Dog treats, when it comes down it, are a real pain in the ass. We’ve been sold the fallacy that feeding our pups treats equates to love — our dogs LOVE treats so if we give them treats they will feel loved and in turn love us back. This is dangerous thinking. Let’s start by debunking this myth.
Similarly, with humans, we’ve been conditioned to think that food = love. Now, don’t get me wrong, there are many meals I’ve poured over for hours, that were definitely made with love. Or special cakes ordered for friends’ various occasions because I love them and they love cake (who doesn’t love cake?). But to think that food is love and needs to be reinforced multiple times a day is just a product of really good marketing. And here’s why:
1) Our dogs LOVE eating things like dirty Kleenexes, socks and other dogs’ poops. We don’t feed these things to them for obvious reasons, but depriving them of the aforementioned does not make them think we love them less.
2) Walks, runs, wrestles, snuggles and massage are just a few ways to show love and positive reinforcement that do not require feeding anything. Attention and affection always win.
3) Dogs should never really be eating “treats”, especially not in the volume they’re typically given. I am a firm believer in feeding your pet a species appropriate diet and with that mentality, any foodstuffs outside of meal time should contain functional foods that will help promote optimal health.
So, what to do?
Well, it’s two-fold. Fortunately, we live in a time where the number of quality “treats” has greatly increased. But what we understand to be quality is a different story. Like anything trendy, as pet wellness has come to the forefront of animal care, with it has arrived an onslaught of new companies, products and promises. “Gluten-free”, “human-grade”, “oven-baked”, “single-ingredient” — these sound familiar to you? I see them everywhere. And although they’re good notions in theory, in practice they fall short.
Gluten undeniably wreaks havoc on our dogs’ systems, however, what’s being substituted for wheat is always in question. Almond flour is a good substitute if it’s organic, otherwise almonds are the number one highest crop sprayed with Glyphosate. Brown rice flour is notoriously contaminated with arsenic, highly processed, spikes blood sugar and may contain aflatoxins (a common culprit in pet food recalls). Chickpea flour contains Phytates and Lectins — Phytates are substances that carnivores can't break down because they lack phytase, the enzyme necessary to process phytic acid. Phytates bind minerals (including zinc, iron, calcium and magnesium), leeching them out of your pet's body. Lectins are sticky proteins that when consumed in large quantities may contribute to gastrointestinal (GI) disturbances and leaky gut (Dr. Karen Becker, 2018)
This one’s my favourite — anthropocentrism at its finest. As if all beings on this planet aren’t deserving of access to nourishing, high quality ingredients to maintain wellness. Not to mention that human grade meats (i.e. what’s typically sold at the grocery store) are often factory farmed meats where the animals consume unregulated feed, pumped with hormones and antibiotics and subject to horrific living conditions. This is literally nothing to boast about.
Oh yes, immediately connoting the memories of grandma in the kitchen creating warm, delicious cookies making you think this product has been made with the utmost love and care. Well, I call bull shit. NEWSFLASH, most treats are baked…in the oven (because where else are you baking them?) and baking treats, even the “healthiest” treat filled with fruits or veg are pretty well zapped of most nutrients from the high temperatures. So, if you’re buying oven-baked treats for their high value ingredients…don’t.
It’s true, the less ingredients the better, for the most part, but like our explanation of human-grade, single-ingredient treats are only a good thing if the ingredient in question is quality. So, for example, if the single ingredient is beef liver — where was the beef sourced? What were the cattle fed (livestock feed can include anything from antibiotics and hormones to plastics and rodent excreta- YEP!)?
What was their living conditions (typically hellish)? This is important because whatever they eat and experience goes directly into our dogs’ bodies. If the single ingredient is a fruit or vegetable, is it organic or at least on The Clean 15? This seems pedantic but the sad truth is our precious fruits and veg are sprayed with a myriad of pesticides, fungicides, larvicides, herbicides and insecticides that can (and do) lead to numerous health issues. So, for example, apple slices may seem healthy, they tick every free-from box, and yet if they’ve been saturated in chemicals, how healthy are they?
Is there anything out there you can treat your dog with (you shout into the night!)? And the answer is YES! It’s just about practicing mindfulness — choosing quality over quantity, especially if you’re not focusing on training or enrichment, and making it more about treating than treats! I treat my dog often — we share morning green smoothies, I will randomly crack a pasture raised egg into his bowl, or a dollop of goat or coconut kefir, I’ll put some organic nut butter in a kong to keep him busy or give him a few fresh water sardines; I freeze bone broth in popsicle molds for a nice treat on a hot day or feed him some pieces of organic broccoli, kale or cauliflower stem while I cook!
As for training and enrichment, there are numerous homemade options that allow for more quality control — keeping the baked skin from low-mercury wild caught fish (salmon, Pollock, cod) cutting it into pieces and tossing it into a bag for walkies. The same can be done with organic bacon (turkey or pork). Or if you want to purchase a bag of treats, these are my favourite options to feed in moderation.
Here's Some Safe Treats:
Mini Cod Chips – Small and low mercury.
Sweet Potato Fries – Sweet potatoes are on The Clean 15 list
Wren Snax Trainers – Gorgeous dehydrated treats made locally in Toronto. Not organic but we can’t have it all!
Winnie Lou Treats – Organic and dehydrated treats with high value ingredients.
North Hound Life – Three ingredient treats sourced in Canada. I prefer the vegan option as the meat isn’t traceable.
Hounds on Raw – All of their single ingredient treats are sourced from organic pasture raised local farms in Ontario.