Today’s post is all about DIY dog treat decorating ideas for extra special (and fun) homemade dog treats. As part of our current FAQs, Tips, and Troubleshooting mini-series topic on treats, we’re getting fancy with tips for treat tinting, shaping, stamping, icing, and more.
Simple and Easy Homemade Baked Biscuit Dog Treats
I like to have a little crazy fun when making treats, but dogs care about the yummy scent and 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 dough can be hand-formed into bite-sized balls and gently flattened. I like using a fork, like a human peanut butter cookie. It can also be pressed into a lined pan and sliced to score or cut into easy homemade dog treats in any size you wish. No rolling or cookie cutters required. Check out our simple shortcuts for making baked dog treats for more ideas.
Tinting and Colouring Homemade Dog Treat Dough
Tip: Dog vision is significantly different from human vision, and that includes colours. Whatever the results of your treat tinting endeavours, it will be scent and taste that matter to the dogs, not looks.
Tinting 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 and decorating. This can be done with naturally tinted ingredients, like 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. See our unicorn bone dog treats for an example and instructions on making treats with marbled dough.
Tinting a Single Colour
When the dough is being tinted all the same colour, it’s easiest to evenly combine 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.
Wherever possible when making a single dough colour, I like to tint wet. It’s much easier to get an even distribution that way. As a compromise if colour strength is important, I will sometimes mix most of the way but not all. Then I’ll adjust my tint when the dough is still sticky before topping up the last of the flour to final consistency.
You can also use uneven distribution as a sneaky trick to create a marbled effect in a treat dough. I’ve done this for fun with a base dough and complimentary single tint, such as accentuating the rippled swirl of a blueberry base with ripples of beetroot.
Tinting Multiple Colours
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. 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. Larger volumes, like creating a rich 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 may need to compensate for the added liquid with additional flour.
Baking May Affect Colour
Most doughs will change colour when baked. This happens to varying degrees depending on the ingredients and baking method. Colours often get lighter, fade, or brown. When baking treats, to avoid browning and help maintain other properties, I often bake lightly and then dehydrate.
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.
Read more in our post about using natural colourings for homemade dog treats for tinting ingredients and tips, including special tips for tinting dough pink and red. Reds can be tricky.
Using Cookie Cutters to Make Shaped Homemade Dog Treats
Using Cookie Cutters to Make 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. 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 and/or handle differently from human cookie and 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.
Using Plunger Cookie Cutters to Make Dog Treats
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. Not sure? 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.
Additional Tips for Cookie Cutters and Plungers
When working with plungers and stamps, rising or leavening ingredients in the dough are best kept to a minimum since they can puff and distort the design during baking.
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. 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.
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. 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, spritzing the surface prior to baking, and/or lightly baking (and then dehydrating if you want a crunchier treat) may help to reduce crazing.
Using Cookie Stamps (and Other Objects) to Decorate Dog Treats
Suitable Treat Doughs for Stamping
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 cracking or crazing.
Choosing and Using Stamps for Homemade Dog Treat Decorating
If you are stamping your treats, you will need to make sure that your chose cutter and stamps are a compatible size. 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.
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 they work well. 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.
Decorating Homemade Dog Treats with Icings and Coatings
Tip: I’ve included this section for completeness, but it’s something I don’t often do myself. 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.
Dog Treat Icings
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 treats.
Melt-and Set Dog Treat Coatings and Dips
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: 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 the ingredients to know what you’re buying, eating, or sharing.
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 fruits or vegetables, and adding dog-safe sprinkles to the tops of treats before baking are all methods we sometimes use when making treats.
Keen to Try a Few Treats?
Check out the full mini-series topic for an introduction to the main categories of different homemade dog treats we make and share here on the blog:
- Why (and How) to Make Homemade Dog Treats
- Frozen and Chilled Homemade Dog Treats
- Homemade Gelatin Gummy Dog Treats
- Homemade Dehydrated Dog Treats
- Homemade Birthday and Special Occasion Dog Cakes
- Homemade Baked Biscuit (Cookie) Dog Treats
- Decorating Homemade Baked Biscuit Dog Treats
- Homemade Baked Dog Treat Shelf Life and Storage
We have all sorts of treat related posts here on the blog. You can sniff around our DIY dog recipes, use our categories and tags to navigate, or use the internal search function to look for specific types or treats or treat ingredients. You can also hop over to our DIY Dog Treat Recipes board on Pinterest for ideas from here and all around the web. We’ve also started a Pet Chef Help board on Pinterest with handy links on things like ingredients, substitutions, conversions, tinting, and more.
🦴 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 or dislikes) and dietary needs. Some pets may have special dietary requirements and/or food allergies or intolerances. If you are ever in doubt or have questions about what’s suitable for your pet, have a chat with your trusted vet.