Can dogs eat buttered popcorn? A new study finds that dogs are able to distinguish between "food" and "forbidden" objects by smelling the aroma they contn, even if the aroma is in the form of butter. Credit: L. Monney, C. J. P. Williams
When it comes to food, dogs seem to be a lot like humans: They enjoy a variety of flavors and textures. But even though dogs are known to love buttered popcorn, and the American Kennel Club lists it as a favorite snack food for dogs, they might also like something else: alcohol. A new study published in the open-access journal Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience suggests that at least some dogs enjoy sipping on a cold one. In fact, based on tests conducted on dogs that had been specially trned to perform a variety of tasks, researchers found that they enjoy the smell of beer as much as they do the taste.
A number of studies have found that a majority of domesticated dogs have the genetic coding for taste buds, and can pick up the difference between different flavors and food textures.
"Taste plays an important role in dogs' ability to recognize their owners," says Lisanne Riem, of the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (IZW), in Berlin, Germany, who led the new study. "But it is still unknown how they would use the information provided by smell."
One hypothesis is that dogs could use the scent of an unfamiliar dog's urine to avoid associating with their owners, says Riem.
However, the new study, conducted by Riem and colleagues from the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research and the Free University of Berlin, also found that dogs can recognize the smell of alcohol, and even discern its effects on people, including the possibility that it is poisonous or nauseating.
"The smell of beer in particular is well recognized by dogs and they will respond in a number of ways," Riem says.
In previous research, Riem found that dogs are most bothered by the smell of beer on the breath of a person they don't know, and avoid the smell of ethanol in a new environment.
A dog can also "use the smell of beer to detect a potential predator," says Riem.
Riem's latest study found that dogs with a genetic variation that encodes for a better sense of smell are more likely to avoid an unfamiliar dog's urine, while dogs that smell familiar urine more readily approach it.
But the genetic differences don't completely account for dogs' aversion to the smell of urine, which may result from something other than their genetic makeup, Riem says.
She also notes that the new study suggests that dogs may be able to detect a person's alcohol intake.
"The dogs did not approach a sober person," Riem says, "but they had a more positive response to a sober person who had drunk beer than they did to a person who had drunk no alcohol."
Dogs are just like us, and we know they have their own feelings of fear and happiness. It's important for people to recognize that even though they can't understand the reason behind a dog's behavior, the dog is telling you something, says Riem.
"It's like you're at a restaurant with a menu, and you're not able to read the menu. But if you try to understand the menu, you can at least identify what you want. For dogs, we are an extension of that same menu," Riem says. "You're the one who has to do the interpreting."
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