Are you looking for a healthy way to spoil your dog? Perhaps you should consider homemade dog treats.
In this episode of The Dog Show, I chat with Ron Wittman about the benefits of homemade dog treats for the wellbeing of your best friend.
Ron is the Founder of Squishy Face & Co, a premium all-natural dog treat brand based in Chicago, Illinois. Its all-natural dog treats are crafted from homemade recipes using only a handful of fresh, healthy foods.
Find out more about Squishy Face & Co here:
Will: This episode of “The Dog Show” features Ron Wittman. Ron is the founder of Squishy Face & Co., a premium all natural dog trade brand based in Chicago, Illinois. Its all natural dog treats are crafted from homemade recipes, using only a handful of fresh, healthy foods. In the interview, we discuss the benefits of homemade dog treats for the well-being of your best friend. Ron, welcome to “The Dog Show” today.
Ron: Hi, thanks for having me. I’m really excited to have our chat.
Will: Yeah, it’s great to have you on. So, I wanna hear a little bit more about your French bulldogs. We share a love for French bulldogs based on what I’ve seen from your brand and everything you’re doing online, but your two French bulldogs’ name is Rafa and Roddick. So there’s a little bit of a backstory there. Do you wanna share that with me?
Ron: Sure. So I’m a big tennis fan. I’ve been a big tennis fan, like, all my life. And when we got Rafa six years ago, we actually struggled with trying to find a name for him. We didn’t want to name him, give him a French name. We had a couple of neighbors who also had gotten French bulldogs around the same time, and they went with names in the French style.
So we wanted to go in an opposite direction, and we were looking at Spanish names. And Rafa actually didn’t have a name for the first few days. We actually called him Squishy Face just as a substitute. And then we were looking at a list of famous Spaniards, and Rafael Nadal was on the list. And he’s my favorite tennis player, and for some reason didn’t think of him right away. So that’s how we got Rafa. And then Roddick is named after Andy Roddick, because we were living in Austin, Texas at the time that we got him, Andy Roddick lives in Austin. He just seemed like a Roddick as soon as we saw him.
Will: Right. Because I when I read Roddick, I thought maybe, because you used to live in New York, I thought maybe you’d been to the U.S. Open and seen him play or something like that, but…
Ron: I have, actually. I lived in New York for almost 15 years, which is where I and my partner, I mean, we moved to Chicago together. But I had been to the U.S. Open quite a few times, and I saw Andy Roddick as well play. I saw him play with Federer. It was a very disappointing match for me because he went five sets and then just couldn’t get it.
Will: Yeah, it must have been…I mean, it’s an amazing event. I’ve not been there, but I’d love to go one day just well, you know, these days seems like such a long way away from…I hope we’ll be able to travel and stuff. But it’s like just I love the way the 10 of the big tennis grand slams are all set up and everything like that. Interesting, like Rafael Nadal as well, he’s, like, just got such a great work ethic. I think that’s what attracts me to him as well. He’s just kind of…he’s just so determined and he’s just been there over and over so many years, but…
Ron: Yeah, he’s been my favorite since I saw him…I watched him on TV at the French Open in his first year. I think he was 19. And just the way he moved around the court and got to absolutely everything, and nothing dropped, and his, like you said, his determination just really took me by surprise. And ever since then, I think that’s my favorite tennis player, which is odd that…you know, so that we have a French bulldog now named Rafa, but it’s okay.
Will: So you mentioned that to start with you used to call Rafa kind of Squishy Face, and now your business is called Squishy Face & Co. But do you ever revert back and call him, you know, Squishy Face? I know that our French bulldog’s name is Frankie, and she has 100 different names that we call her day to day.
Ron: All right. Yeah, we’ve… Squishy Face is also a game that I’ve always played with Rafa since he was a puppy, which is where I would take my hands and put it over his face. And, like, I was squishing his face together. And then I would yell out, “Squishy face, squishy face.” And he would sort of play, not bite, but he would, like, play around. And you could just tell that he loved it right away.
And we actually still play that. Six years later to this day he will…when I go into the bedroom, he’ll jump on the bed and try to be all playful because he wants to play a squishy face. So when I was trying to think of a name for my company, Squishy Face & Co. just was the perfect for that, because it just…it was such a personal name that I’ve had since we had Rafa.
Will: I think it resonates with French bulldog owners, in particular, just because they have squishy faces, right?
Ron: Yeah, exactly. And that’s also why the name is and Co., because it’s not…I just didn’t want it to seem like our dog treats are for French bulldogs or squish-faced dogs, that they’re actually for everyone.
