Canine connivers have got us licked

Strange, but somehow I've never felt compellingly attracted to a bowl of dog food. I say "strange" because, turnabout, the resident canine clearly is captivated by a bowl - or any container, the shape is immaterial - of human food.

We put her "breakfast" or "tea" out in her bowl at the same time as our own often enough. We even mutter slogans from the can like "Top Breeders Recommend It."

But her interest in what we are eating - be it bananas or chicken, lamb korma or egg foo yong, raspberry Pavlova or onion soup (anything goes) - leads to a lofty disregard, pro tem, for that which, according to the TV commercials, no dog can possibly resist. But then who believes TV commercials?

Dogs, we are told by those who know - but how do they know? - became domesticated in primeval times because of the fearlessness and blatancy of their skills as food-stealers. It seems our progenitors fell for their thieving ways. The theory rings true with me.

We spend fortunes securing our domains against the raids of human larcenists, and see them off ferociously if they intrude. But in the case of dogs - at least this is what we do in Britain - we actually invite them in and encourage them to rob us blind for as many years as they consider appropriate. We are simply enchanted by their criminal tendencies, nutrition-wise - and no wonder, since they indulge these tendencies with such adroit charm.

How does a dog in cupboard-love mode know to look so inexorably trim and dapper? How does it know the precise sitting posture and head-tilt that suddenly indicates how profoundly it adores you and always has and always will? That look of eye is a thing born of endless generations trying it on, centuries of practicing the art.

That set of nose states more convincingly than eloquence could that, while food is the very last thing on one's mind just now and morsels are of no interest whatsoever and tidbits a matter of supreme indifference, all the same, if anything of a gastronomic nature did happen - by some remote chance - to find itself in the general vicinity of one's mouth, then one would be only too happy to save it from falling to the ground and allowing it to go to waste....

It's an enigma. Some of the qualities we most disdain in humans - greed, guile, lack of conscience, and earning one's keep without lifting a finger - when epitomized by dogs arouse nothing but affection in dog-lovers. I know, being one. We are completely foolish.

Her Highness, once all hope of participation in human food is over, will deign to visit her bowl and swallow its contents. But it is a matter of duty rather than relish. (Dog biscuits are different. These she has last thing at night, and she always goes at them as if she's never eaten before.)

But I am puzzled.

Not long ago I saw a short TV dog-umentary (ha ha) explaining how the manufacturers of canned dog food in the UK test their products. A line of identical bowls were set out, each filled with a different kind of dog food. We were not told (thank goodness) of what these dollops of brown stuff were made. Then a small fluffy doglet (presumably recommended by a top breeder) took the floor. He sniffed and snuffled with obvious professionalism, licking an offering here, tentatively taking a wee taste there.

And then, suddenly decisive, he headed for one particular bowl, stuck his muzzle in hard, and rapidly gorged the lot. He did not cease from his endeavors until he had licked the bowl as clean as a baby fresh from the bath. Then he walked off, his performance performed, his fee earned, leaving all the other brown stuff to whosoever was fool enough to want it.

THE commentator did not explain why the canine taster had been drawn to his particular preference. But I had two consequent thoughts. I thought they'd be foolish not to market that product worldwide instantly.

And I thought it had to be human food in that bowl.

I have now been told by an American informant that in her country some dog-food testers are humans. This suggests to me that her fine country is once again way in advance of the rest of the world, recognizing and acting on the truism that if humans like it, dogs'll like it. It figures.

My only remaining question is: Why all this completely unnecessary testing? Cans of dog food strike me as just as expensive as many kinds of human food in identical bulk, so why not just fill the cans with human food and be done with it?

The dogs would be overjoyed. And I can't help feeling that some American dog-food testers might not be entirely disgruntled either. Of course, some may actually like dog food. You never know. It never pays to be dogmatic about such matters.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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