You may think Colorado mountain-town dogs already live the good life. You’ve seen them gallop down ski trails in winter, possibly in Gore-Tex booties. In summer, they scamper amongst fragile alpine buttercups, nosing after the musky scent of marmot. But, in a culture that reveres wine tasting, foodie festivals, and pressing free-range goji berries into hand-sculpted granola bars, have we perhaps overlooked our best friends in our culinary pursuits? We at Edible Southwest Colorado bring you the inaugural Homemade Dog Biscuit Taste Test Challenge.
Jack is a purebred Scottie. He is short with silky coal-black fur with extra length around the eyes. He will also answer to his Buddhist name, Naku. As Scotties are, he’s compact and condensed-legged. His head is dominated by snout, hence, the supersonic nose that allows Scotties to track vermin in farmers’ fields, the task for which they were bred.
Jack is aloof and dignified, and will accept that it’s time for a walk but won’t make an embarrassing spectacle of himself charging for the door. He scoffs at some of the more unrefined dog activities like sniffing crotches (it’s possible he can’t reach), snarfing sidewalk goulash, or incessant barking. Jack is loyal to a few chosen people in his inner circle, those who accept him precisely for who he is. Everyone else can take a number.
Chica is Chihuahua, corgi, and pug, in that order. She’s frequently seen wearing sweaters, some of them flattering. If she had a dance move, it would be the popping eye-bulge accompanied by the wiggling back end.
Chica has come here to party and everyone’s invited. She lives on a farm and romps with horses, goats, ducks, and cats, and even once befriended a pet rat, which she’d encourage to chase her.
Chica has the ability to shape-shift, stepping into whatever role is needed at the moment. “She’s up for whatever is on the menu,” Gretchen, her person, says. She’ll be a high-octane trail-running partner, a couch-comfy reading buddy, a nuzzler of anxious children in pediatric treatment rooms (she is a certified therapy dog), and if you don’t have time to give her any attention, she’ll be a quiet, napping presence, refraining from directing any guilt-inducing whines in your direction.
Marco is a handsome, orange-tressed golden retriever who’s never had a bad day (hour?) in his life. If he talked, his speech would be full of exclamation marks. He loves snow! He rubs his body so vigorously against the snow it seems he’s trying to break through the surface into some magical land below. He loves people! Everyone in his life thinks they are his favorite. He loves being included! When the two boys he lives with play football in the backyard, Marco charges alongside them, running enthusiastic laps around the yard because he’s outside! With people he loves! Running! Sometimes snow is present!
According to the American Kennel Club, goldens are the third most popular dog breed, bred for retrieving hunters’ downed waterfowl. But maybe most appealing, goldens are neither territorial nor loyal to only one person, and as a result, treat everyone as a potential best friend. For Marco, this includes the Siamese cat he lives with, who snubs him in disgust. Is Marco deterred? Of course not. There’s always tomorrow. Tomorrow!
Leela, rescued off the side of the road at three months old, is like all of us: a work in progress. Some dogs have a deep comfort in the world. And some, like Leela, need extra reassurance. Leela is consumed by the daily question, “Am I OK? Is this OK? Are we OK?”
“She’s a new soul,” Stephanie, her person, explains.
Leela runs like a coyote, lanky legs loping in an effortless trot. However, she mostly wants to lay her head on your lap, locking eyes with yours and sighing deeply, extracting a wordless pledge that you will be forever true. I’m yours, her dark, glassy eyes promise. Will you be mine?
The only thing that interferes with Leela’s desire to please is the possibility of shuttling something edible onto her tongue. She will knock the can of fish food off the table, nose the lid off, and lick up every last salty flake, even knowing this will result in admonishment from the people she adores.
Lacey Dana, a Fort Lewis College student and intern with Mountain Studies Institute, baked grain-free pumpkin dog biscuits with coconut flour. The biscuits turned out soft, doughy, and with a bright-orange color.
Deirdre Karger, a Durango massage therapist who frequently has foster puppies romping about her home, made peanut butter and applesauce biscuits with wheat flour. They came out crunchy, and according to her husband, tasty.
There is much dispute on how to conduct a taste test with dogs. We at Edible Southwest Colorado strive for scientific accuracy. After consulting with several professional dog trainers, we decided to lay the biscuits on the ground equidistant from the dog, to be held back by a volunteer, anticipation mounting, salivary speaking. We cut the pumpkin biscuits in half so they’d be approximately the same size as the peanut butter ones. Our theory is that each dog, through a quick canine-specific diagnostic checklist, will select the most appealing biscuit first. And that will give us our winner.
The taste test challenge
Leela spots the biscuits the moment the Edible team enters her house. She greets us warmly with eyes glued to the treats. After releasing her to charge for the cookies, she nabs the pumpkin treat first, swallows it nearly whole, and then devours the peanut butter biscuit. The first experiment is over in seconds.
Jack, who is lying in the garage with the door raised a few feet, is not particularly thrilled to see us. In fact, upon our arrival, he retreats further out of view into the interior of the garage. One can almost imagine he’s plopped down on an L.L Bean flannel and is commencing to smoke his pipe while signaling his secretary to remove the interlopers. We lay one of each biscuit on his blanket, step back, and respectfully wait.
Jack eventually emerges to give the biscuits a sniff. He nibbles the peanut butter biscuit to fruition and ignores the pumpkin treat for a full three minutes before deciding to give it a try. He appears to enjoy it.
Chica is lying in the grass, nibbling on a sun-warmed pile of deer hair. The biscuit-placement commotion is of no interest – she must be led to the treats. She approaches the pumpkin biscuit first, devours it, and then realizes there’s more expected of her (possibly due to the entire four-person Taste Test Challenge team, who tote cameras and notebooks, silently scrutinizing her). “Oh, you want me to eat this little peanut butter number?” she seems to say, and she gobbles it up and returns to her deer hair.
Marco watches the biscuits being placed ten feet down the grassy runway, his person, Jen, holding him back. Three, two, one! He goes straight for … the football! He finds an errant bone! Jumps at the children who’ve joined the biscuit challenge team! Runs because running is fun!
“He’s not really motivated by food,” Jen mentions as someone leads Marco to the biscuits. He dutifully eats the pumpkin cookie first and then the peanut butter one, and then trots off to lend his assistance in the football toss that has developed.
The pumpkin biscuit is undeniably more eye-catching and likely more fragrant to a dog’s nose, which is over 10,000 times more sensitive than a human’s. It was also chosen first three out of four times. Does that mean anything? Who the hell knows. We had a lot of fun playing with dogs on a workday, though.