Updated: Jun 1, 2020
Do you have an anxious dog? A bored dog? A dog with tons of energy acting out?
A stuffed Kong is a simple and versatile way to occupy a dog's time, encourage them to relax, have them working for their food, and more! Kongs come in all different sizes, and also different strengths to accommodate any dog, from puppies, to seniors, to power chewers, there's a Kong for your pup... it exercises your dog's mind. A Kong can be used as a part of crate training and it even helps promote good oral hygiene! At our house, we most often use Kongs right before we leave the house and when we are asking the dogs to relax in their beds. They're interactive, crazy durable, and so rewarding for your pups!
Kong as a company now produces many types of dog toys (Neto's other favorite is the frisbee but Lefty prefers the original) but it is best known for its' original Kong toy. All of Kong's toys are known for being extremely durable. From Kong's website, "the Kong Classic's unique, natural red rubber formula is ultra-durable with an erratic bounce that is ideal for dogs that like to chew while also fulfilling a dog's need to play." The Kong is shaped like three domes stacked on top of one another and is hollow with a hole at the bottom. It is most often filled with kibble or treats, some specifically designed for Kongs, and sometimes even peanut butter or more!
So what makes Kongs so special? I think it's their ability to solve or assist in solving so many common issues owners may have with their dogs. Dog professionals have come up with endless, creative ways to treat behavioral problems with Kongs.
Anxious dogs can greatly benefit from what a stuffed Kong toy has to offer. Used during a stressful event, your dog now has something else to focus on. The Kong encourages focus and in turn, relaxation. Stressful events that may benefit from a stuffed Kong include, when you leave the house, crate training, nail trimming, and more. By learning to focus on the Kong, an anxious dog finds a new outlet for their anxious energy, in place of more destructive behaviors, such as chewing, escaping, digging, howling, etc. It can also increase confidence, making a dog feel accomplished in working for their food.To make it more long-lasting, fill the Kong with some of your dog's daily kibble, we like to add a bit of wet food as well, and then top it off and seal it up using peanut butter or another yummy dog-friendly snack before freezing! Just make sure to properly introduce the Kong to your dogs first. More about that later.
Kongs teach dogs independence and how to enjoy and entertain themselves while being alone. This may be especially important during this time, since we find ourselves staying at home a lot more. If you have a video call conference, a Kong would be the perfect distraction for your pup while you work. Perfect for when you have company over, a previously hyper, attention loving pup can enjoy relaxing in their own space with a Kong. They are rewarded when company comes over, or when they go to bed and relax, and this encourages them to behave this way in the future.
This is a self rewarding activity, as the dog relaxes and lays in bed, they are being rewarded by the goodness inside of the Kong. This is called "auto shaping" and it conditions your dog to relax and enjoy being alone, without any additional work on your part, other than preparation. Licking and chewing release endorphins and create a very pleasurable experience. Your dog creates a positive association with this experience and their environment around them.
Puppies can be encouraged to chew appropriately with a Kong. If you find that your puppy is very mouthy, or likes to bite at your hands to play, discourage this and then offer a Kong in place of it. They are distracted from the "bad behavior" and rewarded for the good behavior (chewing on something appropriate instead of your hands!) I adopted Neto at around 1 and a half years old and he still had some puppy problems, mouthing being one of them. I used this method and now when he starts to get very excited or playful, he will actually search for an appropriate toy to play with instead of hands!
Kongs can also help with crate training. I plan to go more in depth with this in another post, but to summarize, using auto shaping the Kong rewards your dog for relaxing and enjoying their crate.
In my opinion, every dog can benefit from the Kong toy. It fulfills your dog's natural desire to work for their food and provides important mental stimulation which leaves dogs feeling happy, fulfilled, less bored, more tired, and less anxious.
So what if your dog isn't instantly enthralled in its Kong toy? They can definitely still be encouraged and "trained" to love it! The key is to start out slow and give it a proper introduction. When stuffing a Kong, difficulty should be considered. Always start out making things easy, and then add more difficulty as they become confident in their food "hunting" abilities! When you first start training your dog to love their Kong, start with their meals!
Simply portion out the food they eat for the day. Fill your Kong with just the dry food at first, you will notice the food easily falls out of the toy just by rolling it, picking it up, dropping it, etc.
When they are confident getting the dry food out of the toy, you can step up the game a little by moistening the food with water or broth before putting it into the toy. This makes the food a bit more difficult to roll out of the toy, and may require some other techniques as well. Lefty took a bit longer to get confident in this stage, but now she is a pro!
When you find your dog has mastered retrieving their moistened food from the Kong, you can start freezing it, or topping it off with peanut butter before you freeze! There are lots of fun and exciting Kong recipes out there! Even without the fancy recipes, just using your dog's regular food delivered inside of a Kong offers the same benefits as any other recipe, and can be much healthier than having to worry about any extra caloric intake. There's not really much reason to use special recipes unless you just find it enjoyable like I do! I use a couple of different recipes on a daily basis, just because I enjoy it, but they are very simple and I always monitor my dogs to make sure they stay at a healthy weight. I have several Kongs per dog ready for each day.
An example of Lefty and Neto's Kong schedule for the day:
I first portion out their food for the entire day. In the morning I prepare all of the Kongs for the day because I freeze them to make them more difficult since Lefty and Neto are Kong professionals. Any kibble that's not used for the Kongs, we use for training and rewards throughout the day. For the "breakfast" Kong, I take a bit of the kibble (enough to fill one of the large Kongs) and I mix it with about two tablespoons of wet food. I put that mixture into the Kong and then I spread some peanut butter across the hole in order to seal it shut. In a smaller Kong (I call it the snack Kong) I mix a small amount of kibble with some pumpkin puree and then seal that off with just a bit of cream cheese. In the last "dinner" Kong, I mix kibble with a tablespoon of salmon oil and then seal with peanut butter. You have to make sure to put a small dab of peanut butter over the small hole end as well, or the oil will spill out! All of these are placed in the freezer.
I give the "breakfast" Kong in the morning, usually when I leave for appointments for the day. Lefty gets a little bit of "isolation distress" initially when I leave, so the Kong gives her something to focus on, and by the time she's done with it, she is more calm and relaxed and not so anxious. High energy Neto has something to preoccupy his mind and it usually gets him ready for his, 'while I work' nap.
When I return for the day, the pups are super excited. I'm currently using the "snack" Kong to encourage calm behavior when I first get home for the day. The first thing I do upon arrival, is grab the Kong from the freezer and ask both dogs to go to bed. They calmly enjoy their toys and then are much more relaxed after they are done!
The "dinner" Kong is the last of the day and I give it to them after playtime and when it is time for Mom and Dad to relax on the couch. When they are done I wash the Kongs and set them out to dry for tomorrow!
Washing Kongs is easy. They are dishwasher safe and can be placed right on the top rack. If you hand wash, simply soak the Kong in warm soapy water before using a flexible brush to wash the inside. I hand wash the Kongs more often as it is less wear and tear on them than the dishwasher I believe.
There will be many more posts about Kongs and all of the ways they benefit your dog (and YOU!) They are an absolute MUST HAVE for any dog owner and have so many uses once your dog is properly introduced. If you have any additional questions about how Kongs can be used, or questions about how they may be able to help with a current behavioral issue you may be experiencing, feel free to leave a comment or contact us at Lefty's Local Pawsome Pet Care!