If you’ve added a dog to your family in the past decade, then I’m sure you’ve heard of Kong® products. If you haven’t, then you and your pup are missing out! At the risk of sounding like an infomercial for the company, I must tell you that they have a lot of fantastic products. The favorites with our fuzzbukets are the Kong® Wobbler, Wubba, SqueakAir Balls, and the Kong® Classic. As a Professional Dog Trainer, I recommend the Kong® Classic be a staple in just about every young dog’s daily routine. I refer to it as the snowman Kong® because its shape resembles just that. It truly makes a wonderful puppy pacifier or adult dog toss or chew toy when introduced with purpose and utilized with creativity.
I am often told, “My dog just isn’t interested in the Kong®.”, and I’m completely unalarmed by that admission. After all, why would a dog be entertained by a plain formed chunk of rubber? Yet, with a few simple adjustments, that boring blob of rubber can be transformed into an enriching activity helping your canine companion find contentment and calm.
Though it seems to be a common misperception, Kongs are not some miracle toy that automatically keep dogs engaged for hours on end and are never at risk of being destroyed. Yes, they can hold a dog’s attention for a while and are incredibly versatile, but everlasting indestructible entertainment is mostly wishful thinking on our part. The only toys I’ve seen that even come close to indestructible are Goughnuts dog toys, but the bulk of the entertainment often comes from the interaction enjoyed with the human making the toy come alive.
The Kong® Classic has different options for various types of chewers: teething, average, power, and aging. Once you have the right formulated rubber and the correct size for your chewer, you’re ready to start teaching your pup how to satisfy their chewing needs appropriately while entertaining themselves. Use this Smartypaws plan to introduce your fur friends to the Kong® Classic. You’ll reap the benefits of watching this one-minute treat toy turn into a fulfilling, longer lasting activity for furry friends.
1. Start easy and don’t expect it to last a long time:
The first thing you’re going to do is build value in the toy. You are basically getting your pup to be interested in that rubber shaped snowman. You can do this by filling the Kong® with some of your dog’s food portion and giving it to them at each meal. All your dog needs to do is smell the food and barely swat or nuzzle the toy for the food to fall out. It should be almost effortless for your pooch to access the food. A bonus of using the Kong® to dispense meals is that it also slows down voracious eaters.
Outside of mealtimes, you will want to put some tasty treats in the toy throughout the day and leave it out for them to randomly find and engage with. Dogs LOVE to forage and find things! This simple “game” gets your dog noticing and more interested in that rubber hunk pretty quickly – usually within a few days.
This first step is incredibly important for dogs who are timid or apprehensive about exploring. Many dogs will breeze through this first step in just a few days. They will show interest and even play with the toy when its empty. However, some dogs – like nervous puppies or reserved, anxious adults, may need extra support building their confidence to play or interact with unfamiliar objects.
2. Build the level of difficulty:
Once your dog is showing interest in the Kong® from step 1, you will now make it a little harder for them to get the goodies out. Over the course of 2-3 weeks, increase the difficulty of getting the food to dispense as long as your dog’s interest persists. You can do this simply by lining the inside of the Kong with wet ingredients like: xylitol free peanut butter, natural pumpkin, cooked mashed sweet potato, canned dog food, mashed banana, meat baby food, cream cheese, Greek yogurt, applesauce, or Kong easy treat spray. There are so many possibilities! Just be sure your sticky schmear is dog safe. You can use a knife to spread the lining or plop it in a plastic sandwich bag, cut the corner, and squeeze it onto the Kong’s inside walls. Then, put the loose food or treats in same as before. This also automatically increases the amount of time your pup interacts with the toy. It may still only take about 2-5 minutes at this point, but you’ll probably notice that your pup plays with their Kong® on their own more than they did previously. Like before, you’re still giving the stuffed toy at mealtimes and leaving random filled Kong® gifts around for them to find. You can even plant these presents in their accessible kennel to help build positive associations with that environment.
The most important thing in this step is to not make it too difficult too quickly. Your dog should still be able to get the goods relatively easily, but with more effort than a nudge or swat. When making the food harder to get out, think of it like a puzzle. If you aren’t a puzzle master and someone gifts you a 1,000-piece puzzle, you’re likely to leave it in a box on the shelf or regift it. Yet, if you’re given a 250-piece puzzle of a scene you love, then you’re probably going to start tinkering at putting that puzzle together. Likewise, if you give your pup a Kong® Classic (a 250-piece puzzle) with obtainable tasty treats (a favorite scene), they’re going to give it some effort instead of just giving up (shelfing or regifting the whole kaboodle). This step can take a few weeks depending on the dog.
3. Make it harder and longer lasting:
Now that your dog will spend a few minutes slurping, chewing and playing with the Kong® goodness, it’s time to give them a chance at a 500-piece puzzle. You’ll have to think ahead for this one, but it’s really quite simple. Repeat step 2 and toss it in the freezer. Instead of smearing the inside first, you could also make a variation of tossing the wet and dry ingredients together in a bowl, mixing them, and loosely packing it all in the Kong® at once. The goal is to have the stuffing take a medium amount of effort to dispense. At this stage, it’s nice to have at least two of the toys to alternate so they’re ready when you want to use them.
After a few days of your dog happily consuming those without losing interest, you can provide your pup with the longest lasting Kong concoctions equivalent to a 1,000-piece puzzle that takes focus and persistence to empty. This is where you get to experience the 30+ minutes of free time you’ve been dreaming of while your pooch indulges in their own satisfying special meal or treat. Stuff the Kong fully with only the sticky schmear sauces mentioned above and freeze. Of course, you can add some kibble or dozens of other special yummies (like: dog biscuits, treats, eggs, cheese, fruits, veggies, meats, etc.) if you’d like. Check out the Kong® webpage or do a search for Kong® recipes to find all kinds of tail wagging stuffing mixtures. One of my pups has a sensitive tummy so I keep it basic for him by saturating his normal kibble with water or diluted low sodium chicken broth to make it mushy and spreadable. I stuff the Kong with that and push a bully stick, dehydrated lung piece, or animal trachea in it like a popsicle stick.
If your dog loses motivation and leaves the Kong® before its emptied, then you’ll need to either make it easier for them to empty or use a stuffing that your dog wouldn’t walk away from. You can make it easier to get the filling by not fully freezing it solid. Paying attention to the foods your dog goes wild for will help you find the right recipe for long lasting entertainment and enrichment. How about some bacon crumbles, chicken pieces, or cheese cubes mixed in water from a tuna can to fill the Kong® and freeze?
Using the Kong® for fetch, find it, keep away, and other fun games you play together will also enhance your dog’s interest in the toy. A small amount of effort introducing your dog to the Kong® in the beginning will pay off with a huge amount of fulfillment (and a few less chewed up socks, shoes, and remotes) a step or two down the road.
Looking for more ideas on entertaining pup products? Take a look at Canine Enrichment Feeders We Love!