You know your dog likes her food – and she goes crazy for those treats you buy her. But can she savor what she eats?
Do dogs experience joy? Anyone who has been greeted by an exuberant pooch would say yes. It’s likely, though, that dogs experience joy differently than we do. After all, when was the last time your child or significant other welcomed you home by throwing themselves at you and licking your face? The same can be said for a dog’s relationship with food. As you watch her gulping down a meal or inhaling a treat, you might assume she can’t savor it the way we humans can – and you’d probably be right. She might be savoring it more. Here’s why.
Dogs have a powerful sense of smell
If you’ve ever had a cold, you know how hard it is to enjoy eating something you can’t smell. That’s because, as is outlined in a Scientific American article, although our taste buds are able to determine broad flavor categories (e.g. if it’s sweet it’s probably nutritious, but if it’s bitter it might be toxic), a sense of smell is required to experience the complexity of flavor.
In fact, many researchers say that 80% of flavor is smell. If that’s the case, imagine how much our dogs must enjoy their food thanks to their powerful sense of smell!
According to the TED-ed video, “How do dogs ‘see’ with their noses” by dog cognition researcher Alexandra Horowitz, dogs have 300 million olfactory receptor cells compared to our puny five million. Plus, the part of their brain that analyzes smells is approximately 40 times bigger than ours. Put it all together, and a dog’s sense of smell is up to one million times greater than ours. That means your pup has begun to savor that treat (and start to drool) long before you’ve even gotten it out of the bag!
They can taste things we can’t…in ways we can’t imagine!
When it comes to the sheer number of taste buds, humans win hands down. Dogs only have about 1,700 taste buds compared to our 9,000. But in addition to the five basic taste sensations we share – sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and umami (the savory flavors of roast meat or soy sauce) – dogs have a few extra. According to an article in Psychology Today, “dogs have some specific taste receptors that are tuned for meats, fats and meat-related chemicals.” They also have receptors specifically for water, which become more sensitive after eating something salty, like meat. No wonder your dog looks so longingly at your steak dinner and then takes big gulps of water after you share.
While dogs may be lacking the number of taste buds we have, they more than make up for it through their sense of smell and some extra taste receptors. So the next time your dog gulps down that extra special doggie dessert you bought her (a Chews Happiness Barkaron, perhaps?) don’t assume that she’s not savoring it. She may actually be savoring it in ways we humans can only dream of!