Tuesday, 24 September 2019
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Decorating Homemade Dog Treats

Stamped and shaped homemade dog treats on a black polka dot table cloth

Our current FAQs, Tips, and Troubleshooting mini-series is all about DIY dog treats and today we're talking about decorating homemade dog treats. Baked biscuits can be made and decorated in such a wide variety of styles that we split this treat type into three separate posts: our introduction to making homemade baked biscuit (cookie) style dog treats, today's decorating details, and tomorrow's shelf-life and storage post closing out the mini-series.

Simple Homemade Baked Biscuit Dog Treats


I like to have a little crazy fun when making treats, but dogs care about the yummy scent/taste of their treats, not the fancy shapes, designs, and colours. If you want a quick and simple treat, they'll love it just as much. Treat doughs can be hand-formed into bite-sized balls and gently flattened (I like using a fork, like a human peanut butter cookie) or pressed into a lined pan and sliced to score/cut into easy homemade dog treats in any size you wish. No rolling or cookie cutters required.

Ideas for simple homemade dog treats without rolling and cutting

Tinting and Colouring Homemade Dog Treat Dough


Tinting the dough can be a simple way to dress up a dog treat, whether for simple treats as above or for cutting/decorating.  This can be done with naturally tinted ingredients, like many pureed dog-safe fruits and vegetables, or by adding other tints to your dough. Colours can be use alone in separate treats, layered together to create a unique treat design (similar to working with clay), or marbled into special multi-coloured (and/or multi-flavoured) treats.

Most doughs will change colour when baked, to varying degrees depending on the ingredients and baking method. Colours often get lighter, fade, or brown. Some natural tints hold better than others, and I find powdered add-ins like beetroot powder and turmeric powder particularly helpful (as well as healthful) on their own or to boost an existing colour. You could also use a small amount of dog-safe food colouring, if you prefer. You can read more in our archives about using natural colourings for homemade treats for tinting ideas and tips and we also have a post with special tips for tinting dough pink and red (reds can be tricky). Tip: Dogs vision is significantly different from human vision, and that includes colours. Whatever the results of your treat tinting endeavours it will be scent/taste that matter to the dogs, not looks. 

When the dough is being tinted all the same colour, it's easiest to evenly combine/distribute colour when the mix is still wet. This does have the pitfall of leaving you guessing as to the strength of the final colour if you aren't familiar with the recipe or tinting strength of your ingredients, but you can always top up a little as you continue mixing, if needed. When the dough is being split and tinted different colours, it's often more convenient to mix the full batch, divide the dough, and then tint.  To add tint, I make a small divot in the dough ball, put my tint in the divot, squeeze the dough around the tint, and then knead it through to blend the colour.  Tip: If you are worried the tint staining your hands, you can wear food safe gloves, but I prefer to just wash up quickly and avoid the extra waste. If you are doing this with dry ingredients, small volumes of powerful natural tints like turmeric, beetroot powder, etc. can usually be kneaded in easily, but larger volumes like creating a "chocolate" brown with carob powder may require you to reduce flour or increase liquids for a workable dough. Conversely, if the dough is being split and tinted with wet ingredients, you will need to compensate for the added liquid.


A collage of DIY dog treat decorating ideas for tinted homemade treats

Using Cookie Cutters to Make Shaped Homemade Dog Treats


If your treat dough is suitable for roll-and-cut use, using cookie cutters to make shapes is a simple way to make cute treats. The general process for using a standard cookie cutter with dog treat dough is the same as for human cookies, but it's worth noting that they can be a little more difficult to work with (not that the dogs care about perfectly shaped treats). Doggy dough ingredients skip added sugar, are typically lower in fat, and often use gluten-free flours so it isn't really a surprise that they typically feel/handle differently from human cookie/biscuit doughs when mixing, rolling, cutting, and handling.  Tip: As noted in the troubleshooting portion of our introduction to making baked biscuit dog treats, not all biscuit treat doughs are suitable for roll-and-cut use. Some are too soft, crumbly, or chunky textured to be used this way, and are better suited to ball-and-flatten use or pan baking. 

A collage of DIY dog treat decorating ideas for roll-and-cut shaped homemade treats

Fats (although not commonly use in large quantities in dog treats) can melt and spread during baking, distorting the shape and/or design if plunging or stamping. Tip: Chilling prior to baking is a common method used with cookies to reduce spread, and can be helpful if you discover spreading is an issue with your chosen recipe.

To use plunger-style cutters instead of traditional cookie cutters, you need to ensure that you have a nice cohesive dough that will roll smoothly without cracking, take an impression cleanly, and release from the plunger without difficulty. Thickness is vital for plungers meant to create impression designs - too thick and things get squishy and hard to release cleanly, too thin and the design may not take well. I find it easiest to roll in smaller batches for a uniform thickness to plunger depth, and you can double check the depth by pressing on the back of your lifted treat to ensure that there is no gap between the dough and the plunger.

