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The way the dog cookie crumbles

A glimpse into the bifurcated world where dog and man meet cheek to jowl

In the essentially unexplored world of dog biscuits, Dylan Jones would rank as connoisseur. A good thing, too, because all eyes and ears will be on Dylan as the only non-canine judge interpreting results at the upcoming Dog Cookie Bake-Off.

The bake-off, part of Tourism Whistler's first annual Dog Days, kicking off April 16, will see Dylan and fellow four-legged judges determine the best of show for home-made dog biscuits. The taste test gets underway at 2 p.m., April 24 at the village firehall parking lot.

In addition to samples for the judges, contestants will submit their cookie recipes, which will be compiled into a cookbook and sold to raise funds for Whistler Animals Galore (WAG), the local no-kill shelter which last year assisted 113 animals, three-quarters of them dogs.

"Actually, I’ve been eating dog cookies for a long time," notes Dylan, who, at a mere 12 years of age, is one of WAG’s most dedicated volunteers. "Gayle (Melanka), who brings home-made cookies and food to the shelter, has always had these really good peanut butter cookies and I like to eat them sometimes. I give the dog one and I give me one."

Dylan quickly points out that he only goes for quality home-made biscuits with no animal by-products. But besides that, what does a human expert on dog cookies look for?

"Pretty much how they taste is the main thing. And how they smell too," he says. "I like them softer, not hard at all. And fresh, right out of the oven.

"I probably will watch the dogs and how they react, but I’ll have my own opinion, too." You can bet your sweet dog biscuits he will.

But before you leap to any conclusions about Dylan and his proclivity for dog bickies, check out the recipes below. I don’t know about you, but when I read them I thought, hey, these sound really good, and that was even before Dylan tipped me off. Plus they’re probably a lot healthier than most people biscuits, which is what drives the bake-your-own trend and other nouvelle approaches to dogs’ diets.

Dog food is an $8-billion/year industry in North America. You could write a book on the subject, as many have, but for now you’ll have to settle for this helicopter view.

I base my findings on a pretty unscientific survey of everyone from local vets to Joanne Russell, shelter manager for WAG, and Kathleen Duffey and Valori Saltzman, who make home-made dog treats they sell commercially. Of special note is George Cook, also known as Dr. Doo Litter, who last week removed 500-800 pounds of dog doo from one condominium site alone, and thus qualifies, at least in my books, as an expert on the ultimate outcome of dog food. (Some 1.5 million pounds of dog waste are produced in Whistler each year, making it at least a top contender, if not the No. 1 gross domestic product.)

Everyone agrees on one point. Go for the best quality you can (generous donors who drop off food at WAG take note!). But what’s quality? Here the debate begins to simmer.

Some dog owners swear by cooking up their own dog food from a variety of people food, including meat and vegetables (dogs, like bears, are omnivores; cats are carnivores). This can be a good thing. But unless you follow balanced recipes and supplement with vitamins and minerals, cautions Dr. Val Dirdala of Squamish Veterinary Hospital and Animal Health Clinic of Whistler, you could be doing your dog a disfavour. He recommends quality dog food like that available at veterinary clinics.

Others, like Kathleen at Tailwagrrrs, swear by raw food for their dogs. But caution flags go up there, too. Raw meats can spell trouble. For instance, dogs can cope with E. coli and salmonella, but these bacteria can harm people. And while some dogs thrive on raw food, others don’t and are better off on commercial dog food.

"It’s complicated," notes Dr. David Lane of Coast Mountain Veterinary Services. "The food is geared toward a typical statistical dog, but each dog has its individual needs. Whatever you’re feeding them, you have to stand back and evaluate how your dog is doing."

That means checking out typical indicators like how dense and shiny your dog’s coat is, her mouth health and her activity levels – some bad dog behaviour is caused by the wrong diet. And keep on evaluating your dog’s diet throughout her lifetime. Their needs change just like ours do.

Just because dogs will eat anything doesn’t mean you should let them. If you want to do the right thing, invest 50 bucks or so in a visit to your favourite vet and get some sound advice on what to put in your dog’s mouth. That might include these biscuits:

Whistler Wish Bones

(Courtesy: Kathleen Duffey of Kathleen’s Tailwagrrrs)

2 1/2 c. organic whole wheat flour

3/4 c. milk powder

1/4-1/2 c. olive oil

2 tbsp. organic honey

2 vegetable bouillon cubes dissolved in 3/4 c. boiling water

1/2 c. carrots

1/2 c. fresh or dried parsley

1 large or 2 small fresh cloves of garlic crushed

1 organic egg

Preheat oven to 300 F. Mix all ingredients and then roll out to about 1/4-1/2 inch thick. Cut into any shape you like. Place on ungreased cookie sheet and bake 30 minutes. Remove from oven and cool on rack. Serve.

Teddy Bear’s Dog Biscuits

(Courtesy: Valori Saltzman of Teddy Treats)

1 cup flour 1/4 c. wheat germ 1/4 c. brewer's yeast 1/4 c. crushed flax seed

1 tsp. salt 1/2 c. fresh chopped parsley

1 tbsp. + 1 1/2 tsp. canola oil

1 clove garlic, chopped medium

1/2 c. chicken stock plus 3 tbsp. for basting

Heat oven to 400 F. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper. Mix first 6 ingredients together in a medium bowl. In a separate bowl, combine oil and garlic. Alternately add 1/2 c. chicken stock and flour mixture in 3 parts; mix well. Knead about 2 minutes by hand on floured surface; dough will be sticky. On a lightly floured surface, roll dough to about 3/8 inch thick. Cut out bone shapes; place on prepared baking sheet. Bake 10 minutes, rotate baking sheet, and baste with remaining 3 tbsp. chicken stock. Bake 10 minutes longer. Turn off oven, leaving oven door closed. Leave pan in oven overnight. Makes about 5 dozen.

Glenda Bartosh is an award-winning freelance writer who once fell in love with a greyhound.