Saturday, February 23rd, is International Dog Biscuit Appreciation Day and that made me want to go digging for the origins of this obscure and wacky holiday.
Though I did not find the exact genesis of this holiday, I did find that the dog biscuit itself has a long, storied history. There is some evidence that the dog biscuit has been around since Roman times when dogs were given hard, stale bread as treats. Stale bread became known as “dog’s bread” and according to one source, if people were caught giving good bread to their dogs, they were forced to sleep in doghouses. (I wonder how they enforced that!)
In any case, the creator of the modern-day dog biscuit appears to have two possible claimants. According to one source, dog biscuits were invented by accident during the late 1800s by a butcher in London. In this account, the shop’s owner was trying to generate more business by creating a new biscuit recipe for his customers. However, after baking and tasting the first batch, it tasted so horrible that the man threw one to his dog, who immediately gobbled it up. Knowing a great idea when he saw one, the butcher used the recipe to make biscuits especially for dogs. When he shaped them to look like bones, the new dog treat was soon flying off the shelves.
It’s reported that in the early 1900s, the dog biscuit recipe was bought by an American businessman who took it back to the United States and founded the F.H. Bennett Biscuit Company. Selling the dog biscuits under the name “Malatoid” the dog biscuits recipe was granted a patent in 1911. In 1915, the name was changed to “Milkbone” to pay homage to one of the main ingredients, cow’s milk.
However, most credit contemporary dog biscuit invention to an electrician from Ohio named James Spratt, who got the idea during a visit to London in the mid-1800s. Spratt noticed stray dogs at a London ship yard, gnawing on discarded hardtack, the cheap, rock-hard biscuits known as “molar breakers” that sailors ate while out to sea. Already a successful entrepreneur with a patent on lightning rods for buildings and luxury dog homes, Spratt felt he could dominate the market if he used fresher ingredients, like meat, vegetables and wheat and in 1860, he patented Spratt’s Patented Meat Fibrine Dog Cakes.
From a marketing perspective, Spratt was very innovative for his time. He identified his most lucrative target markets and positioned his products accordingly. His primary target was to appeal to hunters who wanted to give their dogs extra energy while out in the open and secondarily, he pursued wealthy dog owners who wanted to give their dogs convenient treats. The company employed endorsement by royals and other leading public figures and relied on a wide range of advertising and marketing collateral to promote its products, from full page advertising in the specialized press to cigarette cards and billboards. In fact, he is believed to be the first business person to use colored billboards to advertise his products.
Spratt’s company dominated the American market until 1907 when Bennett’s bone-shaped dog biscuits usurped his position. Today, of course, there are many companies offering a plethora of dog treats in a wide range of shapes, sizes and ingredients, and I really don’t think dogs care much on who invented them or even why. They’re just glad they did!
To celebrate International Dog Biscuit Appreciation Day, we are offering Max’s AH-mmm Morsels Recipe Card and Dog Bone Cookie Cutter which is regularly $2.50, for only $1 this weekend in Max’s store!
So celebrate the day with a little treat for you and your dog and remember the sanguine observation of author Phil Pastoret, “If you think dogs can’t count, try putting three dog biscuits in your pocket and then giving your dog only two of them.”