And Roddick is three, he looks like a little burrito. He looks like a cow that’s been shrunken down to a burrito. He’s energetic. He’s the complete opposite of Rafa. Rafa is very cautious, and a bit of a curmudgeon at times. And whereas Roddick wants to be the center of attention, he’s obsessed with toys, and he’s obsessed, especially, with his ball. His ball is the one toy that he’s had in three years that he’s not been able to tear apart in three seconds.
Will: That’s cool. I think it’s funny that you mentioned, like, that Roddick went kind of like a cow down into a burrito. I think that’s one thing about Frenchies that, you know, still amaze me to this day, like they can just look like so many different things just depending on how their face is, like, sitting or how their ears are up or down, or… Like our dog could look like a seal one day, could look like a pig sitting in a different environment the next time.
And even like, yeah, there’s just like sometimes they look like rabbits when they’re hopping around on the ground. They just got such crazy kind of body types and personalities. But, what is it about Frenchies that you love?
Ron: I mean, what’s not to love really about Frenchies? The main thing, I think, is their big personality. I had always wanted a Frenchie. I grew up, I had a family dog who is part Labrador and part Brittany Spaniel. But she was more of the family dog since they got her when I was two years old. So, I never really got to bond with her, and actually she didn’t really like me. So that kind of makes sense, that I didn’t get to bond with her.
So I’ve always wanted a French bulldog, their ears, their mushed face just seemed like a little alien. And especially how they walk, Roddick, especially, will walk, and it looks like he’s a little train car with his caboose going off to the side separately. But the big thing is definitely their personality, and that’s one thing that surprised me the most after getting a Frenchie, is it’s very true how expressive they are, how much of their personality comes through.
And I was even more surprised when we got Roddick of how polar opposites their personalities are. I didn’t expect Roddick to be…I guess I didn’t expect there to be such a contrast in the personalities. But after, you know, meeting other dog parents who have Frenchies, their Frenchies also are completely different personalities.
You know, Roddick, like I said, he’s a social butterfly, whereas Rafa likes dogs more than people. He’ll actually turn his back at people if they try to pat him, which I absolutely love. I think it’s adorable. And he knows how to throw some major side eye for sure. So, if he isn’t getting what he wants, if he isn’t getting attention, if he isn’t getting the snack that he wants, he will definitely throw some side eye.
Will: Yeah, it’s funny. Our French bulldog is obsessed with people, more so the dogs, I think, always trying to get attention of anyone and everyone that will give it to us. I guess they’re all a bit different. But how did you find…so you got Roddick second, how did you find having the second dog in the house? Was there any challenges with that? Did they get along straightaway? Was Rafa a little bit, you know, territorial at all?
Ron: No, not especially. I think we had wanted to get a second friend for Rafa for a while, but we wanted to wait till he was a few years older. He didn’t get territorial. He kind of greeted Roddick at first, and then like, he does everyone else, he turns his back and walks away. And he chose, I think, for the first day to really ignore Roddick, but the next day he was exploring his crates, stealing his toys.
Yeah, I have a picture actually of both of them from behind, where Rafa is in Roddick’s crate digging for a toy, and Roddick is next to the crate peeing. So, it’s…yeah, he picked that moment right as I was snapping the picture to squat and pee, as Rafa is stealing his toys. So, it’s…there really wasn’t an adjustment period so much, it just…they just became buddies almost right away.
And it’s completely adorable to watch them where Roddick will come up and he’ll sit next to Rafa, just almost right on top of him because he wants to be so close to him. Yeah, they’re buddies, and they protect each other when they’re out, and if there’s other dogs around they definitely look out for each other.
Will: I love that. I love that kind of innate connection between dogs when they kind of live together. It’s really nice to watch, but also it’s like kind of warming as well.
Ron: It is.
Will: Okay, so let’s talk more about your business. So what got you into the dog trade industry?
Ron: I would say the main reason really was Rafa. We were very particular about what kind of food to give him. We were…you know, this is the first time we had gotten a puppy, so we were new parents. And I think, like all new parents, you are watching every move they make, seeing that they’re not feeling well, poring over every ingredient in their food to make sure they’re getting the best nutrition that they can.
But we had a really hard time finding dog treats that actually worked for Rafa. We’d be out at a pet boutique or a pet shop, and the guest associate would always want to give them a treat or give him a treat, and I was always very hesitant because I knew exactly what would happen. He would take the treat, and about 10 minutes later it would come back up.
