Why is my dog scared of cooked lamb?
January 29, 2008 7:01 AM   Subscribe

My golden retriever-lab mix freaks out when we cook lamb -- he whines and puts his tail between his legs. He'll eat the cooked lamb fine, but he finds the smell of it cooking distressing. I've read elsewhere about this phenomenon, but does anyone have this experience with their dog or have an idea what makes lamb so scary? Does he think we're cooking his pals? He has his skittish moments (scared of thunder, natch), but this is the only time I've seen him behave this way. And he's a rescue dog, so it's possible he had some early traumatic experience involving lamb. But since I've read about other dogs behaving this way, I doubt it.
posted by stonefruit to Pets & Animals (26 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Not sure about the lamb thing, but the thunder might be due to static electricity, give him a spritz with some of that no static spray stuff (or spray it on a glove and give him a pet with the glove) and it may help alleviate that problem....
posted by Grither at 7:10 AM on January 29, 2008

I don't know but a quick google floated a few other reports of the same thing (unless they're all stonefruit). I'm going to cook up some lamb tonight and see if we can get another datapoint here. This is fascinating.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 7:12 AM on January 29, 2008

I find the smell of cooking lamb to be utterly unbearable - to me it smells like hot death, filthy feet and ass. Perhaps your dog does, too?
posted by tristeza at 7:21 AM on January 29, 2008 [12 favorites]

Huh. I wonder if it has to do with canine's history of guarding/herding flocks. Probably not, but that's the first thing I thought.
posted by melissam at 7:24 AM on January 29, 2008

tristeza, your theory is a good one except that most dogs love those smells ;)
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 7:28 AM on January 29, 2008 [3 favorites]

I have to agree with tristeza, cooking lamb smells like total ass. Just gross. It's not a unique opinion either, and when you consider that a dogs sense of smell is 50 to 100 times more powerful than ours...
posted by heavenstobetsy at 7:29 AM on January 29, 2008

Are you sure it's just lamb? Our dog (a beagle) freaks out when we cook anything in the oven. She sits in the corner trembling. I think it's actually the very subtle smoke coming from the residues inside the oven (or the lamb if you cook it thoroughly). You may not notice it, but since dogs have a sense of smell 100-10,000 times greater than humans, it probably smells like the house is burning down to him.

People that smoke have reported this, especially those who smoke cigars. The smell of smoke can be very troubling to dogs.
posted by mamessner at 7:53 AM on January 29, 2008

I made lamb last night and couldn't keep my dogs from getting close to the oven. They were salivating. I was too. It smelled delicious so I am not sure why others say otherwise. Maybe it was the Guinness in the recipe? The lamb was raised locally and culled humanely, so perhaps Burhanistan has a point. But I have cooked lamb from a traditional grocer and have always loved the smell.
posted by terrapin at 7:56 AM on January 29, 2008

Here's what I would want to know:

(1) When you cook it, does it make any distinctive sounds, like fat-popping?

(2) If dogs react differently to cooking lamb (not sure whether that's what stupidsexyflanders was saying, or that they react differently to other cooking smells), do the dogs that abreact tend to have relatively acute senses of smell? Or hearing, if that's what's at issue?

(3) Can anyone speculate, WITHOUT TESTING THE MATTER, whether lamb while cooking is relatively likely to smell like dog-meat cooking?
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 8:00 AM on January 29, 2008

Response by poster: To answer some questions:

1. The other posts about this on the Web aren't from me.
2. He doesn't have an aversion to the oven being on or meat being cooked in general; usually he's quite interested in it.
3. I've seen this a) when grilling lamb on the stovetop, b) when reheating cooked lamb in the microwave, and c) when my downstairs neighbor was cooking it. It definitely seems unrelated to the method of cooking.
4. It doesn't make any distinctive sounds. I'm quite sure this is about the smell.
posted by stonefruit at 8:12 AM on January 29, 2008

Don't discount the possibility that there's no reason at all. Or rather, no good reason. Dogs can occasionally be neurotic, so they can develop obsessions and phobias out of nowhere.
posted by kc8nod at 8:13 AM on January 29, 2008

Tell you what, I'll experiment too in a couple of days. Probably Thursday or Friday. I don't like lamb and have never cooked it, so my dogs have never smelled it. (My son loves it, so I'll just consider it a sacrifice to the askme gods and generous mothering.) The dogs are not weirded out by anything else I cook - hell, they lie by the oven looking hopeful - and we have a woodstove, so smoke doesn't faze them either. Now, I'm not feeling sacrificial enough to grill it in 20 degree weather, so this is definitely going to be an indoor datapoint, but maybe it will produce something.
posted by mygothlaundry at 8:13 AM on January 29, 2008

I've heard Kosher slaughter is less humane because the animal is bled while conscious, whereas other slaughter methods stun the animal first.

I doubt it's the actual smell that's causing the dog to freak out, it's probably some type of association from his previously-rescued life.
posted by red_lotus at 8:15 AM on January 29, 2008

Mint odors are being used as animal repellents. Did you cook the lamb with mint, or prep mint along with it? If you replicate the activity without the lamb (just the mint), does the dog do the same thing?

