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Medically Reviewed by Veterinarian Angela Dwyer, DVM on December 19, 2018
Table of Contents
“Hey, Ash,” said my brother with a questionable tone of voice, “Uh, can dogs drink coffee?”
“No,” I answered flatly. I know my brother well, and what he was really saying to me was, “I’ve given the dog coffee, and someone has scolded me for it, and now I’m trying to feel okay about it.”
I waited for a single beat and then said, “Why? Did someone say to you that coffee is good for dogs…because it isn’t.”
Again, I know him and knew he wasn’t going to give me information unless I scared it out of him. He sighed and said, “Can dogs have coffee…in tiny amounts?”
I sighed back. It is an argument I hear and see too often. It goes like this: “Oh, my dog steals sips of my coffee (tea) all of the time! I mean it is such a small amount that it can’t hurt him!”
Yet, there are a lot of problems in a statement like that. First, let’s look at what the experts about caffeine and toxicity in dogs: “caffeine is lethal at a dose of 150 mg per 2.2 pounds of body weight. A cup of percolated coffee can contain up to 100 mg of caffeine, depending on brand.”
So, a cup of coffee has caffeine, but not enough to kill a dog of more than a few pounds. But that is not the point. After all, you wouldn’t swallow anything containing arsenic because it is toxic, and even if you were told it was not a lethal dose, you’d know that it could still cause harm. That is precisely why I always say (even though I know the figures above by heart) that dogs and coffee do not mix.
I am often shocked when I see things like Buzzfeed articles or Instagram images that show someone sharing coffee with a dog, and I often screech at my father who allows one of the family dogs to snitch food and drink (often coffee) from him. And though I already wrote about a developing trend in coffee shops that allow dogs (but don’t serve it to the puppos), I want to re-emphasize the simple fact that dogs and coffee do not mix at any level.
Why? After all, if your dog would have to consume a lot of it at once to do themselves harm, why not give them a few licks if they like it?
Because of Murphy’s Law…that’s why.
Here’s what I mean: I used to babysit for my niece when she was a baby. She was a bit of a couch potato and would point to things rather than crawling or walking to retrieve them. Adoring fool that I am, I would leap to her command and satisfy her every whim.
One day, she was sitting on the floor playing, and I stepped the ten feet from her play area and to the kitchen to put a cup in the sink. An earth-rending crash came from the living room almost instantly, and then that single beat that occurs while a child inhales one thousand times their normal capacity of air in order to let loose with a torrential wail.
I ran the lousy ten steps back into the room to see she had pulled a small table and lamp on herself. How had this little lump of cuteness managed such a stealth move? Murphy’s Law. I’d been with her dozens upon dozens of times and she rarely ever moved outside of her play area, let alone across the room to the sidetable. But that one time…
Although she was unhurt by the encounter, and the lamp remained intact, the lesson was learned. Don’t think that “this one time” is fine, or “oh well, no injuries…” Because there is always that one darn time.
And that’s why I say it is very bad to allow a dog to:
a) Develop any interest in coffee (or other risky foods), and
b) Even worse to allow them to steal sips or enjoy even a tiny bit of your drink.
It is that one time that you decide to get the large coffee with a shot of espresso or the highest amount of caffeine, that your dog will choose to guzzle the entire thing the five seconds your attention is elsewhere.
I know, it sounds paranoid, but go ahead and Google how many times people ask something along the lines of “Is coffee bad for dogs? My dog just drank an entire mug of coffee!” or “Help! Can dogs eat coffee grounds?” Dogs are opportunists like the rest of us and will go for it the moment our backs are turned. Even the very best of them, fully trained and everything, may succumb to the siren song of forbidden foods.
Dogs and Coffee, Tea, Chocolate, Grapes, Ham, Chicken Bones and All the Rest…Solutions to Counter Surfing and Trash Diving
The smart thing to do is use training to get them to associate really negative feelings with things like the smell of coffee, stealing food, and so on. After all, as the experts at the Pet Poison Helpline say, it isn’t just coffee.
“Caffeine is most commonly found in coffee, coffee grounds, tea, used tea bags, soda, energy drinks and diet pills. Theobromine, a cousin chemical to caffeine is also found chocolate…Pets are more sensitive to the effects of caffeine than people are. While 1-2 laps of coffee, tea or soda will not contain enough caffeine to cause poisoning in most pets, the ingestion of moderate amounts of coffee grounds, tea bags or 1-2 diet pills can easily cause death in small dogs.”
