be more worthwhile than taking the time to eat. In which case, she might take any kind of food reluctantly after a call to her attorney, but she'd rather not. Hot dogs might make a difference, but it's hard to tell what level of duress she feels that she's under.
: With a name like Natural Balance, you know that it's healthy, right? Or Science Diet? Or Natural Choice? I'm sure that it's all honesty in naming, so of course manufacturers would call their brand Unidentifiable Ruminant ByProducts if it were really so. Right? Am I right?
(I also need to point out that, right now, the quoted string "unidentifiable ruminant byproducts", when put into google, comes back with exactly 0 results. Let's see whether we can effect a sea change in Google by (a) doing a search right now on the quoted string (quotes are important) "unidentifiable ruminant byproducts" and then by adding it to your web page. Aren't community projects fun? And educational?)
: Except Jake experiencing a premonition that he was going to have massive brain seizures that night and not survive beyond the weekend and so needed to consume all reserve bags of Zukes (and everything else) stored in the van. After he was done, the bags were no longer resealable. But I digress.
: Except Jake, who once ripped open my ex's gym back to get at a banana and, on another occasion, nearly tore his crate open to retrieve one that I had in my gear bag sitting next to the crate. There was a dog whose definition of "food" was considerably broader than Tika's. I had to remove gravel from his mouth on many occasions as he was trying to figure out how to chew it up to swallow it. In his last couple of years, I had to put screening on all of my potted plants because he was starting to eat the soil out from around the roots, and Boost was starting to think that this was a normal thing for puppies to learn from their wise and experienced elders. (See photo of typical agility home's potted plant with screen, dragon head, and Ethernet cable. )