Today I'm giving you all of my best tips for how I keep my dogs happy + healthy!
Dogs are my FAVORITE.
If you follow my Instagram Stories, then you already know this, haha. I get TONS of questions about how I keep my dogs happy + healthy, and all the different things that I do for them, so I'm answering everything here today!
Everything that I'm sharing with you today comes from A LOT of experience and research, but let's be clear – I'll never, ever tell you what you should be doing for your pets, or what will work best for them. This is simply a guide of what's currently working best for my pups, Max and Shadow!
How I Keep My Dogs Happy + Healthy
Max + Shadow Breeds:
Max and Shadow are both rescue pups – Max we've had since he was 11 weeks old and 10 lbs., and Shadow we've had since he was just over a year old and 100+ lbs. According to the DNA test that we did on Max he's a Pitt/Shepard mix (although I still see a little lab in him), and Shadow is a White German Shepard/Husky mix.
Introducing Max + Shadow:
The first day that I met Shadow – a few days before he came to his forever home with us!
First up, a little background on how Max and Shadow met and eventually became the BEST of friends.
We brought Shadow to his forever home in February 2017, and at first, Max wasn't sure what to think. I mean, Shadow was only a 100+ lb. pup, so I'm not sure why he wouldn't want to be immediate best friends? Haha.
Max was a lil scared of Shadow's size, but I was determined for them to be besties, so I did what I do whenever I have any question…I asked Google and YouTube. These two will get you FAR.
I came across a post written by Cesar Millan (a total pro dog trainer) where he was talking about different things to do to help dogs get along. With his advice I started immediately taking Max and Shadow on long walks together, so that Max would see that Shadow is fun!
After a couple weeks we let Max and Shadow run off leash together (I'll talk more about that below) and that sealed the deal – Max saw that Shadow really is a ton of fun, and they've been inseparable ever since!
Having two dogs is the BEST, as they constantly play with each other, and they're never alone. If we head out of town, we have a dog sitter come stay at our house who takes them on daily long walks/hikes and loves them like we do!
The Journey To a Raw Diet:
It's been a journey to get to feeding my pups the raw diet that they eat today. Years ago, we fed our dogs what we thought was the best and healthiest kibble, which was causing our Doberman at the time, to have gut issues. He could literally clear a room with his stinky farts! The kibble continued to be recalled, and the company wouldn't say why, so I started to look into other options.
Eventually, we started cooking our pup's food, which consisted of chicken, brown rice and carrots (adding supplements as well). That cleared up many of their issues, but I still felt like it could be better (and it was a ton of work), which is what brought me to researching raw diets for dogs. It made a lot of sense – as I thought about what my dogs would eat in the wild, which would be raw.
How I Started Feeding Max + Shadow Raw Food:
Max and Shadow THRIVE on a mostly raw diet. Max has eaten raw for most of his life, and we slowly switched Shadow over from the kibble he was eating, once he came home with us.
At first Shadow wanted nothing to do with the raw organ meat, so I started with a little bit of raw grass-fed ground beef, which I added to his kibble. It took a few days, but he eventually started eating it…and now he spins circles when I'm going to feed him, as he's sooo excited! They both LOVE their food and have zero gut issues or gas!
Long before we had Shadow, I'd been wanting to switch to feeding my pups raw food, but figured it would be super expensive…and quite frankly, I had no idea where to even start. Again, Google came to the rescue!
Raw Food – Getting Started:
The first thing I did was look up a raw feeding guide to figure out what to feed them and how much. We started by weighing their food in the beginning, as I was concerned that they wouldn't get enough. Now that I've been feeding them this way for years, I no longer need to weigh anything. We feed them once a day, and they eat their food in our garage.
We get all of their meat and bones from the farmers' market, where everything is grass-fed/pasture-raised/organic/etc. I often mix up their food, depending on what my farmers' market has available – they'll get random organs, muscle meat and fat, in addition to their bones. I'd say on average we spend about $7-$10/day for both dogs. Keep in mind the quality, as it could easily be done for much less.
In the image below they have a mix of lamb liver, beef heart, pork fat (lard), pumpkin puree, a pasture-raised raw egg and the crushed up shell. Shadow's food is on the left and Max's is on the right – Shadow eats more, as he's twice the weight of Max. They'll also snack on raw veggies that I'm chopping up for myself throughout the day – more on that below!
