Four senses later and humans finally win a sensitivity contest. We have 9,000 taste buds on our tongues and in our mouths, while dogs have 1,700. However, as expected, dogs still have their own taste-related superpowers.
You might be familiar with our four main types of taste receptors sensitive to sweet, salty, sour, and bitter flavors. Dogs share all of these with us but differ in their sensitivity to salt. Since vegetables and grains are not a significant source of salt, we evolved a salt craving in order to balance our diets. In the wild, however, 80% of a dog’s diet would consist of meat, making a high sensitivity to salt unnecessary. Instead of salt, dogs crave meats and therefore have additional taste receptors tuned to these flavors.
Because dogs crave meat flavors that are inherently high in salt content, they’ve also evolved taste buds sensitive to water, to balance their diet. When a dog has eaten a lot of salt or sugar, the taste receptors are particularly active, thereby increasing the amount of pleasure experienced by consuming copious amounts of water.
Taste bud locations are important to understand as well. For example, taste receptors for water are located on the tip of the tongue because of how a dog drinks, thereby making those receptors easy to activate and stimulate. Aversive stimuli can be used to eventually teach your dog not to chew on furniture, shoes, or your arm. However, this takes time because most of these bitter substances must be completely consumed by your dog before he can learn anything about it. Why? The taste receptors for bitterness are located on the back of the tongue. So, a quick lick or gentle nibble won’t be enough to taste the unpleasant bitter flavor. Unfortunately, only prolonged chewing will enable the bitterness to be tasted and a lesson to be learned.
The sense of taste exists because it is essential for survival. Taste buds control our cravings and our consumption, warning us of dangerous substances and encouraging balanced diets.
Imagine if you could taste water or crave a juicy steak more than you already do. That’d be great! So long as I actually got some of that steak every once in a while.