The Best Dog Food (and Treats), According to a Certified Dog Trainer

updated May 30, 2019
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Dog owners (or anyone who has cared for someone else’s pup for any length of time) will be the first to tell you that daily life with a furry friend isn’t exactly a walk in the park — although there are plenty of those! Being a conscientious animal owner takes a lot of time, work, energy, and research. (I know this because I dog-sat my cousin’s puppies for a week with extremely detailed written instructions for all aspects of Beau and Ollie’s daily life and decided, after one very long week, that I was not cut out for pet-parenthood.)

One of the toughest parts about dog ownership is deciding on the right food to put in your pet’s little tummy. To help you, we consulted Nicole Ellis, a certified dog trainer and member of‘s Dog People Panel, for her best tips and tricks when it comes to buying dog food. She even revealed some of her favorite brands to keep an eye out for, too.

1. Make sure meat is one of the top three ingredients.

Creepy-sounding things like byproduct meal, chicken byproducts, or beef byproducts should be avoided. Byproduct, which is often listed as a top ingredient, is the result of leftover pieces of meat the food industry wasn’t able to use or sell, often due to its quality.

2. Don’t forget about your dog’s oral care.

“Wet foods actually can be more damaging to dogs’ teeth as opposed to dry foods,” Ellis says. (Plaque can accumulate with wet or dry food, but wet contributes to buildup faster — it’s so sticky! — and dry stuff can actually help to clean plaque.) That’s not to say that one is better than other, but it’s something to keep in mind — especially if you want to consider a balance of the two options.

3. Read pet food labels carefully.

“The front of pet food packaging can be misleading and not always completely truthful,” Ellis points out. Just like with people food, ingredients are listed on the back of the package in the order of largest to smallest amount used. If you don’t recognize an ingredient, look it up to learn more about it. “Ideally, though, you should be able to understand what all of the ingredients are.”

4. Avoid foods that have a shelf life for longer than a year.

“These products have no life enzymes, which means they’re not actually a stable diet for your dog,” Ellis says.

5. Avoid food items that contain gluten meal.

“Gut issues are a huge problem with dogs today and even small amounts of gluten meal can harm your dog’s organs,” says Ellis.

6. Be on alert for product recalls.

Check to see if there have been recent recalls with any company you are considering. “If they have a lot of recalls, do not purchase their food,” Ellis says.

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Ziwi, $37 for a 2.2-pound bag (Image credit: Amazon)

The Best Dog Food (and Treats), According to a Professional