Cooking with Penny

Our puppy Penny likes to help me cook. She’s always been a kitchen dog. When she was actually a puppy (puppy age), she would stand in the kitchen and whine at the oven if it was on and we weren’t in the room. She’s also always been a no-good scavenger. When we first brought her home she would eat literally everything. Shoes, sunglasses, drywall, wine corks…literally anything. We didn’t let her swallow this stuff, and I’ve dug more stuff out of her gob than I’d really like to think of. Over time, though, her doggy palette has become increasingly sophisticated. Now she mainly scavenges for food-based items. And she has an excellent grasp of the “drop it!” command.

I have never been comfortable with feeding dogs “people food.” I don’t think it does them any favors, and I know it leads to begging and stealing (in my experience – some pups are probably better trained, though). People can convince themselves that giving their dog the occasional human-food treat is a way to show the rascally wagger love, but it is not*. Some of the foods we regularly eat can be debilitating, or possibly fatal, to our dogs. And, just like us, dogs will get chubby if they eat too much.

Besides being hyper aware of my dogs’ weights and healthy ranges for them, I’m also vigilant about not dropping food while I cook. If I do, however, Penny will chase the morsel to the dustiest, darkest corner in order to feast. She’s a canine garbage disposal. Which leads me to another point, I also keep my garbage dog-safe, so there’s no secret snacking while we’re at work. She’s quick on the draw, so I try to be aware about what foods would do her harm, so I can be extra-careful while cooking.

Here’s my list of foods to never feed your dogs (not exhaustive, since I don’t cook with every food in existence): avocados, onions, garlic, grapes (raisins), currants, chocolate, coffee, alcohol, macadamia nuts (we get these from my sister in Hawai’i, I don’t actually cook with them), mushrooms (the one food Penny has actually ever rejected). The biggest surprises for most people are, I think, onions and grapes. Also, in general, don’t give your dogs fat of any kind. For a longer list, you can just run a search for this topic, and you’ll find a ton of information (including what some of the symptoms would be of ingestion of these food stuffs).

So moving on to portion control. If you know that you’re going to give your dog a handful of veggies, either cut back her regular food a little or take her on a longer walk that day. And if you find you can’t resist your impulse to give your dog some scraps, try to be mindful of the size of the food in relation to the dog. For example, Penny is 41 pounds. If we compare that to a grown-up who weighs 141 pounds, we can figure out that Penny and this person would eat differently size portions. But not a lot of people would think that a single slice of pizza for a dog would be like a whole pie for a grown human, even though that’s pretty accurate. If you’re really set on giving your dog people food treats, or you want to give your beloved pet the same high-quality organic produce you eat, talk to your vet to get a good idea of how much of which food groups your dog can safely ingest.

Like I said, I don’t give my dogs people food. I saw the dogs throughout my childhood reach obesity very early from extra snacking, and it really bothers me. However, I also know someone who has the warmest heart for dogs, and she feeds her dogs exclusively vegetarian diets that she cooks herself. And her dogs are shockingly healthy (considering they’re all ancient cocker spaniels). So it’s really a case of how dedicated you can be to making sure your dog is eating healthily, and for me, that means no extra snacks (although I know Bob gives them a bite now and then, and that’s ok). Sorry Penny.

*My caveat is that there is plenty of human food that is perfectly healthy for dogs, and most won’t start begging if you are consistent with feeding practices. Just be smart about what is being fed to the dog, and (as importantly) in what quantities. But tossing the dog a half a cookie or the last bite of steak without taking into account what that food contains in relationship to the dog’s digestion and metabolism, and whether they will get enough exercise to work off the extra snack, is not a responsible way to share with your dog.

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