(By Jen Rynda, Patuxent Publishing )
Given how quickly dogs learn by food reward, how long does it take them to recognize the sound of Tiki’s Playhouse doggie ice-cream truck?
Probably with one sample, since the possibilities include tantalizing banana, blueberry, molasses and peanut butter in various tasty combinations, plus fruit cups, soft biscuits, dental bones and nice cold water.
“They’re actually pretty good!” says Kelvin Abrams, 42, owner of both the truck and Tiki’s Playhouse Doggie Day Care in Glenelg, as he acknowledges giving the cool canine treats a try himself. But that’s OK, he quickly explains; “They’re human-grade ingredients, all natural, holistic and organic. Just not all that sweet, because there’s no lactose.”
A truck for Tiki’s has been on Abrams’ mind since he read about one in the dog-friendly United Kingdom a couple of years ago. This past spring he finally got his own version rolling here — the first in the Maryland/D.C./Virginia area (although California beat us to it nationally).
The fun began with visits to community events such as Howard County’s Dog Day Afternoon, Maryland SPCA’s March for Animals, Baltimore Humane Society’s Paws on Parade and Puppy Palooza at Lilypons Water Gardens in Adamstown.
That’s where 7-year-old golden retriever Melody attended her first DockDogs event and earned a blue ribbon for the longest leap in her group, qualifying her for the novice finals. It also earned her a cup of Barkin’ Berry ice cream (a yummy molasses, peanut butter and strawberry mixture) from Mom and Dad Ed and Debbie Brenner, of Beltsville.
“At first she wasn’t sure how to get to it in the cup and licked the top,” says Ed. “Then the man from Tiki’s flipped over the treat in the cup and the bottom had melted a bit and was easier for her to get to.” And just as human athletes do, “I think it is safe to say Melody definitely endorses Barkin’ Berry ice cream,” he adds.
The Tiki treat-mobile visits scheduled events in area counties by invitation and can serve Howard County neighborhood routes, but cannot sell within the dog park, Abrams says — the Recreation & Parks folks, understandably, don’t want to take any chances with food coming between friends.
This summer the truck has roamed nearby western Howard County neighborhoods as well as more populous eastern sections. Alas, Abrams’ own two Weimaraners — L.C. and Carson — cannot go along for the ride. The Ford cargo van, outfitted with a freezer but not actually a freezer truck, can only hold one at a time.
Besides, he says, they might want to wolf down the merchandise. (Tiki’s also offers home delivery of dog food among its various services, but that’s done via another vehicle entirely.)
Of course Playhouse pups have the opportunity to offer their slurps of approval. Cheese-loving Banjo, a 3 ½-year-old black Lab from Glenelg, is especially fond of Yoghund’s apple cheddar blend, which Mom Christine Colbert buys by the box for his daily dessert.
“Once he got hold of some before dinner, and my daughter said, ‘No, Banjo!’ He looked straight at her and stomped his foot!,” Colbert remembers.
Over in Glenwood, the prospect of mini fruit cups of apple, pear and banana with mint is the only time Dawn Louro’s “little demon” wire-haired fox terriers Oliver and Lucy will sit and stay — “sort of.” They race to the crates where they get treats, lie down and freeze just like the goodies they await.
“We only hear anything from them if they accidentally push the cup through the bars,” says Louro. She serves bigger helpings to a friend’s golden retriever, holding them as he works his big tongue around the cup, “and he won’t let me up til he’s done.”
Teddy Nowak, a daily Tiki visitor from Frederick, has taste-tested both Yoghund blueberry vanilla frozen yogurt and Frozen Woofy’s Treats (available in Barkin’ Berry and Banana Rama Ding Dong bananas and peanut butter), according to Mom Jeanette, who selected “flavors which would be interesting to me if I were a dog.”
His “really sensitive stomach” suffered no ill effects whatsoever, she adds, and if Teddy could talk, the 4-year-old Westie would say, “More, please!”
Overall favorites have been the blueberry vanilla yogurt, sweet potato/molasses and peanut butter/honey ice creams. In addition to healthy and nutritious composition, Abrams says the treats he offers are surprisingly low in calories.
Still, he admits, you might not want to offer them daily.
Prices range from $1.50 to $3 per tasty cup.
As for the Tiki truck’s signature sounds, there are some 80 possibilities on its PA system, from barking dogs to mooing cows to tweeting birds to music of all sorts. But Abrams will probably stick to playing bells and barks.
He already has the bells and whistles.