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