I didn’t set out to be a dog chef, but sometimes life is what happens while you’re making other meals. When we got our first dog, Barney – a delectable, teddy-bearish Border Terrier – 12 years ago, I did what most first-time dog owners do: I began by feeding him what his breeder fed him, then segued into a dry diet recommended by our vet.
When we took him to his first puppy class, I stood in the Sunday morning drizzle of our north London park, bug-eyed with astonishment at a woman who arrived with a bag of organic, homemade liver treats. ‘Don’t let me get like that,’ I whispered to my husband.
And yet, here we are. Every day, I cook for Barney and his sister Gracie, our two-year-old Dandie Dinmont Terrier. My gateway snack was a batch of doggie breath bones (biscuits crammed with parsley, for sweetness of breath). Once I began making those, it was a short step to doggy meatloaves, braised beef cheeks and pupcakes. And in the end, as these things sometimes do, it became a book.
Naturally, I avoid foods that are harmful to dogs: chocolate; grapes and raisins; onions and other alliums; cooked bones; corn-on-the cob; fatty meat; and peanut butter with the sweetener xylitol in it. And I ensure their diet is about 70 per cent meat, with the rest made up of healthy grains, vegetables and fruit (as I write this, Gracie is chasing frozen blueberries around the kitchen floor – her favourite sport).
The British are known as a nation of dog lovers. According to a 2018 survey from the Pet Food Manufacturing Association, we now own nine million dogs between us; a rise of 300,000 in 2017. Just over a quarter of households share their homes, hearths and hearts with canine companions. 28 per cent of Good Food magazine readers own a dog, and 9.1 per cent of readers have more than two. Like all things, dog ownership is subject to the vagaries of fashion. Last year, according to the Kennel Club, Labrador Retrievers were knocked from first place as Britain’s top dog by French Bulldogs for the first time since 1990 – sturdy pocket rockets beloved by celebrities such as the Beckhams, Madonna, Hugh Jackman and Martha Stewart.
It’s increasingly evident that the benefits of owning a dog extend far beyond the gleeful welcome when we come in the door. A 2017 study of 3.4 million people, published by Uppsala University in Sweden, found that dog owners can be 23 per cent less likely to die from heart disease. This was prominent among people who live alone, as dogs help to relieve social isolation with its associated stress and depression. Owning a dog may also lower blood pressure and speed up recovery from illness, and children who grew up with dogs were found to have lower rates of asthma and allergies.
Of course, the most obvious daily benefit to owning a dog is that it forces you outside in all weathers. But, as well as the exercise, it can open up your life in a beautiful way. I now have a whole gang of park friends, and we’ve been through births, marriages, deaths, divorces, illness and personal and professional triumphs together. They – and their dogs – are my daily glee club, and just knowing them enriches my life enormously.
So, for me, this adventure that started with doggy breath bones and turned into a book is about more than what I feed my pooches. Their gourmet dinners are a very small reward for the daily joy they bring into my life. Along with millions of others, my canine companions make me a better, kinder, healthier person – and no bones (doggy breath, or otherwise) about it.
Dog food recipes
Want to cook for your dog? These canine-friendly recipes will have them barking for more!
Peanut butter & banana bites for dogs
MAKES 40-50 bites
PREP 10 mins, plus cooling
COOK 18-20 mins
- 100g buckwheat flour, plus extra for dusting
- 100g rolled oats
- 70g salt-free and xylitol-free smooth peanut butter
- 1 small banana, mashed
- 3 tbsp ground flaxseed
- 3 tbsp coconut oil, melted
- Heat oven to 180C/160C fan/gas 4. Line a couple of baking trays with baking parchment. Stir together all of the ingredients in a mixing bowl until well combined. Add 4 tbsp water and stir until you have a dough.
- Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and roll out until about 5mm thick. Cut into shapes using a 2cm cookie cutter, then place the biscuits on the prepared trays. Roll out the scraps and cut into shapes until you’ve used up all the dough.
- Bake for 18-20 mins, then leave to cool on the baking tray. When completely cold, store in an airtight container. Will keep for up to one week.
Sardine & sweet potato bake for dogs
MAKES 1 bake
PREP 10 mins, plus cooling
COOK 45 mins
- 2 x 120g cans sardines in olive oil
- 1 small sweet potato, about 250g, scrubbed and thinly sliced with a mandoline or a sharp knife
- ½ tsp fresh thyme leaves
- Heat oven to 200C/180C fan/gas 6. Drain the oil from the sardines into a bowl. Add the sweet potato slices and thyme, and toss until well coated.
- Line an ovenproof dish about 25cm x 15cm with half the sweet potato slices. Mash the sardines roughly with a fork and spread them over the sweet potato, then top with the remaining slices. Cover tightly with foil and bake until the potatoes are very tender when pierced with a sharp knife – it will take about 45 mins. Leave to cool a little before serving to your dog.
Chicken & fennel au gratin for dogs
MAKES 1 large or 2 small gratins
PREP 30 mins ,plus cooling
COOK 15-20 mins
- ½ tsp olive oil
- 1 fennel bulb, halved, cored and finely sliced
- 1 celery stick, finely diced
- 1 carrot, cut into 5mm dice
- 1 tsp buckwheat flour or brown rice flour
- 600ml salt-free chicken or vegetable stock, or water
- 4 skinless chicken thighs (you can cook with the bone in if you like, but make sure you remove every trace of bone once cooked)
- 4-6 sage leaves, roughly chopped
- few dog biscuits, crushed
- few gratings parmesan
- Warm the oil in a flameproof casserole dish or heavy saucepan over a medium heat. Add the fennel and cook for 10 mins until softened, stirring occasionally. Add the celery and carrot. Cook for a minute, then sprinkle over the flour and stir to coat the vegetables. Pour in the stock or water and bring to a simmer, then add the chicken thighs. Cook the chicken for 15 mins or until cooked through, then scoop the meat out with a slotted spoon and leave to cool.
- Heat oven to 200C/180C fan/gas 6. Simmer the broth until it’s thickened. Remove the bones from the chicken if necessary, then shred the chicken into small pieces and return to the broth. Stir in the sage, then tip into an ovenproof dish.
- Sprinkle the dog biscuits and parmesan over the chicken, then bake until the top is crisp and golden, about 15-20 mins. Leave to cool a little before transferring to a dog bowl.
“Would you cook for your dog?” survey results
A third of Good Food readers own a dog – that’s more than the national average – with 9 per cent owning more than two. But would they cook a meal for them? We asked our followers on Instagram (@bbcgoodfood) two questions about how far they’d go to cook for their canines. Here’s how you voted along with additional results from market research company, Mintel:
Over half of Good Food followers would be keen to cook for their pooch, however when it comes to sharing a meal with your canine companion this was a less popular option.
Would you cook for your dog or is this barking mad? Leave a comment below…