Popcorn is a crunchy, salty and buttery treat loved by all. Your dog is no different. The smell alone will make him come running and begging to share in your cherished treat. While you know not all people food is good for dogs, popcorn seems pretty benign and he will definitely enjoy it. A lot of dogs will also perform tricks for popcorn, catching it from the air in their mouths. Giving your dog popcorn occasionally as a treat is fine, but it is always important to keep in mind the impact the ingredients will have on his diet overall. Remember that if popcorn is his favorite, you can always use it as positive reinforcement when trying to train him or change a behavior.
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The Root of the Behavior
Dogs are often drawn to people food. They are curious and adventurous and led by their noses. Freshly popped popcorn smells wonderful and can interest even the most discerning pooch. It also makes a wonderful crunching noise when he eats it and dogs love that stimulation. Popcorn can be very healthy. It contains calcium, phosphorus, magnesium and potassium; all of which are beneficial to his diet. Potassium is an essential electrolyte that can aid in muscle development and healthy vessel functions as well as regulate fluid balance in the body. Magnesium helps the body absorb vitamins and produce protein which in turn promotes bone growth. However, when popcorn is covered in additional salt and butter it loses its nutritional value. Dogs cannot tolerate a diet high in sodium or fat. It can lead to weight gain, high blood pressure, heart disease and organ damage. If you are eating popcorn and want to toss your dog a few kernels, it should not matter about butter and salt content. If you want to use it as a regular treat or training tool, then it is best to use is popped plain. Because plain is not always as tantalizing as when it is covered in salt and butter, you can look into popping a different variety. There are two varieties of corn, and each comes in different sizes and shapes. Corn is divided into two categories, white and yellow. White popcorn pops up white and is in general a bit smaller than yellow. It has a more neutral and pure popcorn flavor. Because of its neutral flavor, it makes it the better of the two for adding seasonings and flavorings. Sub-varieties of white include White, Tender, Sweet Baby Blue, Baby White and the premium Lady Finger. Yellow popcorn pops up with a yellow tint, which is why it is most often used in movie theaters as it looks like it is already covered in butter. It comes as Baby Yellow, Extra Large Caramel, Big and Yellow. Yellow popcorn has a more distinct flavor that is often described as nutty. Because it looks like it is buttered and has more of a flavor on its own, it may be a great choice to give your pet in the plain form.
Encouraging the Behavior
Popcorn is a great snack but it often sticks around longer than you want it to. Just as you find kernels in your teeth frustrating, so will your dog. And just as you find unpopped kernels in your bowl hard to chew, so will your dog as well. Typically, the smaller the corn type, the thinner the hull will be. The thinner the hull means fewer hulls in your corn and fewer unpopped kernels. One way to limit this problem is to look for popcorn that is described as hull-less. It comes in both white and yellow varieties including Baby White, Baby Yellow, Tender, Midnight Blue, White, and Vintage Red. Try to keep the unpopped kernels from your dog as they could chip or crack his teeth. It is also important to check his teeth and gums after a popcorn snack as food trapped in the teeth or gums can lead to discomfort, bad breath, a bacterial infection or another infection in the gums. Popcorn can also come in two shapes of wings: mushroom or butterfly. Mushroom pops more into a round solid form, like the top of a mushroom. This shape works well with glazes and because it is a more solid form it will not crumble as easily. For this reason, it may work well for dogs as in theory it will create less mess as he munches away and can be covered in solids such as peanut butter. The butterfly shape has wings with nooks and crannies, which are better at holding spices and granulated toppings. If you find a spice that your pup loves that is ‘dog’ safe, this might be the better shape for him.
Other Solutions and Considerations
Dogs love their treats and you undoubtedly love to reward and spoil your pet with treats. It is always a good idea, however, to limit treats to special occasions and during training sessions. Dogs can be gluttonous beings, and left to their own devices they will continue to eat and eat until there is nothing left. If you simply give him a bowl of popcorn, he will eat all of it regardless of whether or not he is hungry. If you want to use popcorn as reinforcement for desired behavior, keep popcorn special so he will perform the desired behavior. If popcorn becomes common to his diet, he may refuse to comply with your command. If he eats a lot of popcorn, he may not get enough of the other vitamins and minerals needed for a healthy coat, properly working organs and ideal body weight.
Dogs love popcorn because it crunches and tastes great. An occasional kernel from you is fine, but if you use it as a treat or reward it is best to offer it to him plain or seasoned with appropriate dog flavorings. When treating him with popcorn, keep in mind his overall calories for the day and make sure the snack does not become a meal. Avoid giving him access to un-popped kernels and check his teeth and gums for left over kernels to avoid infection or discomfort.