So even treats that were raw food or, you know, listed as completely healthy, we had a really hard time trying to find treats for him. And at the same time, he would also get bored of his food. So we would give him a kibble, but it would…on the healthier side, of course, and when he would get bored we would change flavors. If that didn’t work, then I would put sweet potato or carrots or green beans on top of his food to get him to eat. And that helps keep his attention. He likes vegetables a lot.
So it kind of…a light bulb sort of went off where I wondered why dog treats aren’t being served with nutritious ingredients just by themselves. Looking at dog treats and the ingredients, they can be a list of 15 ingredients, and really the first 4 ingredients are supposed to highlight what’s in the treat. The treat can’t really be made of…or it can’t call itself chicken unless chicken is one of the top four ingredients.
So just really experimenting with vegetables and then fruits to see which ones would be the healthiest for dogs and creating recipes from scratch, a lot of experimentation just kind of went into it at first. And at the same time I was…I had worked in a nonprofit for 12 years, and I was looking to change careers, and the two kind of just converged together. And I just started experimenting in the kitchen and coming up with recipes for dog treats. And that’s how it really all began.
Will: Yeah, so you’re still making the treats from home, the homemade dog treats. I guess a question I had is, how long do like those type of treats last, because they don’t have preservatives and, you know, all the additives and stuff that kind of make, you know, traditional dog treats last a lot longer, right?
Ron: Right. So, I say that my dog treats last between two to three months. What goes into my dog treats are just a small handful of fresh ingredients. Like, my banana bones are made with bananas, coconut flour, and oats, gluten-free oats, just the three ingredients. They’re baked, so a person can actually keep them on their shelf for two months as long as they’re stored in a cool, dry place, or they can keep them in the refrigerator.
Will: How do you make those cool little like…I guess the most stunning looking treats? You have all those different little shapes and everything, you’ve got like a rocket ship and a tennis racket and all these cool things. I love the Frenchie one because it’s like got the little flopped down ear as well, and I think there’s a story behind that, that Rafa and Roddick both have, like, that when they were puppies they had a flopped down ear or they still have a flopped down ear?
Ron: Yeah, the apple buddies, which is made with apples, chia seeds, cinnamon, oats, and coconut flour, is in the shape of a French bulldog. And as a special dedication to Rafa and Roddick, we include two of the faces that have one ear flopped over. And that’s because when we got each of them, they had one ear that flopped over. Actually it was the same ear, it was the right ear, and it hadn’t quite stood up yet.
So it’s something that I include in that particular treat, just as a dedication to them. Some of the chips, like the tennis racket, it just seemed obvious to me, naming that after Rafa, putting them in a tennis racket just seemed like a good idea. And then the treat that’s named after Roddick, it’s called Roddick’s Red Rockets. I thought of using a bit of humor in the shape of a dog treat, that is a red rocket, literary. And that treat is made with beets, strawberries, coconut flour, and brown rice flour, and rosemary powder.
Will: Yeah, that’s what I was going to ask, actually, because it’s got that really kind of beetroot color.
Ron: Yeah, and when you open a bag of the treats, you’re sort of hit with the aroma of it, and it smells really good. It smells like…
Will: And actually it smells like something…it smells like something I would want to eat. Beetroot and strawberry is like an interesting combination.
Ron: Yeah, it’s actually really good. I mean, there’s no sweeteners, so it’s not sweet, it’s a little bit dry, but it’s all ingredients that we as humans eat, that’s nutritious for pups. All my friends have actually tried ordering the treats themselves, so it… Yeah, they’re actually pretty tasty. My peas and crackers, which is made with carrots and snow peas, eggs and brown rice flour, tastes like an actual cracker. Like, you could just put cheese on it, and it will be a nice snack.
Will: That’s cool. So, I guess what should I be looking at for? Like, obviously, if I was to purchase homemade dog treats from your business, you’re showing all the ingredients and it’s homemade, and everything like that, but for other owners that, you know, might be somewhere else in the world or somewhere else that can’t get access to your treats, what should I be looking out for in terms of the bad stuff that might be in dog treats or the good stuff that I should be looking for?
Ron: You should check the label for sure. I don’t know if it’s…how the regulations are in Australia, but in the U.S. we really don’t have a government organization that oversees animal feed. There’s a nonprofit that makes guidelines that each state bases their animal feed control laws after. So it’s really up to them, whatever state in the U.S., to follow their agricultural guidelines.