When working with plungers and stamps, rising/leavening ingredients in the dough are best kept to a minimum since they can puff and distort the design during baking. Surface cracking can also be a detraction from the design. Surface cracking occurs when the exterior of the treat dries and hardens during baking while the body of the treat continues to shift, spread, rise, and/or contract. Dough moisture, density, thickness, flexibility, handling, and baking conditions can all be contributing factors. Tip: As noted in the troubleshooting portion of our introduction to making baked biscuit dog treats, surface crackling and crazing is common with homemade baked dog treats.  Including a small amount of additional fat in the mix or lightly spritzing the surface (oil or water) prior to baking can sometimes be helpful if this crackling is considered undesirable for the finished treat. Lightly baking (and then dehydrating if you want a crunchier treat) may also be helpful.

A collage of DIY dog treat decorating ideas for fancy homemade treats with plunger cookie cutters

Using Cookie Stamps (and Other Objects) to Decorate Dog Treats


Similar to plunger-style cutters, cookie stamps make the best impressions on a cohesive dough that rolls and cuts smoothly smoothly and can take an impression cleanly. Avoid using chunky ingredients that will be difficult to stamp. Dough colour variations and speckling may also be a distraction from the stamped pattern. See above for additional notes on spread, rise, and crackling/crazing.

If you are stamping your treats, you will need to make sure that your chose cutter and stamps are a compatible size. If using custom letter stamps, remember that your letters must be positioned in reverse order as well as backwards individually in order for the stamped work to come out correctly. If you are stamping different words, stamping all of each word before switching saves effort swapping letters around. My alphabet stamps are very basic (and cheap) but versatile, and I'm happy with their use and outcome. They can be tricky to clean (washing in a colander is a great way to avoid losing any) and I keep the separated letters and a base in a jar for easy consolidated storage.

Other clean food-safe objects can be used to draw or make impressions on treats. I often add little accents to cut treats, such as eyes on animals, lines on leaves, etc. for a little bit of extra style. Anything goes, but other cookie cutters, skewers, and kitchen knives are all items I frequently use to create design impressions on treats.

A collage of DIY dog treat decorating ideas for homemade treats with stamped patterns

Decorating Homemade Dog Treats with "Icing" and Coatings


Hard-set dog treat icing is something many folks are keen to try. Sugar-based human royal icing is not suitable for dogs, but arrowroot or tapioca flour and water can be used to make a basic hard-set icing. It's sugar-free, but still high GI (and low value-add other than looks), so this sort of icing is still best reserved for extra special treats. It's also prone to cracking unless the treats are carefully prepped and/or additional ingredients are added to the icing mixture. You can read more in our post about using homemade hard-set "icing" for dog treatsTip: Making crazy shaped treats and cute stamped designs is my preferred way of decorating special treats. Cute, simple, highly portable, and no added ingredients required.  Pawfect.

Melt-and-set toppings or coatings, like yogurt or carob, are easy alternatives to traditional icing. These can be used with homemade treats or to dress-up ready made treats for special occasions or gifts. Tip: Melting yogurt and/or carob drops are often sweetened, whether you are buying them from the human baking good section or specially marketed dog treats. There's nothing wrong with an occasional special treat, but always read your ingredients to know what you're buying and eating/sharing.

A collage of DIY dog treat decorating ideas for iced and glazed homemade treats

Other DIY Dog Treat Decorating Ideas


Your imagination is the limit! Combining different decorating methods (our mummy bone Halloween dog treats are still one of my favourite creations), using press-in feature toppings like mini carob drop "kisses" or small pieces of fruit/vegetables, and adding dog-safe sprinkles to the tops of treats before baking are all methods we sometimes use when making treats.   

A collage of DIY dog treat decorating ideas for fancy homemade treats



Check out the Homemade Dog Treat FAQs, Tips, and Troubleshooting mini-series for more information on treat making, storage, and more: 

Ready to hit the kitchen? You can use our DIY Dog Treat Recipes navigation page to start your explorations, dive straight into all of our homemade dog treat related posts in the blog archives, search the blog from our sidebar, or hop over to our Pinterest for more ideas. 

🦴 Remember, treats (bought or homemade) are for spoiling your pup in moderation. We share ideas here from treats that we make ourselves for our pets, but different animals will have different preferences (likes/dislikes) and dietary needs. Some pets may have special dietary requirements and/or food allergies/intolerances. If you are ever in doubt or have questions about what's suitable for your pet, have a chat with your trusted vet.

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