How to have dinner with your dog

Charming? Sometimes. Annoying? Often. His habits led me to a series of early, panicked Google searches: “dog ate [item]», repeated several times. In doing so, I discovered that many foods could be happily shared with her, and I got into the fun of sharing snacks with my dog. I peeled tangerine slices: one for Penny, one for me. Carrots, celery sticks, blueberries and apple wedges for easy and simple mutual treats. When I’m done with the peanut butter, she licks the spoon clean.

Motivated Food is more than a way of life – it’s an animal behaviorist term I first heard when I signed up for obedience classes with Penny at the MSPCA’s Angell Memorial Hospital. I had mistakenly assumed that meant Penny would learn to see me as the boss, but she’s smarter than that.

“Learning honest obedience to a dog is the arduous task of the owner,” Donna Haraway wrote in her “Manifesto of Companion Species”.

How sorry we all were for the poor saps whose dogs turned their noses up at treats during training. They were not motivated by food. We were the lucky ones, shoving our hands into slimy pockets of hot dog bits, our canine companions working the trade, contemplating and finally agreeing to sit down when they decided it was time.

As with any pleasure, excess has its drawbacks, and Penny taught us the virtues of saving all risky ingredients, like chocolate, in well-secured places. She recently galloped around the room, guilty and proud, smelling uncannily of pizza. The kitten had tossed a clove of garlic onto the floor, where Penny had volunteered to clean up. The dog’s math prevailed: Based on her weight, she hadn’t ingested enough to cause more than an afternoon’s indigestion.

And then in the fall before the pandemic, I picked up Michael from a shelter in Rhode Island, where he was recovering from an unexplored past, living as a wanderer in the Georgia swamps. Michael looked about a thousand years old, with eyes like full moons, covered in salt-and-pepper fur, but he was only about two years old. Around food he was nervous, at first eating only in solitude at night, probably accustomed to slipping capture stealing trash. Her hunger strikes baffled me, until I tried home cooking: I managed to thicken her ribs with plates of steamed chicken, sweet potatoes and rice.

Who doesn’t love a good stew, after all? For Toby, a demanding Shih Tzu with a prominent underbite, my in-laws prepare a homemade porridge of rice, meat and chopped vegetables. They break out the week’s meals in advance into storage containers, like a highly organized personal trainer’s Instagrammed diet.

Is home cooking too precious for the palate of a guest who would be happy to roll in carrion? It’s not new.

“I have always said that I would never give a dog or a cat what I would not eat myself,” wrote mid-century food writer MFK Fisher in his 1942 teaching “How to Cook a wolf”. She wrote that a price-conscious human cook could grind meat, loose grains, and old vegetables into a “smelly but unrecognizable slime” that can be eaten hot, cold, or sliced ​​and fried, like junk, like a delicacy.

And while Fisher didn’t literally advise us to cook a wolf, she explained how to cook for a. This slime is truly versatile; it doubles as a pet food, she wrote, calling it “…the best all-in-one diet for any normal dog or cat alive.” Toby would be delighted.

Pampering our special fur babies is one thing, but there are serious things too. The FDA lists 117 active pet food recalls since 2017, with a list of potential contaminants that would put any manufacturer in the niche: Salmonella, rodents, Listeria, metals and more.

Not every dog ​​owner is lucky enough to have a living hoover like Penny, and for picky eaters, home cooking can be a salvation, which gives more variety in texture and style than I remove from a bag every morning. The American Kennel Club warns potential canine cooks to carefully follow nutritional guidelines for dogs and to consult a veterinarian.

“Owners are told by many sources that homemade foods are superior to commercial products,” writes Jennifer A. Larsen, DVM, MS, Ph.D., in the AKC’s guide to cooking for her dog. “However, there is no evidence to support this claim,” says Dr. Larsen.

Even so, the field of dog cookbooks is well developed (sorry). “The Culinary Canine” (2011) by Kathryn Levy Feldman features recipes from chefs for dogs, in case additional culinary training makes a difference for a diner drinking from the toilet bowl. A “Muttloaf” recipe from New Jersey personal chef Diane Henderiks calls for two pounds of ground turkey tied with chopped vegetables, brown rice, eggs and cheese. I would eat it!

“Cooking for Two: Your Dog and You” (Schultz & Schultz-Osenlund, 2016) starts out squarely with a “forbidden list” of verboten ingredients before launching into an adorable series of cross-species recipes: chicken soup, beans steamed greens, and homemade popcorn, for example. Although Penny would be happy to gobble it all up in one bowl.

Several companies market “beer” for dogs, usually canned flavored broth. (Penny, surprisingly, turned down this one on a recent brewery outing.) And almost all of the recipes are as bland as Thanksgiving dinner at the hospital, eschewing most herbs, alliums and other provocative embellishments to respect canine nutrition and safety. guidelines.

Ultimately, the answer is simplicity: To share a meal with your dog, the menu should be simple food for simple tastes, served by a knowledgeable and trusted hand.

“The dog’s agenda is simple, understandable, manifest: I want. I want to go out, come in, eat something, lay here, play with it, kiss you,” Caroline Knapp wrote in “Pack of Two.” (1998). “There are no ulterior motives with a dog, no mind games, no guesswork, no complicated negotiations or good deals.”

Hunger is as universal a desire as any other, and perhaps the simplest. Through her we find the only way, after all, to want to share a bite with a dog.

Lindsay Crudele can be reached at [email protected].