Can Dogs Taste Meaty Food?

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Introduction

Close your eyes and picture wolves running in a pack and on the hunt. They are on the scent of prey - a dinner that is comprised of meat. About 80 - 90 percent of the dog diet is based on meat. It has been such a central component of their diet over the centuries that they have specially developed receptors in their tongues to offset the natural salts in meat so they maintain a balance in their water. 

Meat has a strong smell, giving it a strong flavor. Our dogs may be indiscriminate in their tastes but when it comes to dietary preferences and needs, as the dog is a meat eater.

Signs Your Dog Loves Meat

Communication with our dogs is one of signals and context. Dogs have the capacity to learn commands, signals, and cues from humans. As owners, we need to pay attention to our dog's disposition and learn the signals our dogs are sending to us. 

One thing to remember is that the dog is behaving within a context. There is something immediately occurring that your dog is reacting to and you need to pay attention to determine what you need to do to be a strong leader for your dog. 

The dog has body language that will communicate states of relaxation, stress, aggression, fear, submission, and playfulness. Getting the read on your dog's body signals can strengthen your bond with your dog and keep you, your family and your dog safe in daily situations.

Happy mealtimes are expressed with happy dog behaviors. A happy dog has a fluid and relaxed body. The dog has relaxed ears, the mouth is open and the tongue is relaxed and lolling to one side. Playfulness and play bowing are signs of joy in your dog and an invitation for a romp. 

When in the presence of food,  your dog will show additional alertness and anticipatory responses. Just like Pavlov's dogs, your pooch may start to drool and salivate at the sight or smell of food. You will see real excitement in a tail that is whirling around like a helicopter.

Dogs can be food motivated. Your dog will demonstrate food motivation in training and in response to the presence of food. A food-motivated dog will show excitement that can be a problem. They will jump up, knock over people and furniture, ignore commands, focus only on the hand holding the food or even steal food. 

You might want to guard your hot dog and keep your goodies out of reach. A food-motivated dog will find ways to snatch food off the table or even out of your hand! You will see your dog staring at the food and watching you as you handle the food. Some table snatchers will seem to be sneaky, waiting until your back is turned before gulping down your sandwich.

Body Language

Some obvious signs that your dog loves meat include:
  • Alert
  • Drooling
  • Tongue hanging
  • Play bowing

Other Signs

More clear indicators that your pooch loves meat are:
  • Begging for more
  • Staying close whenever meat is out
  • Trying to take meat from you
  • Gobbling it up

The History of Dogs Eating Meat

The dog is innately a hunter of meat. They evolved from the wolf, who hunted animals for survival. The dog's jaw and teeth are similar to the wolf, designed to grab and rip prey with the canine teeth, tearing meat with the premolars and crushing bone with the molars. The digestive system of the wolf and dog were developed for meat. 

In studies on wolf prey, it has been discovered that, even when there is a variety of prey available, they will have a preference for one or two animals. It is unknown if this is due to nutritional needs, migrations of prey or hunting opportunities. This finding does reflect that among dogs there will be variability in the types of meats they will prefer. 

Dogs in the wild are scavengers. They will eat a variety of fruits and vegetables or even scat. You will find your own dog also scavenging and getting into food that is undesirable or unintended for them to consume. The domesticated dog has instincts to eat meat and to scavenge.

The Science of Dogs Eating Meat

Dogs have an incredibly strong sense of smell. When compared to humans, they are able to detect scents at 10,000 to 100,000 times the capacity of humans. Their incredible sense of smell drives them to localize prey. 

It is your dog's sense of smell that will attract the pet to food and types of food. An attraction to meat is most likely enhanced by the strong odor of meat. When it comes to taste, humans have more specialized capacity than dogs. Humans have 9000 taste receptors. Dogs have about 1700 taste receptors. 

Both humans and dogs can detect sweet, sour, bitter and salt  Dogs do not like salt as humans do. This is because of their strong preference for meat and the naturally occurring salt in the meat. 

Their tongues have specialized receptors for water in the tip that cups water for lapping up water. A dog needs to consume more water to digest meat and to maintain nutritional balance for the saltiness of meat. Studies have established that animal proteins are digested by dogs more easily than carbohydrates. The carnivorous canine has evolved to need and prefer meat - and like it!

Training a Meat-Motivated Dog

Meat is a naturally motivating food for dogs. Dogs can vary in their food motivation. Some dogs seem to not be as interested in food. Other dogs are very food driven, to the point of excitability and distraction. When dogs are overly excited, it is important to bring down their level of arousal. 

Pet owners should be aware of their own behavior, too, because you may be ramping your animal up with high pitched sounds and fast hand movements. Be aware that if you are repeating the command over and over, you are escalating confusion and misbehavior in the dog. 

Your job is to stay calm and in control. If you say a command, even if the dog knew it in the past, and the dog does not do the behavior, your dog did not understand the cue. This is a message to you to go back and retrain the command, giving your dog more practice. To get your dog to calm down, here are three things to remember:

1. Go slow. Move slowly in your training sessions with your dog. Reduce distractions. Keep the sessions brief, and go through exercises slowly and deliberately.

2. Be clear. Use clear and simple commands. Your dog may be confused and this will look like excitement. 

3. Avoid high pitched sounds. Speak in a calm and clear voice. 

If these simple strategies do not seem to be sufficient to bring down your dog's exciteability around food, there are impulse control games you can practice to teach your dog to "Leave it" and to "Stay" in the presence of food.

Safely Feeding Your Dog Meat:

  • Offer high quality, grain-fed cuts.
  • Be wary when feeding your dog fish.
  • Dogs vary in their preferences for meats and foods.
  • Do not feed your dog more than 1 -3% of your dog's body weight.
  • Make sure the meat is fresh and properly stored.