This special FAQ 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. Let’s look at different techniques and ideas for decorating homemade dog treats.
Simple and Easy Homemade Baked Biscuit Dog Treats
Decorating Treats for Dogs
Before we dive into decorating, just a little reminder that fancy treats are more for the humans than for the dogs. I like to have a little crazy fun when making treats, but dogs care more about the yummy scent and taste of their treats. Not the fancy shapes, designs, and colours. If you prefer to just make quick and simple dog treats, they’ll love them just as much. Being doggone delicious is the most important part.
Quick Baked Biscuit Dog Treat Options
Want to skip the decorations and make quick treats? Skip the muss and fuss of rolling? One easy option is to hand-form the dough into bite-sized balls and gently flatten. I use a fork, like a human peanut butter cookie. Dog treat dough 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 quick and easy baked dog treat ideas. If you’d like to bake something a little more special, check out the full pet chef post below for ideas on colouring, shaping, and decorating homemade treats. On to the crazy fun part!
Tinting and Colouring Homemade Dog Treat Dough
Decorating Homemade Dog Treats with Colourful Treat Dough
Dog vision is significantly different from human vision. That includes colour vision. Contrary to popular belief, dogs aren’t colour blind though. Still, whatever the results of your treat tinting endeavours, it will be scent and taste that matter to the dogs, not looks. Woofs!
Tinting Dog Treat Dough
Colouring is 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 used alone in separate treats. They can also be used in creative combinations. Coloured treat doughs can be layered, modelled to create unique designs (similar to working with clay), or marbled into multi-coloured (and/or multi-flavoured) treats. Check out the pumpkins in our peanut butter pumpkin dog treats for an example of modelling. See our unicorn bone dog treats for an example of dog treats with marbled dough.
Tinting a Single Colour Dough
When dough is being tinted all the same colour, it’s easiest to evenly combine colour while the mix is still wet. This does have the pitfall of leaving you guessing as to the strength of the final colour. This can be a bit tricky 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 while the mixture is still 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 use this technique for fun effects with a base dough and complimentary single tint, like accentuating the natural 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 the colour, I make a small divot in the dough ball, put my tint in the divot, squeeze the dough around the tint, then knead it to blend. If you’re worried the tinting ingredients staining your hands, you can wear food safe gloves. Personally, I prefer to just wash up quickly and avoid the extra waste if possible.
If you are doing colouring treat dough 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 treat 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 colours hold better than others when baked. 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
Decorating Homemade Dog Treats with Fun Cookie Cutter and Plunger Shapes
If your treat dough is suitable for rolling, then you can play with shapes. Cutting dough with cookie cutters or plungers is a fun way to make decorative dog treat designs. Easy, but cute! As noted in the troubleshooting portion of our introduction to making baked biscuit dog treats, not all 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. If you’re keen to make shaped dog treats, pick a dough recipe that can be rolled.
Using Cookie Cutters to Make Dog 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 treat doughs can be a little more difficult to handle than cookie dough. Not that the dogs care about perfectly shaped treats. Homemade dog treat ingredients usually skip the added sugar, are lower in fat, and often use gluten-free flours. With that in mind, it isn’t really a surprise that they typically feel and handle differently when we’re mixing, rolling, cutting, and handling them.
Using Plunger Cookie Cutters to Make Dog Treats
Plunger cookie cutters (affiliate link) are a cute way to shape and decorate dog treats all at once. They cut shapes and stamp the surface with a design impression. Plungers are a favourite tool in my personal baking collection. In fact, I’m thinking about adding more. Standard plunger cutters make cookie-sized dog treats. Small plungers, like some fondant plunger cutters (affiliate link) are a great way to quickly cut smaller training treats. You can see this technique at work with my mini plungers in our dog treat baking shortcuts post.
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. Rolled 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 might not press clearly. 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. See an example of a check in the collage with our apple cinnamon dog treat recipe.
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. 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. 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. For low fat dog treat doughs, it’s not usually necessary.
Surface cracking can also detract 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 fat/oil 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
Decorating Homemade Dog Treats with Stamps and Patterns
Stamping is a fun way to create special designs and patterns on homemade treats. Unlike icings or coatings (see below), there are no extra ingredients, extra prep or set time, less muss and fuss, and no issues with packing or storage. Since there are no extra ingredients, stamping is also a great way to make a fancy treat for a dog with allergies or special dietary sensitivities using your favourite safe recipe. Plungers stamp while they cut, but you can combine other cookie cutters with lots of different stamping tools.
Suitable Treat Doughs for Stamping
Similar to plunger-style cutters, cookie stamps work best on a smooth roll and cut treat dough that can take a clean impression. 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 dog treats, you will need to make sure that your chose cutter and stamps are a compatible size so the design fits on the cut treat. The exception to this is if you’re making all-over patterns or special effects, like our mosaic Valentine’s Day jigsaw puzzle dog treats. On these treats, the rolled dough is stamped and then cut. The designs intentionally extend past the edges of the cut treats.
If using custom alphabet stamps (affiliate link), 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 they’re versatile and work well. See our stamped peanut butter bacon bones for more details on our alphabet stamps and examples of use.
Other clean food-safe objects can be used to draw or make impressions on treats, too. 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. Explore our shaped and stamped dog treats for ideas.
Decorating Homemade Dog Treats with Icings and Coatings
I’ve included this section for completeness, but icing dog treats isn’t something I do often. Making crazy shaped treats and stamped designs is my preferred way of decorating special dog 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. Instead, 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. Adding extra ingredients can help it dry and set with a little flex to reduce cracking. I’ve had good success including small amounts of cream cheese, honey, peanut butter, and/or molasses to starch icings.
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 bought dog treats for special occasions or gifts. See our stacked star Christmas tree dog treats for an example of making special treats with melt-and-set decorations. Check our our carob dipped dog treats for an example using ready made treats.
Double check the ingredients when using this type of product. Yogurt melts 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.
Glazes, Washes, and Paints
Unlike the icings and coatings above, this glazes, washes, and paints can be a little less naughty depending on the ingredients. Pre-baking glazes and washes can be made with a water, milk, or egg-base and optional tints, just like decorating human cookies. A light wash, like the carob wash on our mummy bone Halloween treats, can be used to add colour or accentuate stamped patterns. A heavy glaze can be brushed on for design or colour. You can also create a thick mixture and apply it like a paint to part of your treat. Depending on your base, type of tints, and application, you may need to use a starchy add-in to thicken up your food paints.
Other DIY Dog Treat Decorating Ideas
Your imagination is the limit when it comes to decorating homemade dog treats! Combining different decorating methods (our mummy bone Halloween dog treats are still one of my favourite creations), using press-in features 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 for dog treats.
Keen to Try a Few Treats?
Feeling hungry? Or excited about decorating? We have all sorts of treat related posts here on the blog to help get you inspired. You can sniff around our DIY dog recipes, navigate through our categories and tags, or use the internal search to find specific types of treats or 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 links on things like ingredients, substitutions, conversions, tinting, and more. 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
Hungry for more tasty treats? There are all sorts of homemade dog treat ideas in our blog archives. You can use the category and tag labels to find other recipes that might be of interest or use our internal search tools to find something specific. Remember, treats (bought or homemade) are for spoiling your pup in moderation. We share ideas from treats that we’ve made ourselves for our pets, but different animals have different preferences (likes/dislikes), just like people. 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.