a Taj MuttHall Dog Diary: Doggie Junk Food

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Doggie Junk Food

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[1], 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[2].

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[3]).

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.


[1]: 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?)

[2]: 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.

[3]: 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. )


  1. I laughed out loud several times while reading this post and now my co-workers are wondering what's going on in here :-)
    I think that dogs are just like people in that some people eat to live and others live to eat. Iow, some dogs really care what you offer them ot eat and others you just can't get your fingers out of the way in time.
    And then there are dogs like my BC, Jaime. He never used to care much about food until he got to be about 5. Now he'll even eat carrots if I'm handing them out at home--he wouldn't eat them at agility class, for example. But now that I've expiramented with various delicious goodies, he's much more likely to be interested in food (even at agility trials) than he was before.

  2. I don't see how an instructor, World Class or not, can decide what kind of treats a dog should like best. My dogs like hot dogs way better than chicken, probably because they're stinkier and they hardly ever get them. All my dogs have certain food/treats that they like better than others. I think maybe smell and texture matter more than taste. All my dogs prefer really stinky and moist, soft treats to hard & dry. Then there's Strummer who's favorite thing to eat is plastic bags.

  3. I have been told by a couple of good trainers, at least, that you can teach a dog to enjoy treat rewards the same way that you can teach them to enjoy play rewards. I haven't worked at it much with Boost. But I don't think I've tried carrots, or plastic bags, either.


  4. Ha!

    Thanks for the fun today...

    From an experienced dog like Johann, (Ha!), food is food, he'll work for it, all dogs will work for it and don't let anyone tell you otherwise. :)

    Kibble is Johann's preferred practice reward, but it's salmon zukes for trials (or anything salmon related for that matter). There's just something about the smell that lingers on my fingers that makes him go crazy...

    I remember Johann's second agility class ever. The trainer shoved a large spoonful of peanut butter in his face to make him stop barking...Did it work, heck yeah!

    Gracie? You give her the scent of beer (or anything remotely resembling food, or kleenex), and you've got her for life.

    Glad you're finally going to make #1 in google, yeah! :) ("unidentifiable ruminant byproducts")

    We needed a laugh today...thank you!

  5. I think I am going to go get a roast chicken with Truffle Sauce. Maybe that is the ticket into the big money checks for the minis in Steeplechase finals. Maybe that has been my problem all along, is I left out the truffle sauce!

  6. Let me know if it works, and then I can apologize to the world-class trainer for ever doubting her word.


  7. I use a single, dry, kibble
    for a treat with a clicker.

    I think there are more important things than the treat.

    Whether the dog really, really, likes food.

    Whether the dog is hungry (make sure they are if the treat wants to be a reward)

    The time of the day (I find training with treats at the same time every day, right before they normally eat, makes a big difference).

    The delivery. The value of most anything depends on the delivery.

    Now work thru all that, and you can see that setting up an exercise such that treat delivery is optimized, and the treats are delivered in the optimal way, is more important than anything.

    Working a bogus exercise, with bogus delivery, is a waste of time, regardless of the treat.

    In any case, all that talk doesn't matter...the only thing that matters is whether the treat delivery achieved some incremental progress. If not, higher value treats is likely not the solution.

  8. when my dog was younger, i need strong flavour food to get her attention...initially i used hotdog, next i need to move on to roasted chicken or pork, when hotdog can no longer work...

    usually at home i will use the normal dry dog biscuit...coz there's no distraction for her mind to wander off...

    but now as she's getting mature, she will work for toy and i will give a treat, any treat, to reward her after she release the toy...

    i tends to feel that our dog can differentiate btw delicious or not...when we are eating pizza, she will stare at me and refuse to eat her own dog food...

  9. hehe - even before I added my post, your site showed up with the search. Now you have company too! ;-)

  10. Anonymous--Of course you're right about the delivery in many cases. With most of my dogs, if I just drop their favorite toy on the floor and don't say anything, they're unlikely to pounce and play. But if I say "readyyyyyyy.....you wannit? you wannit? readyyyyyy...... GO!" and throw it, I'll always get a reaction.

    Pacco--But the big question is, if the human were eating the dogfood and the dog got pizza all the time, would the dog still be staring at the person and hoping for a handout?

    Nightowl--It's amazing how quickly google found our "Unidentifiable Ruminant ByProducts" phrase in our blogs. Used to sometimes take days (or longer) for new text to show up in searches. And the web is much bigger now. I'm amazed. But apparently we're the only ones who've added the phrase to our blogs. :-)


  11. Thenk yew, thenk yew, we're here all night.

  12. hehe - Esteban told me he just did the search and it didn't show our site. I repeated the search and it still does. I'm guessing it's because he's using the socioeconomically disadvantaged Yahoo for the search rather than using Google :-)