Can Dogs Taste Better than Humans?

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Introduction

Your stomach is growling and your tongue is salivating as you smell the delicious burgers that you just threw on the grill. Before you even take a bite, you can imagine the array of flavors that are about to hit your tongue.

For humans, taste is one of our most evolved senses. We spend a lot of money and time finding new restaurants and new recipes to satisfy our taste buds. Have you ever wondered how dogs are satisfied with the same food day in and day out? Why do they beg when we sit down for dinner? Are their taste buds as refined as ours? Let’s take a deeper look at the way your canine companion tastes.  

Signs of Dogs’ Taste vs. Human Taste

Dogs and humans share a similarity when it comes to how they taste (through taste bud receptors). The determining factor of how our body perceives a certain food happens on a molecular level. When you place food on your taste buds, the food’s molecules are chemically registered by your brain. 

This same chemical reaction happens with our dogs; however, they register food a little differently. Your pup’s chemical reaction of a food’s molecules begins with their nose instead of their tongue. A membrane inside of their nose captures the molecules that our taste buds do and transfers those chemicals directly to their brain and a special organ on their palate. If it smells appetizing, a dog is likely to eat it, regardless of how it may taste.

Our four-legged critters can also detect the four primary taste categories that we can - salty, bitter, sour, and sweet - but that doesn’t mean that their sense of taste is equal to that of humans. Dogs’ taste buds are actually far less cultivated than humans’. With only 1700 taste buds compared to the 9000 that a human has, our companion has one-sixth the tasting ability that we do. 

As mentioned previously, a dog relies heavily on their sniffer to gain the information they need to taste a food. This sort of explains why our dogs like to chew on things that we wouldn’t ever dream of sticking in our mouths, and that honestly make us want to blow chunks when we even think about it, such as, socks, manure, rotten trash, or old, dead rabbits.

Signs of your dog’s taste being less sensitive than humans can vary. If the food doesn’t alert a dog’s senses of “danger or harm,” the dog will likely ingest it, regardless of how bland or strong it may taste. Signs of our taste being more delicate include the dog eating blander food, being able to get excited over the same food every single day, and sticking things in its mouth that would make us gag. 

Typical behavioral signs of a dog being excited about the taste of a food include sniffing, tail wagging, chewing, showing alertness, head tilting, guarding and growling if another dog is present, raised ears, and whining with excitement. 

Body Language

Here are some signs you may notice if your dog is around something that appears appetizing:

  • Growling
  • Whining
  • Chewing
  • Wag tail
  • Sniffing

Other Signs

Other signs that your dog may show when experiencing a food that smells good: 

  • Raised ears at the noise of food
  • Alert and engaged in what you are doing
  • Wide eyes that are focused on you and/or the food
  • Pacing/ not being able to sit still
  • Head tilting at the noise of the food
  • Jumping up

History of Dogs’ Taste

A dog’s taste dates back approximately 20,000 years ago, during the evolution of the grey wolf. Wild dogs depended upon their sense of taste to survive. Shortly after its birth, a wolf would have to use its sense of taste to determine if something was harmful or poisonous in order to keep it out of danger. Things that smelt bad and tasted bad were ruled indigestible and harmful, where cuisine that smelt good and tasted good was digestible and acceptable for consumption. Due to sense of taste being a survival method, it was and still is one of the earliest to begin kicking in for a dog.

It only takes a few weeks for a newborn puppy to fully develop sense of taste. Exposure to various flavors and foods during the first few weeks of your puppy’s life may play a factor in how picky it is as an adult. If offered a variety of food early on, they may be more willing to try different foods when older.

Due to the food available to wolves 20,000 years ago and progressively, a dog’s main craving is meat. This is why many dog foods are a mixture of vegetables and hearty meats.

Humans are much more sensitive to taste and prefer to really mix up their pallet. For example, one owner tells his story of his son trying their dog’s food. His dog absolutely loves the food that is presented to him on a daily basis; however, the son (a teenager) did not think it was appetizing. The food had a pungent, fishy smell, yet it tasted like cardboard. The pup would always sniff and wag his tail when the food container was opened. This shows that the dog definitely relied on his smell to determine how tasty the food would be, as it ended up being bland. It satisfied the dog’s nose, which was all that mattered. 

Science of Dogs’ Taste Being Inferior to Humans’

Where we depend largely on our taste buds, a dog relies on their nose to be the determining factor of whether something is appetizing or not. As mentioned above, a membrane inside of their nose captures the molecules that our taste buds do and transfers those chemicals directly to their brain and a special organ on their palate.

The reason behind canines’ taste being inferior to humans’ goes back to the amount of taste buds they have. Containing less than one-sixth the amount of taste buds, there is no way a dog can discern taste on a tiered level.

The mount of taste buds vary from vertebrate to vertebrate; however, herbivores tend to beat out omnivores and carnivores alike. Birds have around 30, and cats have just under 500, yet pigs and cows excel over 14,000. This also relates back to survival. Herbivores, like cows, must have the ability to taste dangerous toxins and discern the bad plants from the good in order to survive. 

Training Your Dog to Taste Better

Because dogs are not physically equipped to having heightened tastes (due to a lack of taste buds out of the gate), there is absolutely no way to train them to have the developed taste that we have. All we can do is help satisfy their cravings through providing great smelling dog food, treats, and toys.