For the record, I didn't see any shared volatile compounds between lamb meat and dog hair. Dog meat probably has a few, but finding that data is a bit hard, and I'll bet the compounds in question are shared amongst all meats. It'd probably take a specific sequence of two or more fairly unique to these animals for their to be a connection. So I don't think the dogs think we're cooking dogs.
posted by jwells at 8:57 AM on January 29, 2008

It's not like they recoil from the flavor - lamb is a marquee component of tons of dog food. Kind of argues against the argument that their DNA still wants to protect lambs.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 9:57 AM on January 29, 2008

Here's an abstract that might be a clue: The effect of castration on the headspace aroma components of cooked lamb.

"Minced lamb samples (lean meat or adipose tissue) from 12-week-old ram lambs and wethers were fried in the absence of added fat. The headspace aroma components were isolated onto Tenax GC prior to thermal desorption. A total of 132 compounds were identified and a further 31 were partially characterised by GC-MS, 49 of which are reported here for the first time as components of sheep meat aroma. One of these, 4,6-dimethyl-1,3-oxathiane, which has not previously been reported in any meat, was associated with a stale/wet animal odour. All aroma isolates were dominated by products of lipid degradation with aliphatic aldehydes present in the highest relative amounts. Certain branched-chain fatty acids have been implicated in the characteristic aroma of sheep meat, and 4-methyloctanoic and 4-methylnonanoic acids were identified at higher levels in the adipose tissue from entires than from wethers." Perhaps it just smells too much like a live animal... a strange, live animal in the oven. Creepy!
posted by taz at 10:24 AM on January 29, 2008 [12 favorites]

My dog has the exact same reaction -- and only to lamb, regardless of the method used to cook it. She loves all other meat and doesn't react to it being cooked. Crazy.
posted by proj at 10:33 AM on January 29, 2008

4,6-dimethyl-1,3-oxathiane = wet dog smell

Great job taz.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 12:04 PM on January 29, 2008

Maybe it's more to do with what the animal ate before it was killed? For example, grain fed vs pasture fed makes a huge difference in the volatile compounds in the resulting meat, with pasture fed giving so called 'feacal flavours' (skatole and indole) to the steak. Weirdly these compounds, which smell like shit and death in large quantities, make the meat really tasty when present in very small quantities (well, according to many people, not all agree) and are one of the main differences between, for example, New Zealand beef and American. Maybe your lamb was grass fed and the beef grain fed? It would certainly make enough of a difference for the dogs to pick up during cooking.
posted by shelleycat at 2:01 PM on January 29, 2008

Without getting as wordy/technical as taz, just from the OP I wondered if there might have been some kind of aromatic imprint that, when catching a particular aroma, reminds the dog of a particularly unfavorable incident -- and than when being thoroughly bathed in it, is nearly an emotional jail cell, being trapped in an intense reminded of the incident?
posted by vanoakenfold at 2:07 PM on January 29, 2008

Maybe your dog has a strong sense of smell, and just doesn't like it.
posted by mamaraks at 2:08 PM on January 29, 2008

Just to be clear, could one of you whose dog does this validate that mint has nothing to do with it? I.e. from cooking lamb in the past without mint? I'm revealing how little I've cooked lamb (never!).

What a weird thing...
posted by jwells at 4:03 PM on January 29, 2008

I've heard Kosher slaughter is less humane because the animal is bled while conscious, whereas other slaughter methods stun the animal first.

Eh? Kosher slaughter is the way it is because it's more humane - the killing is quick and swift.
posted by divabat at 8:17 PM on January 29, 2008

Response by poster: In response to the mint question: no mint, either time.

And I don't think this just falls into the 'things the dog doesn't like' category. If he didn't like it, he'd go somewhere else; he would run around whining with his tail between his legs. He's distressed by the smell.

Thanks for all the responses! Can't wait to hear the results of others' experiments.
posted by stonefruit at 8:28 PM on January 29, 2008

The list of volatile compounds I had for lamb only had 21. Taz has a much better source. I used the Good Scents Company search described here.

The compound he found actually pops up in Google books in a book titled, of all things, "Flavor of Meat, Meat Products and Seafood" by Fereidoon Shahidi. Page 112.

There's gotta be a way to counteract that flavor chemically, through a marinade or cooking style (slow cooker?). Anyone know a chemist?
posted by jwells at 9:08 AM on January 30, 2008

Well, of all strange things. It worked. I just cooked lamb chops in the broiler and my dog flipped out. I really wasn't expecting anything to happen! Neither dog had any reaction at all to the raw lamb and neither one cared when it started cooking. But when I pulled it out from under the broiler, Theo, my collie mix, had a complete and total panic attack that's still going on about five minutes later. He's shaking like a leaf and totally wigged. Meanwhile, Django the oblivious to everything springer spaniel, is, of course, also oblivious to the fear of lamb. Maybe, although this seems insane, there is something to the herding dog hypothesis? Cross posted to Metachat.
posted by mygothlaundry at 4:01 PM on February 2, 2008

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