If you have a dog and you have not heard of this wonderful toy called the Kong, you are missing out on a great tool to use to help keep your dog occupied on days when it’s hard to get him enough exercise. Kongs are hollow rubber toys that come in a variety of sizes and toughness, and while they look kind of boring on the outside, the tasty delicious food that you can stuff on the inside is hard for most dogs to resist.
For dogs who are new to unstuffing a Kong, it is best to keep things easy and very tasty. You want the dog to have instant gratification, so pick soft foods. I usually use a dab of peanut butter to cover the hole in the closed end and prevent leaks, and then add something like yogurt or cottage cheese, maybe some fruits or vegetables, a glob of peanut butter smeared down deep inside, or maybe some EZ Cheez. Something tasty and easy to lick out. This will help to create a dog who understands what the Kong is all about and finds it rewarding. It won’t take a dog very long to empty out a Kong stuffed like this, but it will be enough to distract him for a short time.
For the more advanced Kong-unstuffer, I like to make things more difficult. Stuffing Kongs ahead of time and then freezing them is a great way to make them harder and more time consuming to empty. Anything soft and moist can be frozen, even your dog’s regular dinner. Soak his kibble in some warm water, mix with a spoonful of canned food or yogurt or a sprinkling of parmesan cheese, spoon it inside and pack it in tightly, and then freeze solid. This is GREAT for a dog who is on bed rest for an injury. You have to feed him anyway– why not do it in a way that requires him to work for it?
Another way to make Kongs more challenging is to stuff large pieces of things inside so that the dog needs to manipulate it with his mouth to get it out. Dog biscuits can work wonderfully for this. You need big enough ones that it’s a tight fit, and they can be tricky to wrestle through the hole sometimes, but it’s worth it when it keeps your dog working for awhile. Apple slices or chunks of melon can serve the same purpose (remember: no grapes for dogs!). If I need a quick, challenging Kong, this is the way I’ll go. It doesn’t require time to freeze solid, but it keeps my dogs working for a bit longer.
Once you get going, there is no end to the possibilities— it just depends on how creative you want to get. Leftover Mac and Cheese? Stuff it in a Kong. Need to use up some eggs before they go bad? Scramble them up, maybe with a little bit of cheese, and stuff them in a Kong. What about a peanut butter and banana “Elvis” Kong? Or healthy scraps from last night’s dinner?
Some people like to stuff in layers- a soft bit, some crunchy stuff, and then more soft stuff on top. If it’s healthy and safe for dogs, go for it!
Keep in mind the extra calories. It is so easy for food-oriented dogs to become overweight, so if you’re feeding a lot of calories in Kongs, you’ll need to either cut back your pup’s food, start using his food portions as Kong-stuffer, or get him more exercise. This is especially important to keep in mind if you’re using Kongs to entertain a dog on crate rest, when you’re probably going to need to cut his portions back anyway because he’s not getting any exercise. When I was crate resting my dog, I would dump all of his kibble for the next day into a bowl, soak it, add a little something special, and stuff it all in Kongs to freeze overnight. He didn’t really get meals during that time. Instead, he got Kongs at various times throughout the day. I don’t know how I would have gotten through those months of resting a young athletic dog without this trick. Anything that can make his food serving last longer and to require more mental work to get it is going to help me keep my crate-resting dog calmer and easier to rest.
I hope this post opened your eyes to the wonderful world of Kongs, or if you already use them, has broadened your vision of the way they can be used to occupy dogs for longer times. I seriously don’t know what I’d do without these simple toys and all the options they provide to me.