Monday, 23 September 2019
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Homemade Baked Biscuit (Cookie) Dog Treats

Dalmatian dog in front of oven full of baking homemade dog treats.

Our current FAQs, Tips, and Troubleshooting mini-series is all about DIY dog treats, and we had so many delicious things to share that we extended the mini-series into this week so that baked biscuit (cookie) dog treats could get the extra special treatment (sorry...couldn't help myself!) this category of homemade dog treats deserve as one of the most popular and varied types of treats. Today's post is an introduction to making biscuit treats, and then we'll look at shelf-life/storage and decorating in their own dedicated posts to wrap up the mini-series.

Making Baked Biscuit Dog Treats


Baked biscuit dog treats often look like little cookies, but dog-friendly baked treats are made without added sugar, are typically low(er) in fat, and are often (not always) a very different scent/flavour mix than we humans would enjoy! Treats can be made in all sorts of flavours, shapes, sizes, and textures depending on preferences. You can find a recipe you'd like to try (here or elsewhere), customise a recipe to better suit your preferences and pet, or create your own unique recipe. The latter might feel intimidating if you're not an experienced baker, but dogs are generally very forgiving treat tasters. :) To help understand common ingredients and the roles they play in treat recipes, here is an introduction to the key elements of making a baked biscuit treat:

No matter what the recipe combination, baked biscuit treats almost always include some sort of flour or equivalent. Although our dogs have never shown an intolerance to wheat/gluten, I use brown rice flour as my preferred flour, and occasionally oats, oat flour, coconut flour, and others for special purposes. Rice flour is gluten-free and creates a good working texture for handling/shaping treat dough. I also like that significantly less rice flour is needed in a mix than if I was using a wheat flour, which means each treat has more "good stuff" and less of the carbohydrate loaded flour. Although I now bake biscuit treats almost exclusively with brown rice flour, I keep white rice flour on hand for the rolling matt and cutters as it's smoother for that purpose than my preferred brown rice flour, which is locally milled organic brown rice flour and somewhat coarse. Tip: Different flours behave differently during making and baking. If you're trying to substitute in a recipe, check a flour substitution guide online and be prepared to adjust your ingredients. Different flours have different absorption, different binding needs, will create different dough (and finished treat) textures, and may affect cooking time and/or temperature needs.

Binders help to hold the the treat together and give structure. Tip: Most gluten-free flours need extra binding support for a workable dough during prep and structure after baking. Eggs are commonly used; however, ground flax, chia seed, gelatin powder, and many flavoursome liquids and purees can also act as binders in addition to adding scent, taste, and value, as noted below. 

The ingredients that add scent, flavour, and nutrition are key to making an appealing and healthy treat.  There are many options for baked treats, including cooked meat, cooked or tinned fish, dairy, broth or stock, nut butters, fruits, vegetables, herbs, spices, or anything yummy and dog-safe. Ingredients can be finely pureed or used as chunky add-ins depending on the type of treat and your preferences. Tip: When using prepared foods, check the ingredients and nutritional content labels to ensure their ingredients are suitable and safe for use in dog treats. Avoid unnecessary added sugars and salt, and be vigilant for dangerous ingredients such as the artificial sweetener xylitol, which is particularly dangerous for dogs.

Depending on the moisture content of your binders and add-ins, you may need to use some additional liquid for a good workable dough consistency, but it is important to balance moisture and flour with sufficient binding to avoid crumbly treats once the moisture bakes out (see troubleshooting below).

Baking times and temperatures will vary with recipe, shape, and size. I'll talk about tinting, shaping,and decorating homemade baked dog treats tomorrow in the next post of mini-series. My personal preference is to lightly bake treats and then either enjoy them as soft cookie-style treats or dehydrate after baking as a crunchier treat. Baked treats can be left in the cooling oven for a slightly crisper texture or placed in a dehydrator (fresh from the oven or later) and further dried.  Totally optional, of course!

Shelf-life and storage depends on the type of treat, preparation, and storage, but homemade treats have a limited shelf-life. Unlike preservative packed and/or commercially dried treats, shelf life is limited for most homemade treats. Depending on the type of treat, they're typically best used within a few days and frozen for longer storage. I'll be sharing more about baked biscuit dog treat safety and storage later in the mini-series.

Dalmatian dog sniffing a round homemade dog treat stamped with the word "YUM"


Troubleshooting Common Baked Biscuit Treat Problems


Dough Consistency and Handling.  Common dog treat ingredients will vary in moisture and consistency vary depending on your chosen product. How ingredients are measured, any substitutions/omissions, and a host of other factors can all affect the consistency of a dough. To help, we recommend working incrementally when mixing wet and dry. When working with gluten-free flours and low-fat doggy doughs I find resting after mixing can help to ensure consistent hydration (absorbing liquid into dry ingredients) and improve general handling. After resting, I like to knead thoroughly and, if needed, I can tweak the moisture or flour. I work with most doughs at room temperature since, unlike human cookies, there are no/few butters or other fats to chill for consistency. Tip: Not all biscuit treat doughs are suitable for roll-and-cut use. Some are too soft, crumbly, or chunky textured to be handled this way, and are better suited to ball-and-flatten use or pan baking. Coconut flour for example, although a healthy flour, is one that I only use for ball and flatten because of it's texture in treat dough. Others can be too chunky to cut smoothly or difficult to separate cleanly because of  textured add-ins.

Crumbly Treats. A lack of moisture and/or binding can result in crumbly treats. As the treat bakes, moisture evaporates from the dough, leaving behind the dry elements of your ingredients. Baking conditions (e.g. temperature and time) and/or post-baking dehydrating can make things even crumblier since removing additional moisture relies heavier on residual binding to give stability and structure. Low-fat gluten-free doughs are especially vulnerable and benefit from extra binding, which is one of the reasons that I often include flax, chia, gelatin, dairy, and purees along with eggs. Including an ingredient with a little extra fat can such as dairy, peanut/nut butter, olive oil, etc. can also help. The shape and size of the treat can also be a contributing factor. The thinner the treat, the more vital that structural support becomes. The same applies to vulnerable cut shapes with narrow sections, protrusions, corners and tips, etc.  Tip: When I first started making roll-and-cut treats, I rolled thin treats thinking it would be better for crunch; however, these were frustratingly to vulnerable to cracking and crumbling (especially the long narrow bone shapes). Thicker treats that are baked lightly then dehydrated are my go-to method for crunch these days. My dogs also enjoy soft cookie-style non dehydrated treats.

Crackled Treats. Because many dog treat doughs tend to be low(er) in fat and are often made with gluten-free flours, they're particularly vulnerable to crackling or crazing across the surfaces when baking. 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. 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.

Over/Under Baking Times vs. Recipe Recommendations. The baking time for any given treat will vary depending on the shape and size of the treat and the set temperature, so your treats may take more or less than the author's time. The smaller/thinner the treat, the shorter the baking time. Larger treats that have been cut into shapes with small tips and protrusions are prone to browning in these areas due to baking faster than the main body of the treats, so bake with extra care. Recipe substitutions, temperature of the dough, type of baking pan, and placement in the oven can also be factors. Tip: Actual oven temperatures may vary greatly from the dial setting, so if you're experiencing issues routinely with different types of baking, it may be worthwhile checking with an oven thermometer.


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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