And remember, it is not just theobromine and caffeine that can poison or kill dogs. There are animal and plant foods that can also do a number on them. And though you might not mean to feed them such things, many dogs take matters into their own hands…uh, snouts, by raiding the trash.
While Janice has taken to obeying my “no trash raiding” rule, Leroy remains the stubborn dumpster diver in the making. I have had so many scares with him in relation to tea bags that I have taken to using a metal tea ball thing and a sealed compost bucket that any risky items are tossed into. This way, he finds very little of interest when he decides to nose about.
I have also become pretty adept at listing the signs of caffeine poisoning, which are:
Hyperactivity (mild to severe)
Elevated heart rate and blood pressure
Abnormal heart beat
Tremors and shaking
Elevated body temperature
Seizure that can lead to collapse
Leroy is already prone to bouts of hyperactivity and restlessness and his trash raids frequently cause him to hack up something disgusting. So, I am very paranoid about the issue. Murphy’s Law, folks, it is always waiting somewhere in the wings and is not related to dogs and coffee alone!
How Much is Too Much?
As I write this, the holidays are approaching and so I want to reiterate that though the science says that a few licks or nibbles is not enough to kill a medium to large-sized dog, do you really want the risks. If it kills the small dog, it certainly harms and makes ill the bigger ones.
I do understand the thought process that drives people to share risky foods with their dogs, though. My own father, after all, does this because he is madly in love with all of the dogs in the house and wants them to be happy. Because he is the food guy who is willing to share, the dogs show a lot of interest and excitement about his presence. Yes, it’s about what they can get off the big guy, but still, it makes everyone involved a bit happier.
That is also why so many people are willing to give their dogs some of the foods they love – they want their puppos to enjoy themselves, feel happy and loved, and feel extra special towards their humans. It’s misguided, though, and since dogs and coffee, tea, chocolate, energy drinks and a long list of other foods are a bad idea, I began to consider what you might do with your dog instead of sharing a cup of Joe with them.
So, Leroy can be a jerk and yet I can’t ignore the simple fact that his successes in counter surfing and trash diving are reinforcing his jerkiness around stealing food. After all, whenever any dog steals something and succeeds, it is a positive reinforcement of the behavior. Be brazen enough to lap up Mom’s cup of tea or swipe that piece of chocolate off the plate and then get away with it…No shouting or pointed “No, bad dogs!”…It makes it easier to do the next time. In fact, it makes it impossible to resist.
Thus, the first sort of training has to be directed at yourself. Why? Because even a single successful bout of food thievery may be enough to reinforce the unwanted behavior. To counteract it, start by removing opportunity. Don’t leave even a single bit of food around. No fruit on the counter, no bags of chips unopened on the table, nothing…
Then, every time you see the dog in the kitchen AND he or she is sniffing around and obviously looking for a nibble or snack, use a phrase like “Go” or “Out” and then train them what that means. For my dogs, the “Go” command inside of the house means that they are supposed to head to their dog beds. You can make it a crate or another area of the house. But remember that following the command always results in a reward…a really tasty one. This reduces the value of snitching food and instead encourages the dog to see that they get treats for NOT stealing food.
You should have also taught your dogs the basic “Leave It” command, which we looked at in an article not too long ago. This is an important option because you may find that dropped food is different from food in the trash or on a table or countertop in your dog’s perspective. It is also vital if you see them about to eat something potentially harmful, and even if they are in the act of doing so. A sharp “Leave it” will force them to drop it and then if you give the “Go” command, they will then head to the designated area and await a treat.
And if you fear your dog might ingest something bad outside of the house, go ahead and do some on leash training around this. You’ll just rely on good old “Leave It” and a few “setups” to test out their responses. Allow them to spot the “bait” and as soon as they approach, issue a leave it, and reward with a tastier treat right away. It’s is surprising how fast they associate the outdoors “leave it” command with a favorite food, and that bumps up the dog’s safety around potential disasters.
Watch Me…Not the Forbidden Food!
If your dog is really struggling with the Leave It command while out and about in the world, I would urge you to train them in the “Watch Me” command. This makes them focus on your face and is a great way to get them distracted. Once they are gazing at you, issue a “Come” command to get them away from the risky food or other item.
To do this is fairly simple:
Leash the dog with you outdoors and as soon as the dog moves in your direction give them verbal praise
Then hold up a treat directly in front of your face and between your eyes. This forces the dog to look up and at your face. Say “Watch Me” and then give them the treat.