So if you are calling a treat a beef treat, like I said before, you have to have the first four ingredients contain the majority of the treat. So if they’re…if you’re looking at the ingredients, you wanna make sure that beef is included in the first four ingredients. A lot of times dog feeds will have beef meal, or chicken meal, or beef flavor that you’re kind of not really sure what you’re getting, at least…
Will: What’s beef flavor?
Ron: What is beef flavor? Exactly. There was a peanut butter treat that I’d come across, and the packaging on the front claimed it’s fresh peanut butter. But when you look at the ingredients, peanut butter is listed as one of the first four ingredients, but so is peanut butter flavor, which just does not make sense to me why peanut butter flavor needs to be in a peanut butter treat when there’s already peanut butter.
Will: Right, just use peanut butter.
Ron: Just use peanut butter, exactly. So what I try to do, what I do on my packaging is I list the ingredients on the front. I have very simple packaging. The bags are made from kraft brown paper, so they resemble homemade lunch that must be brought to school or work in a brown paper bag. And then the ingredients are listed right on the front. So a dog parent will know exactly what they’re getting. They don’t have to hunt for the ingredients on the back.
The packaging isn’t fancy, it’s very straightforward, because I really wanted to place the emphasis on the ingredients and the treats themselves. But I would say, if you’re looking at homemade dog treats, definitely check the ingredients on the back. The additives, the chemicals really just are not good for dogs. Dogs can have allergies that could be detrimental to their health later on.
There are natural preservatives like vitamin C and vitamin E that all natural dog treats will include, but they do have to be listed by their compound name, as opposed to just saying vitamin C. So you will come across and see that, and that’s totally fine.
Will: Yeah, I guess it’s interesting. I’m seeing, like, trends in the dog industry in Australia, but it seems that way in the United States as well and other parts, where there’s not a lot of regulation, but consumers are becoming more aware. So, the dog owners are actually…like you went through the journey of going, “Okay, I want to actually know what’s in the food that I’m feeding my dog or what’s in the treats that I’m feeding my dog.”
And I’m noticing that…I mean, consumers are driving change essentially, so there’s more businesses like yours popping up, where you’re actually trying to, you know, give consumers the information they need and actually providing quality food for dogs, which is great because I think that’s where…that’s going to push governments to have better regulations for the dog food industry, and the dog industry in general, which I think needs more regulation and that kind of stuff.
Ron: Especially with all of these subscription pet foods companies that are popping up, where it’s home cooked food delivered to your door. But yeah, there needs to be, I think, a little bit more regulation. In the U.S., it’s left up to the state in what their guidelines are. And you definitely have to put particular information on the front of the bag and also on the back, such as its feeding instruction, that it’s not intended to be a meal. The weight of the treat bag has to be at the bottom third of the bag on the front. It has to state on the front that it’s for dogs or cats. Yeah, so it’s a little tricky, but it’s definitely good to let the pup parents know what they’re giving to their dog.
Will: Yeah, I guess there’s probably a bloodline of ethical dilemmas in there, in the dog food industry, I think, which hopefully, as time goes on, we’re moving away from all the bad stuff, but…
Ron: Hopefully, and that’s why I say just check the label, check the ingredients, because I think most people wouldn’t realize that something on the front that says “with real chicken flavor.” It has to say flavor if chicken isn’t a recognizable top ingredient.
Will: Okay, well, thanks for that great info. So where can people find out more about everything that you’re doing? Where should they go to check out Squishy Face & Co.?
Ron: They can go to my website, which is squishyfaceandco.com. That’s spelled out. And we also are on Facebook and Instagram @squishyfaceandco. And if you’d like to follow Rafa and Roddick, they’re also on Instagram. Rafa’s Instagram started a few years ago, and he added Roddick to it when Roddick came along. So they’re @rafa_and_roddick. And you can follow their pictures.
Will: Yeah, perfect. I’m sure there will be lots of dog fans and Frenchie fans that would love to follow Rafa and Roddick. But also lots of dog fans out there, they’re gonna want to check out your treats and maybe do a little test for themselves. So, I’ll share the website and all your Instagram pages as well with the show notes.
Ron: That’s great. And if anyone has any questions and they want to inquire more about the treats or what’s specifically in them, they’re listed obviously on the website, but they can also message me through Facebook and Instagram.
Will: Perfect. Well, Ron, thanks so much for coming on “The Dog Show” today. And thank you for all the great information you’ve shared with viewers about healthy homemade dog treats and what they should be looking out for.
Ron: No problem. Thank you so much for having me.