Can Dogs Taste Flavors?

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Introduction

We know that a dog's sense of smell and hearing are top notch. They can smell or hear from miles away. Whether it is an approaching thunderstorm or impending rain shower, they can both smell and hear it on the horizon. However, what we often forget about is a dog's sense of taste. 

Can they taste as well as they hear and see? Are they able to taste different flavors? Can they tell if something is sweet, spicy, or slaty? 

Dogs are able to taste different flavors just as we can, but their palate is much less refined and powerful compared to ours. This is why your dog doesn't mind eating grass... or bunny turds! We will explore more about your dog's ability to taste and distinguish between different flavors below. 

Signs of a Dog Tasting Flavors

There is not a true and defined way you can tell if your dog tastes a certain flavor, such as a sweet vanilla flavor or savory and salty french fries. However, you can possibly tell if your dog does or does not like certain flavors based on their reactions to the food you give them. 

For example, if you give your dog a slice of sour orange to lick, they are probably not going to like the sour and tangy flavor. They will show signs like exposing their teeth, snarling (aka giving the sour orange the "ugly" face"), barking, play bowing, or running away from the food and scrunching up their nose. These signs suggest they are not fond of that specific flavor and would rather have nothing to do with the food. 

On the other hand, if your dog does like the flavor of a certain food, like chicken, you can immediately tell the difference. Your dog will approach the chicken with excitement and eat it right away, then proceed to beg for more. They will often lick their lips, drool excessively, paw at you, jump up at the food, pace around you, or bark and whine for more. Excitement and begging indicate they love the flavor of the food you have offered them and they want to actively seek out more. 

Body Language

Here are some signs you may notice if your dog can taste flavors: 
  • Alert
  • Jumping up
  • Wag tail
  • Pacing
  • Lip licking
  • Drooling
  • Paw raised
  • Ears up

Other Signs

These are some other signs you may notice if your dog can taste food:
  • Begging for more food
  • Showing disinterest
  • Strong negative or positive reactions

History of Dogs' Ability to Taste

The ability of humans and animals to smell and taste are the oldest and most important senses living beings have. Taste and smell were so critical for wild dogs and wolves to possess because it allowed them to distinguish that was safe to eat and what could cause them harm. If dogs smelled something with a foul order or the smell just seemed off, the dog would know they should stay away from that particular food source and seek something else. On the other hand, if the food smelled okay, they would know it is something they could consume safely.

Dogs have evolved a bit from this point because most domesticated dogs do not have to decide if their kibble or wet food is safe to eat or not. A sense of taste was no longer about distinguishing safe foods over unsafe foods. Rather, sense of taste became more complex and evolved into a sense that allowed dogs to enjoy food and its taste. 

However, your dog has not lost all of their primal instincts. They still use taste and smell as a way to avoid bad foods that may harm them. It is important to note that some dogs still like to munch on things that are unsafe for them to consume. Many pet parents note their dog loves to eat rocks, weeds, flowers, small animal poops, or even lick up puke. Obviously, these foods are not inherently safe for your dog to eat. Perhaps their primal instincts as less prominent than we would like. 

Science Behind Dogs Tasting Flavors

Dogs taste in a similar way as humans. They have taste buds located on their tongues, mainly on the tip. They have approximately 1,706 taste buds, which may seem like a lot, but it is comparatively lower than a human's 9,000 taste buds. Their palate is much less refined and sensitive to ours and is about 6 times lower than a human's. 

Your dog can taste bitter, sour, sweet, and salty just like us. Your dog prefers meaty flavors over most other flavors, however. They use their sense of smell to help them determine the food they are getting is meat. Your dog also uses their sense of smell in conjunction with taste to help them determine if the meat is fish, pork, beef, chicken, or otherwise. It is likely their sense of smell that helps them taste and determine the flavors of food better than their actual mouth and tongue. 

Training Dogs to Stop Tasting Certain Flavors

Your dog sometimes eats some really gross things, and often, those things are not food. We are talking about animal poop, puke, grass, dirt, bugs, and so much more. These items seem really gross to us,  but for your dog, they are not nearly as bad. This is because they have much fewer taste bubs in their mouth and on their tongue, and their palate is not as refined and sensitive. Plus, your dog has little fear or disgust and will try just about anything they think smells tasty. 

If your dog has a tendency to eat anything around them, there are a few things you can do to help reduce this type of behavior. It is important because eating poop from other animals, certain plants, and objects like rocks, gravel, toys, and other things can really harm your dog. Larger objects can cause an obstruction in the stomach or the intestines and this medical condition is fatal if not treated promptly. 

To combat this issue, one of the best ways to make sure they are not eating things they should not be is to keep an eye on them as much as possible. If your dog is going potty outside, walk out there with them and make sure they are not getting into anything harmful. If you are on a walk with your dog and they have a tendency to lick and eat things on the trail, keep them close to you on the leash and pull from away from anything they begin to eat as quickly as possible. 

Inside of your home, make sure you don't keep anything they like to eat or get into at a level they can reach. Make sure their toys are clean and that they don't have any small pieces that could be chewed off and eaten. Replace old and run down toys with new options. 

How to React if Your Dog is Eating Things They Shouldn't:

  • Keep an eye on them as much as possible.
  • Don't get too aggressive with them if they eat something inappropriate.
  • Call your vet if they got into something very harmful or toxic.

Safety Tips for Keeping Dogs Away from Things They Shouldn't Eat:

  • Keep an eye on them when they go outside.
  • Make sure there is nothing in your home they can get into that may harm them.
  • Keep your dog in a crate when they are home alone.
  • Keep them on a tight leash when on a walk.