Repeat this at least four or five times
Also, consider rewarding the dog every time they spontaneously look at your face. Say “Watch Me” and give the treat.
It is fairly amazing how quickly dogs take to this command and if you are out on a sidewalk or in the woods or park and your dog refuses to “Leave It”, you can often save the situation by a sharp command of “Watch Me” and a reward.
So, training dogs to stop snitching foods that could be potentially hazardous is one great way to neutralize the whole dogs and coffee, tea, caffeine and other toxins issue. And while training them out of trouble is a good step, why not also consider a few substitute experiences.
For instance, I told my father that the dog he so often risks poisoning with free slurps of coffee would probably become healthier and more loyal if they went out and played or even for a ride in the car (which that dog is crazy about). They might even stop at one of the area coffee shop that allows dogs and get a pet-friendly treat (decaffeinated, of course).
Sounds good right? With all of that in mind, let’s look at a few great things to do with your dogs instead of a misguidedvisit to a coffee shop that allows dogs and a potentially risk shared coffee break. (NOTE: Definitely go to a restaurant or coffee shop that allows dogs, but NEVER for a snack with risky ingredients!)
Second Things Second – 20 Other Things to Do Because Dogs and Coffee, Beer, Chocolate Grapes, Pork and Lots of Other Things Don’t Mix!
Old (or Young) Dog and a New Trick – I cannot explain how much fun I have when I train my dogs. I love to see them think about what it is I am asking them to do and then the look of total satisfaction or outright joy that comes across their faces when they nail it. We’ve done some great tricks over the years including army crawling, playing dead, and even the “Bang!” trick which is a more dramatic form of playing dead. My regular readers know that it is vital to teach your dog the basics – come, sit, stay, leave it, and so on – but these extras are super fun for everyone. Start with things like fetch or rolling over or standing up (sitting pretty), or even “inside voice” that is a quiet “speak” response and see what else your dog can master…they might surprise you.
Throw a Birthday Bash – You don’t have to know your dog’s official date of birth to celebrate them. I host a joint birthday party each year for myself and for the two dogs. I ask everyone to skip gifts and just bring their dogs, a potluck contribution, and themselves to our get together. The dogs LOVE this, and we make sure there is a special dog birthday cake. No caffeine or chocolate, though, because we know dogs and coffee, chocolate and other foods just don’t mix.
Make a Toy with Them – I firmly believe there is a black hole or some sort of portal that opens up inside of my dryer and swallows only single socks – never pairs. Thus, I have a basket of singletons that I hope to one day reunite with their mates. However, after a while, I give up on the issue and go ahead and make the dogs a chew toy from the scragglers. I tie them into sturdy knots and make a sort of dense cord of knots, and then we have a tug of war. Soon, I am defeated and it is just the two of them battling it out. The best part of it, though, is watching their reactions when I enter the room with the basket (I hate to admit it happens a few times each year!). They meander over and watch, giving me a tap or rougher shove as I work. It is such fun!
Pay a Visit to a Dog-Friendly Getaway – Use a resource like BringFido or other sites that make lists of dog-friendly hotels available, and plan a getaway with your dog. If he or she is not a yapper or barker and socialized properly, it can be a tremendous amount of fun for you and your dog to go on a vacation together! In fact, I rarely ever hit the road without my two cuddle bugs, and we have the proper harnesses and gear for car trips short and long. I don’t fly with them, so most of our holidays are within a few hours, or we do a few overnights while on the way to our destination. If your dog is a real adventurer or just loves to be by your side and can behave in a hotel, you’ll be surprised at just how much fun a holiday can be!
Make a “Gourmet” Meal – Sure, there are the restaurants and coffee shops that allow dogs, but you might enjoy the time the two of you can spend together making a delicious doggie gourmet meal at home. It would help you use that no snitching food training and also allow your dog to really enjoy the delightful smells of a home-cooked meal. In the past, I have written about the recipes I use for Janice and Leroy and even that I make a couple of “from scratch” meals every week. The dogs really love it and know when it is happening because I spend more time than normal in the kitchen, talk extra sweetly to them, and even let them sniff things as they are chopped or measured. They wag their tails, wiggle their little bottoms, and smack their lips in anticipation. So, I suggest you make an entrée and a dessert, setup a table that you can share and dig in. Try out an herbal tea or a dog-friendly beer as part of the meal too…after all, we learned the answer to “can dogs drink coffee?”