As I mentioned above, I also add pumpkin (or sweet potato/butternut squash) puree to their meals, which I just get at any grocery store. Sometimes I'll give them my leftover white rice or yams instead – nothing goes to waste in my house! I've personally found that Max and Shadow do GREAT with this added to their diet.
There's a big misconception that dogs shouldn't eat any bones – when really, they just shouldn't eat cooked bones. In addition to their daily food, Max and Shadow eat raw bones in the garage/backyard. I'll typically put them outside in the morning to chew bones while I get some work done, or I'll give them a couple to chew on while Mike and I are gone – they LOVE them, and it keeps them busy! We give them raw beef, pork and lamb bones, along with raw pigs feet – and they LOVE it all. Plus, their teeth are crazy white and super clean.
When it comes to the quality of the food that you feed your pups – that's 100% up to you and your budget. We save money by getting random organ meats that are often on sale at the farmers' market. As with anything else I always suggest doing your own research and making your own decisions.
I was asked about my thoughts on vegan dog food (which I honestly didn't know was a thing), and I simply do my best to mimic how my dogs would eat in the wild, which definitely wouldn't be vegan.
Is Raw Best For Every Pet?
Just as with humans, I don't believe that there's a one-size-fits-all approach to diet with animals. It's taken a lot of trial and error to find what works best for my pups. While it can take a bit of time for pets to adjust to a new diet, if something isn't working for them, don't feel like you have to stick with it just because someone else said it's the right thing to do.
How I Prep Max + Shadow's Food:
Sometimes the rancher at my farmers' market will have what she calls "pet share bags," which are 1 lb. bags of random raw muscle meat, fat and organs that she sells for $4 each…a steal for the quality and prep work! I looooove when she has these, as they save me time and Max and Shadow LOVE them.
When she doesn't have these available, I just purchase a bunch of random organs, muscle meat and fat from her, and cut it up myself. It takes a little time, but I'll cut up 9-10 days worth of food at a time while listening to one of my favorite podcasts – cause you've gotta make chores fun!
I'll divide the food that I cut up into 4-5 large Ziploc bags, keeping one in the fridge and the rest I'll freeze, to defrost, as I need them. Some say that re-freezing meat is terrible – but I pick my battles wisely and this isn't one of them.
I always do my best to make sure Max and Shadow are getting everything that they need nutritionally through whole foods, so the only supplement that I use is Kelp Granules, which is a great source of iodine – I use it in my own diet too!
I don't even remember the last time Max or Shadow didn't feel well, but if they seemed like they had an upset stomach, I'd skip their raw food for the day and just give them some pumpkin/sweet potato puree and bone broth.
Max and Shadow's Favorite Snacks:
Max and Shadow looooove to snack…but really, who doesn't?! They come running into the kitchen anytime that they hear me cutting broccoli (they LOVE the stems), carrots, and especially grass-fed butter (a good source of healthy fats that works great for them). Shadow also spins circles around the house for grass-fed butter, so it's clear that he's a lil obsessed! They eat veggie snacks daily, as well as allll the grass (fiber) while they're hiking in the hills with me!
Here are some of their favorite snacks and bones that we purchase:
Running off leash:
The BIGGEST game changer for Max and Shadow (really Shadow, since he'd never run off leash before coming to his forever home with us) has been getting them a training collar.
A few months after coming home with us, Shadow decided to walk himself home from the hills while I turned away for just a minute. Thankfully he actually went home (about a ½ mile away), as he could have literally gone anywhere, but I took that as plenty of warning to make a change.
I was completely against shock/vibration collars until a good friend of ours got one for his dog, and it made the BIGGEST difference. After feeling the shock myself, I realized it's just an uncomfortable buzz, but it doesn't hurt. The vibration is really just annoying and what I'll use if Max or Shadow don't listen to me…and I can practically see them roll their eyes, haha.
Now, Max and Shadow wear their collars as a "just in case." They run completely off leash in the hills behind our home everyday, and in case they were to see something and take off after it, I have the reassurance that with a little buzz, they'll come right back.
To me, it's better safe than sorry.
