More and more owners are ditching their dog's bowls in favour of using their food throughout the day for training and enrichment purposes. At the same time, there is a growing trend to switch dogs to a raw food diet. One of the greatest concerns when it comes to a raw food diet for dogs is safety and the risk to human health.
In this article, I share with you how to use your dog's food for enrichment and training even if you feed raw.
Before we look into how to safely use raw as part of your training and in enrichment toys, there are two key facts that you may find useful.
Dry and canned food is not safe
According to the FDA (Food and Drug Administration), there have been more than 20 dry and canned food recalls due to Salmonella contamination from major brands. There have also been over 800 cases of dry dog food being linked to Salmonella contamination in humans. This means that the kibble that we handle, fill enrichment toys with and happily carry in our pockets on walks to use as training treats is not risk-free. Kibble can contain bacteria. ( source)
A word on bacteria
Despite what often comes to mind when we hear it, bacteria is not a dirty word. In fact in the right amounts and, in the right places, bacteria are valuable to our health. It acts as the first line of defence to other pathogens that might land on our skin or enter our airways or digestive system.
In fact, some scientists believe that the overuse of anti-microbial wipes and gels may be doing us more harm than good.
I am not a scientist and as such am not qualified to give health advice. So unless you are one, and you are sat reading this in your white scientist's lab coat, then my recommendation is to follow standard hygiene rules for handling raw dog food.
Top tips for handling raw dog food for enrichment and training
Wash your hands with hot water and soap before and after preparing or using your dog's food for training and enrichment
Wash and disinfect all surface and utensils that have been in contact with raw meat
After each use, wash enrichment toys, utensils,& storage racks with soap and water. Rinse properly and dry before the next use
If toys are dishwasher safe - wash at a high temperature
Store raw food and enrichment toys prepared with raw food in the fridge -
Ensure raw food is stored safely away from other foods avoiding drips and leaks. (SkooPrep® Rak)
Use separate working areas and protect surfaces when preparing food (SkooPrep® Prep Mat) clean thoroughly with an appropriate cleaner.
"thorough hand hygiene is strongly recommended after handling raw meat and thorough disinfection of all in-contact items as per normal handling of raw meat in a domestic kitchen" - Source
Putting the risk in perspective
Bacteria can cause serious health problems. For some people, the vulnerable, elderly, or immune-compromised this can even lead to death.
But to put it into perspective shopping trolleys at your local supermarket have been found to have more bacteria on them than public toilets, and escalators. So as we have learned during the pandemic handwashing is key. Careful hygiene is the approach that I take when using raw food for enrichment and training. So let's jump into some ideas and tips for how to do this.
Heading out with a pocket full of raw food does not sound that appealing (unless you are a dog, in which case it sounds amazing ) So, here are some ideas that make handling raw during training more appealing.
It is very easy to create training treats at home using your raw food. If you have a dehydrator great. These will come with their own set of timings and temperatures.
However, if you don't own one you can use your conventional oven at a low temperature. For meat and fish use, 145F/62C and for chicken and turkey 160F/70C.
Preheat your oven.
Place your prepared treats in the oven checking at regular intervals to ensure that they do not dry out too much.
Using a pyramid mat is a quick and easy way to prepare perfectly sized training treats. The pyramid shape ensures even cooking and is easier than cutting the raw into little pieces or slices.
If you are using a prepared minced raw you can blend this with a raw egg to make a raw puree! Place it in a treat dispenser offering your dog a measured lick ( this works really well with rewarding heelwork)
Check that any dispenser you choose can be taken apart easily for washing.
Frozen raw is more manageable than defrosted. Cut, chop or mince your raw meat and then freeze on a baking sheet on parchment paper. Once frozen pop it in a ziplock bag or container and take out what you need for your training session.
The Pyramid mat can also be used to freeze - pureed raw. I suggest placing your pyramid mat on a baking tray. Spread across the raw puree using a utensil reserved for your treat prep. Once frozen tip into a ziplock bag or container.
There are many well-known stuffable enrichment toys on the market. KONG is probably the most well-known, along with the West Paws range. These are all suitable for use with raw food providing they are cleaned thoroughly after use.
Check with any toy that you are considering using that there are no ' nooks and crannies' where food could become trapped. Also, check that you have a suitable brush for cleaning.
The lickimat range is the most well-known when it comes to spreadable toys. My suggestion for raw is to use the LickiMat Playdate as the larger square holes make it easier to spread raw across and to clean. The Tuff range is also suitable for the dishwasher to ensure it is totally clean.
If your dog likes to throw their enrichment toys (our Harvey has learned that it is a quick way to dislodge food in his KONG or KONG Goodie Ribbon ) then using this type of toy with raw is better outdoors. Also considering adding value to your pup's crate by feeding them in there too. You can then quickly clean the bottom of the crate. This reduces the chance of any harmful bacteria being spread around the house on carpets or soft furnishings.
As you can see it is possible to use raw food for training and enrichment with the correct hygiene measures taken.
If you would like more tips and advice on preparing training treats and canine enrichment ideas for your pup please follow us on Instagram @nofussfill
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