Go swimming – I live on the East Coast and just about an hour and a half from the Atlantic Ocean. I also live in an area with loads of rivers, lakes, streams, and ponds. Because of this, my dogs know just what it means whenever the car approaches a body of water – they are going in! If your dog has never been swimming, be sure that they know how by taking them to a calm body of water, like a local lake. Once they show they can do the doggy paddle and won’t get into trouble on the water, take them to different places to test out their favorites. Janice is an ocean girl while Leroy is most definitely a river roving guy.
See If They Are Good with Therapeutic Visits – I have a friend with the sweetest little dog, and though he is a definite mixed breed, he is a natural with nursing home visits. Call a local nursing home or rehab and ask them about pet visit policies and guidelines. Some require you to bring documentation about shots and health, and if your dog is social and friendly, it can do them and others a real world of good.
Rake Leaves and Jump With Them – I know I advise that you be careful with autumn leaves, but if you just rake up your leaves and then jump into them with the dog(s), you can all have a lot of fun. Then, rake them up and remove them as you might have already planned. This way, your dogs won’t romp in them and risk exposure to mold, sticks and other objects that end up in leaf piles that lay around too long.
Nap – This doesn’t sound so exciting, but my dogs love when I head to bed in the middle of a Sunday afternoon and call them to flop down with me. I might nap or watch some TV and, seriously, I have some of my favorite memories of their goofing around or falling asleep with me because of it!
Dog Park It – Do you have a dog park nearby? Have you taken the dogs? If not, it is one of the nicest things you can do for your puppo. Naturally, it means being certain that you are in full control of your dog, that they’ll respond to commands when off leash and that they are socialized. Start slow, and drive to the parking area and allow your dog to watch. If they seem eager to join, keep them on a leash and bring them to the fence for their first visit. If it seems like it might be too much, just go home and work on that training!
Take the Dog Camping – Even if it is just a tent in the back yard, your dog will love sleeping outside with you. It is an experience that they haven’t had yet and it lets them listen, sniff and serve as your protector in a way they haven’t. If you go to an actual camp site or even out on hiking trails with rough camping, your dogs will need to be trained to answer to your commands and not wander off, but it could be one of the best things you do for yourself and your dog(s).
Learn (and Provide) Dog Massage – I know I am guilty of paying for things for the dogs that I don’t do for myself, but let’s keep that our secret! I actually found some books and websites about dog massage and have learned a few basic methods for my two puppos. If you don’t want to do it yourself, Google local dog massage providers or ask your vet.
Take a Hike – I suggested camping above, but even if you won’t sleep outdoors one night or more, a good long day hike is something many dogs really love. They should never be off leash in the wilderness, though, because far too many disasters could occur. Even on a lead, though, my dogs love to walk gently with me, sniffing and stopping to tell me that there’s something just so interesting here or there. They love having their snacks al fresco and they even wear packs to help them know they are doing a job!
Take a Portrait – So, I have this friend who is a definite “cat person” and she has kept only a few cats in her 40-odd years. Each of them is a real character (aren’t all cats and dogs?), and so she has a lot of photos. However, she realized that she had adopted her current cat at the end of her previous cat’s life. She was always snapping photos of her long-time friend, and actually missed out on early photos of her new cat. When the old-timer passed, she decided to start taking more photos of the new cat, but she was still not keeping up the pace. So, she did something I think is genius – she created an Employee of the Month program, and naturally, the cat is the only “employee” in the house, so she wins it each month. It is a reason to take a lot of photos and choose the best one for that month’s poster. Why not do something similar or arrange for a formal family portrait with your pets once or twice a year. The dogs know something special is going on and enjoy the attention.
Visit a Dog-Friendly Store – In the past, I’ve written a lot about dog-friendly establishments. If you haven’t yet done this with your puppo, now is a perfect time to give it a try. I’d start small, like a visit to Home Depot rather than a Saturday morning at Petco. See how they do and then keep testing the waters. Soon, you might be able to bring your dogs on all of your errands.Hey, there are coffee shops that allow dogs, as well as pet supply stores, and many other establishments, it is a good way to learn more about your town or region!
Teach the Dog to Play Hide and Seek – Does your dog know anything about hide and seek? If not, you’ll find yourself in a fit of giggles when you teach it to them. You can try the “What the Fluff” challenge to see if they come looking for you, but you don’t have to freak them out if you don’t want to. Simply wait until they are not paying attention and then quietly leave the room…like normal. Then, hide somewhere like a closet or behind a door and make a “pst, pst, pst” sound. Chances are the dog will come looking. When they find you, give them a quick chase and cuddles…they usually love it.