Training to come to me when I call their names:
I't taken A LOT of consistent training to teach Max and Shadow to come to us when we call their names, but now the training paid off, and they come immediately. In the past, when I'd call them and they wouldn't come, I'd use the vibration on their collar, and that was enough to get their attention so that they'd realize I'd called them and they needed to come. I'll often call their names to come to me, just to continue the reinforcement of their training.
We used to have issues with Max barking in our backyard, so I once again turned to the pro and watched some Cesar Milan videos on controlling barking and read some posts written by him as well. Through his videos and posts I realized that dogs will mostly bark when they haven't had enough exercise – so now I wear the heck out of them in the hills behind our house, and it's helped a TON. Barking can also be due to anxiety, and exercise also helps with that – just like in humans too!
TICK + FLEA PREVENTION:
The hills above our house, where Max and Shadow run, eat and roll around in the grass, have ticks. I LOATHE ticks, so I was determined to find something that actually worked to prevent them, not just kill them dead – and I DID!
Once again I turned to the magic of Google and I found THIS ARTICLE from Primally Inspired, which literally changed my life. I started using Rose Geranium oil on Max (before we had Shadow), applying one drop on his neck, and one by his tail, and BAM, NO TICKS!!
This was the first time that he didn't have a tick on him after running in the hills! It was a GAME CHANGER!
Once we brought Shadow home, the two drops of oil wasn't working for him, which I'm thinking is because his coat is so thick and fluffy (he literally feels like a blanket), so I decided to try spraying the oil on him instead.
I use a 8 oz. glass bottle (I've read that plastic bottles can destroy essential oils) that I fill it halfway with water, and then fill the remaining half with apple cider vinegar and I add about 40-50 drops of the Rose Geranium essential oil. I used to use only water with the essential oil, which was amazing for preventing ticks, but have since read about how fleas/ticks hate apple cider vinegar, so I've been adding that as well. Not only does this now prevent ticks, but it really seems to prevent ALL bugs!
I spray Max and Shadow with this mixture right before we go up to the hills, and I spray my own legs, shoes and wrists, and it works like a charm! It doesn't smell amazing, but it WORKS. 😉
If you do find a tick on yourself or your pet, I HIGHLY recommend THIS TOOL to safely remove it. Pulling it out with tweezers can cause the tick to release toxins, along with other issues.
We'd never dealt with fleas until we brought Shadow home. Again, I'm thinking it's due to his thick coat, where every other dog we've had has always had a shorter, thinner coat.
I've tried TONS of different natural flea treatments, and these are the best that I've found so far:
Organic Herbal Skin Parasite Dust: This dust is messy, but seems to work great! The only downside that I've found is the need to reapply it often, and Max looks like I covered him in baby powder for a bit, since he has black hair. It definitely gives us a good laugh!
Vet's Best Flea and Tick Home Spray for Dogs: We sprayed Max and Shadow's bedding with this spray when we noticed a flea on Shadow, and it seems to work great!
NOTE: Shadow's super thick coat is a flea magnet, so he tends to need conventional treatment for fleas, but thankfully it's only about once a year since (if that!) we've started using the homemade tick/flea spray above! Happy to say that Max doesn't ever need conventional treatment anymore.
Max + Shadow's Other Favorite Things:
Beds: We got THESE beds from Amazon and they LOVE them, so much so that we bought another to keep in my office! Costco also sells great dog beds for a killer price!
Toys: Max and Shadow will destroy alllll the things, but thanks to a fellow dog-loving friend, we found Fluff & Tuff dog toys, and they're THE BEST EVER. Specifically the Tiger Ball is indestructible, at least for a good month! No toy has ever lasted more than an hour in our house, until we found these. Just be sure to cut off the loop & tag before giving it to your pup! Shadow is a HUGE fan of tennis balls as well and will chase a ball around for hours, and I've found that Wilson tennis balls are the only ones that he won't tear apart.
Annnnnd to top off this post, here's pictures of Max and Shadow (in his former home) as puppies! You're welcome. 😉
PIN IT FOR LATER – How I Keep My Dogs Happy + Healthy:
Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links, meaning that if you purchase something from one of my links, I will receive a small percentage, at no additional cost to you. I will only ever recommend products that I truly believe in, and that I use myself or find to be very valuable. Thanks for helping me to keep my blog up and running!