Looking for a special gift for a friend – or, better yet, a friend’s dog? Consider making your own dog biscuits, training treats, or grooming products. You’ll save a bundle, have fun, customize your gifts, and even improve their quality.
SWEET POTATO CHEWS
If you’ve ever picked up a $20 bag of sweet potato chews and thought you could make them yourself for a lot less, you’re right. In fact, nothing could be simpler.
Cut raw sweet potatoes or yams into slices (lengthwise or crosswise) between 3⁄8 and 1/2 inch thick. Bake at 250° F for an hour, turn slices over, bake for another hour, and repeat until they’re completely hard. Or let them finish drying in a food dehydrator set to low heat. Once completely dry, these chews have a long shelf life and do not require refrigeration. Several of my tester dogs preferred these to all the other treats.
EVERYONE LOVES BISCUITS
Years ago, wheat was a main ingredient in dry dog foods and biscuits. To meet the demand for gluten-free foods and treats, some manufacturers substitute peas, beans, and other legumes for wheat and other grains, but those ingredients have become controversial, too. Today, a range of alternative flours are widely available, making it easy to create biscuits and treats for dogs with any sort of dietary restrictions; you can easily make treats that are free of gluten, legumes, fat, sugar, nuts, or salt. Experiment with substitutions!
When making biscuits, combine dry ingredients with a mixer, food processor, or by hand, then add other ingredients to create a stiff or soft dough. Line cookie sheets with kitchen parchment paper or lightly grease them before baking to prevent sticking.
Stiff doughs can be rolled flat with a rolling pin and shaped with a cookie cutter, pizza cutter, or knife. Alternatively, shape stiff dough as a log or cylinder, wrap it in plastic wrap, refrigerate until firm, then slice the roll into discs and bake.
Soft doughs can be pushed through a cookie press to create different shapes or rolled into balls and pressed flat with your hand or the tines of a fork.
If using a silicone mold, spray it lightly with oil to prevent sticking, then add the dough and press firmly.
Leaving treats at room temperature for a day or two after baking helps harden biscuits, making them sturdier and crunchier. Depending on ingredients, home-prepared dog treats may last several days to a week or more at room temperature or longer in the refrigerator. For long-term storage, freeze in air-tight containers.
For holiday baking, mix cookie doughs ahead of time and refrigerate or freeze them until a few days before gift giving, then bake and gift-wrap.
Ingredients that are perennial dog favorites include peanut or other nut butters, carob (which tastes like chocolate but is safe for dogs), shredded coconut, carrots, cheese, bacon, and diced or pureed meat, fish, or poultry. Ingredients to avoid include chocolate, raisins, macadamia nuts, onions, and the sweetener xylitol (check peanut butter labels to avoid products containing xylitol).
DIY DOG TREAT RECIPES
To test recipes for this article, I used all of the ingredients mentioned here in a variety of cookies, crackers, and training treats, which were enthusiastically tested by 30 dogs of different sizes, breeds, and ages. Here are their favorites:
Meaty Dog Biscuits
- 3 1⁄2 cups almond, equivalent (see sidebar), or all-purpose flour blend
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1⁄4 cup butter
- 1⁄2 cup finely chopped cooked bacon, fish, meat, or chicken
- 1⁄2 cup milk or coconut milk
Combine ingredients and mix well to create a soft dough. If you have a cookie press, experiment with different shapes and press cookies onto parchment. If you don’t have a cookie press, create balls and press them with the tines of a fork. Bake at 275 ° F for 30 to 45 minutes or until light brown.
Blueberry Banana Biscuits
- 3 cups almond, equivalent, or all-purpose flour blend
- 1 cup blueberries
- 2 ripe bananas, mashed
- 2 eggs
- 2⁄3 cups unsweetened peanut butter or nut butter
Combine ingredients, roll to 1/2 inch thickness, and cut to desired size and shape. Bake at 350° F for 20 to 30 minutes or until slightly brown.