Sprinkle It – If you are not close to the beach and there are no rivers, lakes or streams nearby, invest in a good quality lawn sprinkler. Even a tiny, postage stamp of a yard can become a place of wonder for the dog who has never enjoyed time in a sprinkler. Do watch out for that rare dog who wants to pick up the sprinkler and run with it! This can be a wonderful way to help your dog keep cool during a summer heat wave, too. Just remember to dry them off, and particularly the inside of their ears, as humidity and wet ears can lead to infections or irritation.
Picnic It – So, there’s no dog parks in your area, and you don’t have the inclination to go hiking or camping? That’s okay because you can still get those puppos out into the natural world. Just pack up a picnic! Most town greens and parks have pro-dog policies, and if you keep your pet on a leash, they are often welcome to come with you and enjoy a bit of time on the grass, in the sunshine, and nibbling a few snacks or a meal together. I actually have a pal who brings a huge blanket, some large pillows and a special cooler on wheels, and then he and his two Scottie dogs spend hours lounging around in the sun and outside of their apartment! The dogs even know that special foods are reserved for such times!
Sign Up for a Class – Even the most highly trained dogs slip in their training from time to time or just get bored. This is a good reason to sign up your dog for some sort of training, and the AKC actually has a lot of options. They have puppy socialization programs, family dog programs, and a long list of sports and trials to train for, including conformation training (showing), companion sports like agility and obedience or tracking and rally, performance training (often this is based on a breed, such as Dachshund Field Training) including Earth Dog and Scent Work, junior training, and more. Don’t overlook local opportunities and if you own a purebred dog, see if any local groups have specialized training. Classes can be about other issues…who knows, your dog might be a great search and rescue dog or pick up home protection skills! You can even learn how to dance with your dog! The point is to spend that time with them and strengthen your bond.
Do an Authentic Adventure – National Geographic has a list of outdoor adventures that dog owners can do with their pets, and many of them are not for the faint of heart or dogs lacking training. For example, hiking in wilderness areas off leash are some of the options listed. I loved reading about the Richmond Mountain Trails in nearby Vermont. There I can let the dogs explore the area off leash while I bike, and there are restaurants, breweries and coffee shops that allow dogs! There are other, more daring adventures, and if you and your dog are up to such challenges, it could be quite amazing. They also mention a road trip to the Outer Banks in North Carolina, and that too is something I think I might be brave enough to tackle with my two since it is described as a stretch of the region that has a lot of dog-friendly activities and facilities, and I think both dogs would absolutely adore watching the wild horses (from the safety of the car!)
We like to say that we really know our dogs, but these simple activities often show us that we are not giving our dogs as much time or attention as we should, and that we might not know them as much as we think we do. After all, I have had a lot of friends phone or email in astonishment after taking their “not so bright” dogs to training courses only to discover their dogs are really fast learners.
Yet, there are a lot of people who sincerely want to do more with their dogs. For instance, one of my friends recently said “I can’t tell you how often I wonder what Butch is thinking. He sits there and stares at me with those darned sweet eyes and I ask him to tell me his thoughts.” We both laughed, but my friend went on and said, “Wouldn’t be great to sit down with your dog at the end of the day, pop open a beer or brew a hot pot of coffee, and chew the fat?”
“Doug,” I sighed, “Dogs and coffee are not a good match…neither are dogs and beer!”
He laughed and said, “I know, I know, but imagine how much fun it would be if we could do that!”
Well, you now have scores of ways that you can kick back with your best pal and share all kinds of experiences. Your dogs will communicate their delight or even their dislike at certain activities, and it lets you really get to know them and their personality better than before. As I pointed out, I’ve done many of these things with my dogs (and previous dogs in life), and it is always a surprise to see what they do or don’t like to do.
Don’t forget to document it all, and maybe one of the other things you can do is to make an Instagram page for your dog. Don’t try to make it anything more than a happy spot in the madness of the Internet. Make it a place where dog owners, or would-be dog owners can go to see how you share your life with your dogs and have lots of adventures. You can inspire other pet parents to do the same. Though we’ll never be able to enjoy typical human experiences with our dogs, sipping cold beers, eating lots of different foods, or sharing the morning coffee with our dogs, we can do a lot of other more memorable and enjoyable things with them.