The “Human Food” Myth

We frequently hear it in training class: “I won’t give my dog any human food.” Let’s explore this common misconception.

Human food, or dog treats? You decide! (Photo credit: Flickr)

There are two reasons most people abstain from feeding their dog “people food:” health and behavior. We’ll explore both.

For starters, let’s talk about behavior issues that could be caused by feeding your dog anything but commercial dog treats. Many people worry that if they start feeding their dog “human” food, the dog will begin begging or stealing food. This is a legitimate concern: these behaviors are very upsetting to many people. However, it’s frankly not a problem.

Dogs beg or steal food because they’ve been rewarded for it, pure and simple. This is a management issue. This is not an issue that is caused by your treat choice. If you never feed your dog from the table or counter, your dog will not associate the chicken you use at training class with the same stuff you cook for your family. That said, if you slip up once and sneak a piece of food to your dog during dinnertime, he’s not likely to soon forget that, and you may have a begging problem for a long time afterwards! A similar rule applies for food stealing: if your dog steals food off your counter once, he’s likely to do so again. Keep your counters clean until you know your dog has been trained well enough not to counter surf.

What about health issues? First of all, there is no such thing as “people food” and “dog food.” Food is food. There aren’t separate farms out there raising chickens for dogs to eat and chickens for people to eat. The only thing separating most dog food from most human food is the quality of the ingredients: dog food and treats often contains waste products of the human food industry.

Read the ingredient label of your dog’s favorite treats, and you will [hopefully!] see ingredients such as chicken, beef, or lamb. You may also see other ingredients like wheat flour, corn gluten meal, corn syrup, or soy protein isolate. Here’s a secret: the only difference between the chicken in your dog’s favorite treats and the chicken breasts you can buy at the grocery store is the quality and price. The chicken that goes into dog treats is usually quite poor quality, and you’ll often pay much more per pound for commercial dog treats than you would for plain chicken. As an added bonus, the plain chicken you buy at the grocery store doesn’t have all that extra junk (corn gluten meal, corn syrup, etc) mixed in with it. It’s actually healthier for your dog than the commercial treats.

So, why does your dog’s stomach get upset when you give him “real” food? There are two things that are likely to upset his system: variety when he’s not used to it, and too much fat.

Imagine you never ate anything but McDonald’s cheeseburgers for an entire year. Let’s say that’s what you have for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day for 365 days. Then, on the 366th day, let’s say you have a nice steak and salad for dinner. What do you think your system would do? You’d probably have an upset stomach. This can happen to dogs, too. If they never eat anything but the same kibble, day in and day out for years, their systems may overreact when they get fed something different. If this sounds like your dog, it’s a simple fix: begin introducing variety in very small amounts. Once a dog is used to eating variety, upset stomachs are rare.

Too much fat can be the other culprit for an upset stomach, and this is again quite easy to avoid. I usually use whatever meat is on sale at the grocery store for training treats, making sure to select leaner cuts. I bake the meat, then rinse off any fat with cool water before cutting it up. By avoiding fatty meats (such as pork or turkey) and rinsing off extra fat, I create my own healthy training treats inexpensively. Even expensive meats, such as lamb, are often much cheaper per pound than a bag of commercial dog treats!

Do you feed your dog “people food” in training, and what are his favorite treats? Do you make home-made treats for him, or do you rely on commercial dog treats? We want to hear from you! Please comment below.

18 responses to “The “Human Food” Myth

  1. Pingback: How did you teach your dog(s) to heel? | How To Teach Your Dog

  2. I feed my dogs lean meat treats at class – usually a mix of chicken, beef, venison and last night he got lamb for agility class. People usually react strangely when I tell them I am cooking a grass-fed steak for my dog for class!

  3. Finally someone who makes sense. Thank you.

  4. For years I had my dogs diets made up for me and homecooked for them, I have a foster and don’t have that option now and I am having a terrible time finding a dog food that agrees with him that he wants to eat. I spent much less on home cooking even with the fee of having the diets balanced for him than I have for this one little foster trying to find a food that isn’t upsetting his little tummy or that he turns his nose up to.

  5. Carol Fatherree

    I think the article makes total sense. I buy treats, American made, and I read all the ingredients before I give them to my min-pin. It’s mainly b/c my life at this point doesn’t afford me the time or energy to fix homemade treats. I give her ‘tidbits’ of people food now and then, but try to make them random as to keep her from ‘expecting’ them.

  6. I have been making my dogs food for a few years now. I provide a variety of meats cooked with vegetables. No sugar, no salt, no preservatives. He is muscular, active, strong and free of the allergies and brown facial discoloration issues that many Bichons experience.

