Cooking Up A Canine Christmas


Have I shared the details of how crossing lives with our little rescue dog, Riley, was kismet? I'm about to, anyway. Warning: when I get going in "dog Mom" mode, I'm sappy at best. Saccharine even, if you're being a grump. Growing up, our family dog, a terrier cross, was a key factor behind improved allergies, I believe. I loved her so much, I think my brain actually managed to talk my body out of a degree of sensitivity to allergens. Once I left for college, I did notice heightened sniffles upon visits home, but they were short-term by then, and bearable enough. I didn't think another dog could ever replace her when she passed, and the thought of Dave and I getting a dog of our own didn't even cross my mind.

My grandmother was always my biggest supporter. Somehow she embodied the safe, comforting feeling of coming home. When we lost her nearly three years ago, for whatever reason Dave's subconscious decided it was important to bring some new love and focus into our lives, right away. Suddenly, he was spending inordinate, precious free time checking out sites and making visits to all the humane societies within a 100 mile radius, and I was passively bewildered.  I may even have been a little difficult. Sinusitis is my usual nemesis, and while I love dogs, I can't be too close to most breeds for very long. No question but we'd have to have what's considered a "hypoallergenic" dog, and despite the massive pool of poor, abandoned animals turning up every day in shelters, there weren't many who would qualify.

When Riley, a 3- year old bichon frise,  made a pictureless appearance on the Longmont Humane Society website, my friend Jayme and I went to see him immediately, and it was a done deal. He was irresistible. Filling out Riley's adoption paperwork, I noticed that what was logged as his birthday was Dave's and my anniversary; what's more, his surrender date was my late grandmother's birthday. Casual coincidence, I'm sure, but it seemed like destiny.

My grandmother was one of those lucky souls who always knew her passion, followed it, and achieved it. She was a nurse, a natural, efficient caregiver. When we adopted Riley (who, incidentally, was a major handful for a good long time), I felt like somehow my grandmother sent him to look after me. The idealistic dramatist in me confirmed the feeling one spring afternoon when, really ill with a nasty stomach bug, I literally passed out on the bathroom floor, exhausted, for several hours. When I woke up, the first thing I saw was Riley's fluffy white teddy bear face peering down at me. He'd been sitting there on the cold tile (and  note, he is actually an extremely picky, pampered dog who likes his fleecy creature comforts) the whole time.

So, that's one of my Riley stories, and a roundabout way of getting to the main point of this post, which is, our most loyal and protective best friends deserve a happy healthy holiday. And, accomplishing this merits a little thought and care. Look closely at the labels for typical packaged dog snacks. Not unlike our own processed food, you’ll likely find lots of unhealthy ingredients lurking inside, such as sugars, dyes, and preservatives. Moreover, most are held together with substantial amounts of flours. Since dogs and cats’ bodies do not digest grains efficiently, this is not an optimal choice.

Luckily, there are increasingly appealing, natural, and healthy alternatives to standard dog treats filled with junk ingredients. Simple homemade snacks like slow baked (dehydrated ) sweet potatoes and small chunks of meat will make your canine’s Christmas.  I've been digging around for reliable recipes, and found some great sites, including Dog Nutrition Naturally and Three Little Pitties. Even better, most of these all natural homemade, healthy treats are ever so easy to make. You can tweak the recipes to make any quantity in a snap, so you don't have to worry about things spoiling (or you can freeze). You'll be tempted to sample too, and amazingly, some treats, like the sweet potato chips, are actually really good by human standards as well. Guaranteed wags all around!


  • 2 medium sweet potatoes
  • Ginger powder
  • Garlic powder (NOT garlic salt)

Wash and slice sweet potatoes ¼” thick. Place on cookie sheet; not touching. Sprinkle garlic and ginger. Bake at 275 degrees for 90 minutes, turning once.

The low temperature makes them between cooked and dehydrated. Once they cool completely, they’re almost like sweet potato chips.

PUMPKIN FLAX STICKS (adapted from Three-Little Pitties): I adapted  these to eliminate rice flour. You may need to add a little extra flax meal. Like the sweet potato chips above, they are as easy as can be! Plus, pumpkin is reputed to be good for your dog's digestion. I molded mine with a small cookie cutter into tiny gingerbread shapes. They'd be even easier just dropped in little rounds. 

  • 1 cup flax meal
  • 1 cup PLAIN canned pumpkin
  • 1 t. cinnamon

Set oven to 350 degrees. Mix all ingredients. Mix and roll teaspoon full with the palm of your hands 1/3 to ½ inch thick. Place on cookie sheet and bake 25 minutes.