Dogs' palates aren't sophisticated, after all

May 08, 2009

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I'm always fascinated by high-priced delicacies that you "have to acquire a taste for." When it comes to food, I always fear "acquire a taste for" is code for "it will take you a while to get over the raunch."

But once you do, you have earned title to the ability to "appreciate" the item, and with that comes an air of sophistication that separates you from the masses, who think smoked oysters taste like pickled moths.

And what is the reward? You get to pay a lot more for what you eat. So you work and work, and endure a lot of pain and suffering, just to get to the point where you can stand the smell of fish eggs. And upon "graduation," you have earned the honor of paying $2,400 a pound for something that many people would feed to their dogs.


Oh, did someone say dogs?

That's good because it leads me to a paper circulated by the American Association of Wine Economists titled "Can People Distinguish Pâté from Dog Food?" You know where this is going: They would not have circulated the paper if people could tell the difference.

In the experiment, five food-like items were placed before 18 volunteers -- duck-liver mousse, liverwurst, Spam, pork liver pâté and "Newman's Own canned turkey and chicken formula for puppies and active dogs."

All had been whipped up in a food processor to unify the look. And sprinkled with parsley.

Of the 18 participants, only three were able to correctly identify the dog food, even though dog food received the lowest aggregate score for taste. (The most interesting ballot was cast by Subject 3, who ranked dog food as the best tasting and duck liver pate as the worst. This leads me to think that Subject 3 might have been an actual dog.)

While I congratulate the Association of Wine Economists for exposing exotic foods as perhaps being more style than substance, I believe their general conclusions miss the greater point.

To me, it's not that pâté is overrated, it's that dog food has become grossly overengineered. Dog food needs to taste good -- why? A dog will happily eat pâté, dog food or an unfinished sub that's been rotting for a week in a city storm sewer. It is all the same to him.

Why on earth do pet-food companies come up with "Prime Cuts" featuring flavors such as prime rib, sirloin steak, pork tenderloin or slow-roasted chicken? Slow roasted? Don't bother, my dog will eat it raw.

Memo to the pet-food companies: The subtleties of chateaubriand are going to be lost on a coon hound.

Maybe it makes you feel better if you think your pet is getting the true flavor of coq au vin, but I guarantee you, the dog Does. Not. Care. It does not matter to him whether the canned glop is "chef inspired" or contains "New Zealand spring lamb" or "baby salad greens."

This is just one more case of our self-centeredness kicking in. If we like herbed pork tenderloin best, then, if it is a right-thinking dog, he will like it best, too. If fishermen were like this, they would bait their hooks with strawberry shortcake.

We never think about the animals, we just think about ourselves. If it were up to the pets, we'd have sparrow-flavored cat food and dog food that tasted like goose poop and woodchuck.

Our dogs' absolute, drop-dead, favorite food of all time? Here's a clue: They dine on it once every six weeks or so when our farrier, Mary, comes to trim hooves and shoe our horses. So try this dog-food flavor on for size:

"Farrier Inspired Slow Roasted Donkey Toenails."

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2324, or by e-mail at Tune in to the Rowland Rant video at, on or on Antietam Cable's WCL-TV Channel 30 evenings at 6:30. New episodes are released every Wednesday.

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