Features June 2004 Issue

Best Dog Treats

It’s a lot easier to find tasty, healthy treats for our dogs than for ourselves!

by Nancy Kerns

Rearranging the treats I was photographing for this article, I decided to spell a word. The decision to spell out the word “love” was not a conscious one, but it was automatic.

To our dogs, food is love – and security, affirmation, and reinforcement. When we give our dogs what trainers refer to as “high-value” treats – foods that are especially sweet, meaty, or pungent – our message gets through to them especially loud and clear. Behaviorists are highly appreciative of the ability of food treats to “classically condition” a dog to tolerate, and then even enjoy, environmental stimuli that he previously found frightening or threatening.

Dog Treats

Treats are love, as long as you buy healthy products and feed them to your dog in moderation, preferably as a reward for good behavior. Why not train your dog while just hanging out and having fun with him? That’s the best time to do it!

Plus, it’s fun for us, feeding our canine friends something they’re crazy about – the doggie equivalent of taking the kids out for doughnuts or ice cream.

Except, in the case of dog treats, we don’t have to worry about ruining our friends’ health with dangerous additives like high fructose corn syrup or partially hydrogenated oils (aka trans fats), which are found in many (if not most) snack foods in supermarkets. That’s because, unlike most human treats, dog treats can easily be found in healthy flavors and formulations that dogs find irresistible.

Hold out for health
The problem is, treats are probably the most likely of all dog-related items that a person might buy impulsively, without (horrors!) even a glance at the ingredients list. That’s because treats are often so darn cute! The packaging is frequently adorable and the names are hilarious.

Regular WDJ readers, however, know that you should never buy anything for your dog without a long, hard look at the ingredients panel, no matter how cute the cartoon dog on the label looks. It’s simply pointless to spend so much time and energy finding the best healthy foods for your dog if you are going to subvert your own efforts at health-building with low-quality, additive-filled garbage.

Nowhere are these deleterious junk foods more prevalent than at your local grocery store. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: Don’t buy commercially manufactured treats for your dog at the market. The treats they sell there (including most treats for kids) are just full of stuff your dog is better off without – stuff like low-quality by-products, sugar and corn syrup, and artificial colors. (See the examples of poor-quality, grocery-store treats in the sidebars.)

So where should you buy dog treats? For the utmost in quality, we recommend selecting fresh treats from local artisans. Our list of favorites includes treat makers such as Wet Noses (of Snohomish, Washington), Howling Hound Treats (Summerville, South Carolina), and Heidi’s Homemade Dog Treats (Columbus, Ohio), who hand-select the produce they buy from local farmers, as well as Rosie’s Rewards (Pray, Montana), who uses free-range Montana beef from local ranchers. Some of these folks have storefront shops; others rely on independent pet supply stores, veterinarians, and groomers to display and sell their wares. A few offer their goods only through phone orders or through their Web sites.

We have also been impressed by the number of folks who have managed to launch or grow their companies to national prominence while still manufacturing a top-quality product – companies like Cloud Star of San Luis Obispo, California (maker of Buddy Biscuits); Nature’s Animals of Mamaroneck, New York; and Pet Central of Sylvania, Ohio, maker of Waggers Dog Treats. These treats can be found in many pet supply stores and catalogs nationally, yet the company owners have maintained high standards for ingredient quality and consistent production.

What’s on the label
We hinted earlier that you have to read the label of any item that crosses your dog’s lips. Don’t be scared; it’s not that difficult! Your first task is to make sure the products don’t contain stuff that’s not good for dogs – such as artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives. Keep an eye out for lower-quality ingredients that indicate the maker may have cut corners to keep costs down, such as by-products or food fragments. If you are not sure you would recognize products meeting this description, compare the treats in the “Do Not Buy!” list with our selections; it’s really obvious if you just look at the ingredients list.

Those of us who have figured out which foods don’t agree with our own dogs due to food allergies or intolerances are also on the lookout for ingredients that may make our dogs itch, develop ear infections, or suffer painful gas or diarrhea. These ingredients vary from dog to dog, although many treat manufacturers focus on a handful of ingredients – including wheat, corn, soy, and eggs – that are purported to be more commonly implicated in canine allergies or intolerances than not. One company (Waggers) covers its bases by making three treats: one is “wheatless,” one is “meatless,” and one is “sweetless” – something for every dog!

Don’t worry about the presence of sweeteners in treats (unless your dog is diabetic, in which case you should focus on the meat-based treats). After all, the assumption is your dog will receive only a small number of these per day or week.

After you eliminate treats that have stuff that is bad for your dog, look for the good stuff: things like whole meats, grains, fruits, and vegetables. The more organic ingredients you see, the better, especially for dogs with chemical sensitivities and dogs who are combatting cancer (see sidebar).

Final notes
As is always the case when we review foods, we did not consider price in our selections. As ever, we implore you to remember that you get what you pay for. Inexpensive treats cannot contain good quality ingredients, because quality ingredients cost more. Of course, you also pay more for an especially cute presentation, such as the candy box style used by Happy Pet of San Francisco for its Canine Confections. You can’t beat a presentation like this, however, if you are looking for a special gift for a fellow dog-lover.

Be aware that we do not rate or rank-order our selections. A treat either meets our selection criteria (outlined in the sidebar) or it does not; there is no “top pick” or “best on the list.” And if you are familiar with a treat that meets our selection criteria, don’t worry that it’s not as good as our selections because it’s not on our list; we obviously haven’t reviewed every product on the market. Happily, there are many more good products than we could ever list.

We grouped our new selections into two categories: cookie-type treats, which contain grains; and meat-based treats that are usually carb-free. The selections are grouped alphabetically by category.

We’ve also listed all of our past selections that meet our current selection criteria. We’ve taken only a few products off our lists; this has occurred because we have made our selection criteria more stringent – not because those products are bad.


Also With This Article
"What You Can Do"
"Look For The Hallmarks Of Top-Quality And Low-Quality Treats"
"Why Buying Organic Is Worthwhile"
"Not Recommended – Do Not Buy!"
"New To WDJ’s List Of Approved Treats"
"WDJ’s Past Selections Of Approved Treats"

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