Predicting what will appeal to a dog’s taste buds isn’t an exact science, but, says Kathy Wendt of Tailwaggin Temptations dog treat company, “dogs are always our best testers.”
Take, for instance, Sam, a Labrador retriever who once refused one of their recipes. Kathy’s husband Charlie had recently concocted a new fruit medley treat, which they offered to their canine customer. “Sam did not just drop it,” Kathy laughs. “He spit it about three feet.”
That experience may have left Charlie with his tail between his legs, but he and Kathy have also seen plenty of success growing their business since its founding in 2006. They started with just one flavor, and today offer 15, which they sell at about 20 stores in Albuquerque and Santa Fe. Their two best sellers will come as no surprise for those familiar with the dining preferences of our canine companions: bacon and apple followed by the ultimate doggie classic, peanut butter.
The Wendts’ dream all started in Michigan in 1992, where they each had what Kathy describes as good full-time jobs. The pair had recently adopted the golden retriever Ben, who had a sensitive stomach. They searched diligently for treats that didn’t make him sick, but had no luck. Finally, she decided to attempt to make her own. Not only did the homemade treats pass the tummy test, but “we found a treat he ate and he loved,” Kathy says.
This was just the beginning. At the suggestion of a coworker, Kathy took her treats to a local craft show. “I sold out in an hour and a half and thought, ‘hmm … maybe there’s something to this.’ ” But it wasn’t until the two moved to Albuquerque in 2003 that Kathy and Charlie decided to make a business out of their hobby.
These days, Tailwaggin Temptations’ top taste testers are the couple’s Bernese mountain dogs—4-year-old Carly and her mother, 11-year-old Snickers. Carly’s tail wags for their peanut butter, honey and oats treat, while her mom goes nuts for the carrot and oats cookie. The two pups take turns accompanying the Wendts to public events like the Rail Yards Winter Market, where I met them this December. As I talk to Kathy at the market, customers go crazy for a chance to pet Carly (and it appears that she loves every minute of it, too).
Throughout the year you’ll also find the group of dogs and their human companions at the Downtown Growers’ Market, which they’ve been attending for the past 14 years, or even the Southwest Chocolate and Coffee Fest in March.
Kathy and Charlie’s cooking workload varies based on demand, but Kathy says they can expect to bake thousands of treats per week. She says they once fulfilled a startlingly-large order of 10,000 treats for a group. They do all their work in their home kitchen.
All of their cookies have to dry for a few days before packaging. “Our garage is full of baking racks full of cookies,” Kathy says. That could be why a neighborhood pit bull once wandered to the garage, sniffing around for goodies.
All of Tailwaggin Temptations’ treats—from their “lollipups” to their new cat treats—are registered with the New Mexico Department of Agriculture, which ensures they are safe for the dogs (and now cats) who love them.
Both Charlie and Kathy say they’re in the business because of their love of the dogs and their customers.
Charlie reminisces about the relationships he’s forged with customers over the years. Not only has he watched dogs age, he says, but he’s even seen children grow up, go to college and get dogs of their own.
And then there are those things that all dog owners can bond over, says Kathy. “My favorite part of the job is talking to people who have dogs,” she says, then laughs: “We all have the same mindset and stories of our dogs taking our pillows and eating them.”
And, adds Charlie, he wants to offer customers quality products for a reasonable price. “Our motto is ‘the best quality dog treats at the lowest price,’ ” he says with a smile. “It’s not about the money. It’s never been about the money.”