  7. Wow! This myth is one of pet peeves and you dealt with it so well. I have been feeding my pet dog anything I eat for years. Our one rule is no food at the dinner table. When we are eating he lays down under the table.But give him a piece of chicken after dinner for a good recall and he is all over it. Very good article. Thanks! -Wes

  8. I feed raw, including RAW bones. Absolutely agree that kibble and other commercial “dog food” is not a natural, healthy diet for dogs. It has only been widely available for around 60 years, after all.
    I think, however, this article should have pointed out the dangers of feeding COOKED bones, because some readers seeing the photo of the dog looking at a roast and then reading the article may take it as saying you can feed the cooked bones as well.
    I do give boiled chicken breast as treats and make my own beef heart and liver jerky treats.

  9. I want just to respond to Carol Fatherree’s comment that she buys only American made dog treats. “American made” doesn’t necessarily mean that the ingredients are sourced in America, as this article from the dogfoodadvisor site points out: http://www.dogfoodadvisor.com/dog-food-industry-exposed/dog-food-chin/

    BTW, for those looking for a high quality commercial dog food with the least amount of junk in it, this is also a good site to check.

  10. I also agree with the content of this article. I’ve been feeding my three dogs raw food for a couple years now and I think that the cooked meat makes great reward for the dog because it is even tastier. I reserve cooked meat for training though and never give cooked bones! If I had something to add to the article I would say be aware of the processed ”human food” that may contain lots of salt, sugar and unwanted stuff (even for humans!)….

  11. I think dog owners who are claiming this are the ones that see people feed their dogs, potato chips, hot dogs, left over hamburger helper, etc. These foods do have many additives your dog does not need and can cause acute pancreatitis. Any dog I ever saw in a vet clinic with this was given an abundance of table foods and left overs from the fridge. Yes…..you can give your dog food you buy from the store that is lean meats, grains,

  12. A fairly serious nit to pick: I fear that many will read the headline and think not “carefully making your dog treats using food from the market is OK” but “I can feed my dog right off my plate.” The latter is a really bad idea; just Google “dogs onion toxicity” for proof.

  13. darlene blair cunha

    When feed your dog human food it is best to cook theirs without spices just plain as dogs do have problems with some spices and things like onions being toxic.

  14. Michelle Reaves

    I make all of my dogs’ meals and most of their treats. Their typical meal consists of a raw meat (beef liver, beef heart, beef steak, chicken breast, salmon), thawed green beans, shredded raw carrots or some other fresh raw vegetable, homemade whole-milk yogurt, brewers yeast, and water. The meat varies by availability. Once in a while they will get a frozen turkey neck as their meal. The ONLY commercially made treat they get is Costco’s Kirkland Signature dog bones biscuits. Otherwise, I also make their cookies at home as well.

    With all of the recalls going on with the commercially made foods and treats, my two were getting sick more frequently, and so the shift was made. 9 months later, they are happier, healthier, have gorgeous coats, their energy levels are higher, but they are also calmer. Their water consumption is much lower than when they were eating kibble, and also their waste is less overall…. As a matter of fact, I normally let the winter pass before cleaning up the yard (1.25 acres), and then go pick up about a 3-gal bucket and a half full of waste…. This time? I discovered that because of their change in diet to whole raw (i.e. living foods), their waste degrades very quickly, and I had very little to pick up before the first mowing of the season.

    Cooked foods are dead foods, nutritionally for animals. Pick up a copy of Pottenger’s Cats if you don’t believe me. All those added “vitamins” you see on ingredient labels? Synthetic, and chemicals. A copy of Going Back to the Basics of Human Health will outline all of those for you.
    What you read in those two books can very well be applied to your own nutritional health as well.

  15. Have been trying to put weight on a foster coonhound without giving her diarrhea or distress so added a mixture of 100% pure canned pumpkin, plain yogurt, and oatmeal. I can no longer count her ribs, and my other two dogs love it, too, and my new kitten! Think I’d like to continue the trend and eventually get away from kibble with second rate ingredients.

  16. my dogs are fed by raw food and treated mainly with home-made treats or cheese, sometimes with commercial cookies.

  17. I happily feed my dog “people” food for training treats, their favourites are liver (of course!), kielbasa, and anything fishy; not to forget steamed carrots and green beans either.

  18. My st. Bernard eats everything apart of dog food. Especialy donner kebab. Eats onion like an apple. Doesn’t give you peace for a bit of watermelon. Loves spagethi or rice. Begs for pizza, never says no to any kind of soup. No stomach or any other problems at all..

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