Peanut Butter/Bacon Biscuits
- 1 3⁄4 cup tiger nut, almond, or equivalent flour
- 1/2 cup toasted carob powder
- 1 cup rolled oats
- 1⁄2 teaspoon baking powder
- 3/4 cup milk or coconut milk
- 1/2 cup diced cooked bacon
- 1/2 cup unsweetened peanut butter or nut butter
- 1 tablespoon olive oil or coconut oil
Combine ingredients and form 1/2-inch balls. Press into lightly greased silicon molds or place on parchment-lined cookie sheets and press to flatten with your hand or the tines of a fork. Bake at 350° F for 18 to 20 minutes or until brown.
Pumpkin, Carrot, Coconut Biscuits
- 1 3⁄4 cup almond, equivalent, or all-purpose flour blend
- 1⁄2 cup canned pumpkin puree
- 2 tablespoons unsweetened peanut or almond butter
- 2 eggs
- 1 cup grated carrots
- 1 cup shredded dried coconut
Combine ingredients, roll to 1⁄4- to 3⁄8-inch thick, and shape with cookie cutters. Bake at 350° F for 30 to 35 minutes or until light brown.
Savory Cheese Ribbons
- 2 cups almond, equivalent, or all-purpose flour blend
- 2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
- 1⁄2 cup cold cubed butter
- 1⁄4 cup milk or coconut milk
- 1 tablespoon Herbs de Provence or dried savory herbs such as rosemary, thyme, basil, marjoram, lavender, parsley, and/or oregano
Combine ingredients and mix well to create a soft dough. If you have a cookie press, use a star-shaped or sawtooth tip and move the tip while pressing the plunger to create ribbons. Cut the ribbons into 2- to 4-inch lengths. Bake at 350°F for 18 to 25 minutes until light brown.
Double Sweet Soft Treats
Most packaged “soft” treats contain vegetable glycerin, a plant-derived sweet syrup that acts as a moisturizer and preservative. Food-grade vegetable glycerin is easy to find online and in natural food stores. I experimented with soft treats by adding vegetable glycerin to different recipes with good results. Honey also works well in soft treats.
- 2 cups cooked, mashed sweet potato or pureed pumpkin
- 1/2 cup grated apple or 1⁄4 cup applesauce
- 1⁄4 cup honey or vegetable glycerin
- 1 egg
- 1 1⁄2 cups almond or equivalent flour
Combine ingredients and scoop dough with a spoon to form mounds on prepared baking sheets. Bake at 350° F for 20 minutes. Refrigerate after baking to maintain soft consistency and prevent mold growth.
A Guide To Ingredient Substitution
Some replacement flours can be substituted for equal amounts of wheat flour but others require adjustments. The following ingredients can be substituted on a one-to-one basis (equivalent flours) for wheat flour:
- Several gluten-free flour blends contain almond flour, coconut flour, arrowroot starch, tapioca starch, cassava flour, rice flour, potato starch, or other ingredients designed to replace equal quantities of wheat flour. Look for “gluten-free flour” or “Paleo flour.”
- Almond meal (ground whole almonds) or blanched almond flour (ground after skins are removed).
- Buckwheat, millet, rice, or sorghum flour.
- Oat flour (use rolled oats, quick-cooking oatmeal, or make your own oat flour by grinding oats in a blender or food processor).
- Sunflower seed flour (may be labeled as “sun-flour”).
- Tiger nut flour (made from a tuber, not a nut).
- Cassava flour: Replace 4 cups wheat flour with 3 cups cassava flour.
- Coconut flour: Replace 4 cups wheat flour with 1 cup coconut flour and add 1 or 2 eggs or additional liquid (coconut flour quickly absorbs liquids).
- Green banana or plantain flour: Replace 4 cups wheat flour with 3 cups banana flour.
- Carob powder, plain or toasted: Replace 1/4 to 1/2 cup of wheat (or equivalent) flour with an equal amount of carob powder.
