Thursday, May 3, 2012

Homemade Dog Treat Basics

One thing I really love is animals. I have always loved animals, and in fact, I used to want to go to veterinary school. I'm not really sure when I changed my mind, but at some point I decided I wanted to help people instead of solely animals. Well, as God would have it, I'm back to working with animals. Although my degrees are in neuroscience and I even have my MA in psychology, I was only able to find a job at a local pet store. Apparently, veterinary school would have been far more lucrative than the therapy route haha Anyway, that is besides the point, the point is, I get to work with animals now. Now, it may seem that just working at a pet store doesn't merit much animal knowledge, but since it is a small store, we pride ourselves on knowing a lot about an assortment of animals. One area I know quite a bit about is dog care. I personally have a dog, and have always had a dog since I can remember, and now I know more than ever about caring for my little guy. His name is Buchanan, we call him Buch :)

The more I learn about dogs, the better I can care for my little guy. Buchanan is a very active, sweet, fun, and loving border collie, jack russell terrier mix. We rescued him when he was just three months old, and he will be a year old this month! Time has flown--look how little he was the day we got him, he is twice as big now as he was there:

 I want to make sure that he gets the best life he can and that includes lots of love, playing, exercise, and good nutrition. The hardest part about good nutrition (just like for us) is making healthy taste yummy!

So, here are some basics about dog treats. The first thing that is important to understand is dog nutrition. In order to make a healthy, tasty treat for Fido, you need to make sure your ingredients are good for your little guy. There are a few major items to stay away from: onions, corn, chocolate, and grapes. These are all not good for your dog. Corn will not kill your dog, but they cannot digest it, and so it turns out as waste in your yard, if you know what I mean. Another thing to know about your dog is allergies. If your dog has any allergies (gluten/grains being most common, some protein allergies are also fairly common) be sure to make gluten free treats. I will have some examples later on. Just know your dog, grains aren't bad for your dog, but seeing as it's the most common allergy, just be aware. My dog is not allergic to grains, so occasionally I use good old flour in his treats. I mostly stick with natural, unprocessed food items for his treats, but again flour is something he gets as a special tasty snack (it's like eating candy for us). Something else I really steer clear of is sugar. Buchanan would not be eating white or brown sugar if he were living in the wild, so there is no need for me to add it to his treats now. Some of his favorite treats are cinnamon treats made with no sugar and they smell sooo good I tried one, but they tasted pretty lame to me since there was no sugar, but he gobbles them down. Just because we don't like them doesn't mean they don't :)

So, let's get on with what they do like! Most dogs LOVE peanut butter. I have never met a dog who doesn't. I'm sure he's out there, but I haven't met him yet. Dogs also usually love proteins (chicken, beef, turkey, rabbit, venison, etc.), fruit (applesauce, banana, cranberry, blueberry, etc), and vegetables (spinach, broccoli, peas, green beans, sweet potato, etc.) The next step is getting these items all together into one yummy treat! The easiest way I have found for getting the protein in the treat is to use stock, either chicken or beef just a little added to the treat makes for an extra taste of delicious. The fruits and vegetables can be diced, pureed, or dried depending on what you want to make. 

The biggest key to making a nice crunchy dog biscuit is all in the baking. The way to get that dog bone, super crunchy texture (which is also good for their teeth) is by baking on low heat (usually around 250 degrees) for a looong time (usually 40-60 minutes) Just keep an eye on the treats so they don't look burned. The other great way to make treats is to use the dehydrator. A dehydrator makes 100% natural treats that are guaranteed healthy. Buch's personal favorites include dehydrated chicken and sweet potato! These are both really healthy and fun for your dog (and far cheaper than buying them from the store). Another fun way to make dog treats is freezing them! Buchanan loves ice cubes, and so I thought that making some frozen treats would be fun for him. I just take some plain yogurt (which is homemade in a crockpot, maybe one day I will get around to posting that recipe) and mix it with some of the things he likes such as a little honey, peanut butter, broth, really anything your dog likes and put it into ice cube trays. A little of the mixture goes a long way, and your pup will enjoy a fun treat that is a little more of a challenge. 

I haven't posted any dog treat recipes yet, but once I get around to it, I will definitely link them here! Until then, experiment for your dog (he probably won't judge your baking skills) keep it healthy, and look online for treat recipes (just be careful about ingredient lists before starting)! It is a lot of fun and your dog will thank you for it!

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