These widely sold gluten-free blends and many like them are available in supermarkets, natural food stores, and online.
- King Arthur Gluten-Free Measure-for-Measure Flour. Contains: Rice flour, whole grain brown rice flour, whole sorghum flour, tapioca starch, potato starch, cellulose, and xanthan gum, and is vitamin fortified.
- Krusteaz Gluten-Free All-Purpose 1-to-1 Flour.Contains: Whole grain sorghum flour, brown rice flour (rice flour, stabilized rice bran with germ), whole grain millet flour, rice flour, modified food starch, whole grain quinoa flour, xanthan gum.
- BakeGood Paleo Flour Blend, Gluten-Free 1-to-1 All Purpose Flour. Contains: Almond flour, arrowroot starch, coconut flour, tapioca flour.
Gelatin is the key ingredient in sweet or savory gummy treats. Unflavored gelatin powder is available from Great Lakes, Knox, and other widely sold brands. Compare labels if you prefer gelatin from grass-fed cattle. Gelatin is recommended for aging joints, increased mobility, improved digestion, strong bones, and skin and coat health. Unfortunately, gelatin does not freeze well. Use gummies as training treats or additions to your dog’s dinner.
To make gummies for dogs, sprinkle 2 tablespoons gelatin powder over 1⁄4 cup unheated coconut water, bone broth, soup stock, or other liquid and let stand a minute or two until the gelatin is absorbed. Heat 1⁄2 cup of the same liquid until almost boiling, add it to the gelatin, and stir.
If desired, add 1⁄4 to 1⁄2 cup chopped meat, fish, chicken, pumpkin puree, or other additions. Pour into a lightly oiled silicon mold, loaf pan, or tray. Refrigerate until firm. Remove gummies from silicon molds. If using a loaf pan, remove the single slab of cold gelatin and cut it with a knife or cookie cutters. Refrigerate gummies, tightly sealed, for up to 2 weeks.
DIY DOG SHAMPOO AND GROOMING GIFTS
These easy gifts are worth making for yourself as well as dog-loving friends. Natural food stores and online retailers sell a variety of tins, jars, spray bottles, pump dispensers, tubes, and other containers for grooming products.
- 2 cups warm water
- 1⁄2 cup distilled white vinegar
- 2 tablespoons baking soda
- 1⁄4 cup natural liquid castile soap like Dr. Bronner’s
- 4 drops essential oil, such as lavender, chamomile, or peppermint
Combine and shake to mix. Avoid the eyes when shampooing. Lather and rinse well.
Itchy Skin Rinse
- 1 cup water
- 1 cup distilled white vinegar
- 1⁄4 cup aloe vera juice or gel
- 1 tablespoon vegetable glycerin
- 10 to 15 drops lavender or chamomile essential oil
Combine ingredients, shake well, and apply by spraying or dabbing onto affected areas as needed.
Soothing Dog-Paw Butter
Dog-paw butter protects feet in hot and cold weather, soothes cracked or sore paw pads, and blocks winter salt burn. It can also be applied to cracked noses. Save some for yourself and your friends as this is an effective lip balm and a great moisturizing salve for cuticles, hands, and feet.
In a wide-mouth pint-sized glass canning jar combine:
- 1⁄3 cup olive, sunflower, sweet almond, or jojoba oil
- 1⁄3 cup coconut oil
- 2 tablespoons shea butter or mango butter
- 2 tablespoons beeswax (chopped or beads)
Place the jar in a saucepan containing a cup of water to create a double boiler. Over low heat, gently stir the ingredients with a wooden chopstick until they are fully combined.
Optional: add the contents of a vitamin E oil capsule
Optional: add 10 drops tea tree, lavender, chamomile, or other essential oil
Leave a metal spoon in the freezer while you make the salve. To test its consistency, dip the frozen spoon into the melted blend and apply to your hand. If it’s too stiff, add a little oil; if it’s too liquid, add more beeswax. When it’s just right, pour it into small jars or tins.