Oh kongs, the real MVP dog ownership-dom. Kongs have saved my sanity time and time again, being there for me during family parties when I needed to make sure the thanksgiving turkey would be left alone, teaching Phoebe to really enjoy time in her crate, acting as the vehicle for all kinds of goodies, including at times my dog's entire meal. I probably talk about the kong at 99% of my training sessions and in my opinion, you can almost never go wrong with a kong! (Hey, Kong, put me on your marketing team! Did you catch that slogan?!)
So, what's the lowdown on kongs? First things first, "Kong" is technically a brand of toy, not just the toy this post is about. They make all kinds of toys for fetching such as this one (which just happens to be Phoebe's favorite toy!) and this one, tough stuffed toys like this and this, food dispensing balls like the wobbler and the gyro, and they make their super tough, rubberized kong toy, which is the focus of today's post! The rubber kong toy wasn't necessarily created for stuffing however it is what the vast majority of people use it for today, and it's what I find most dogs enjoy the most about it.
There are a wide variety of rubber kong toys. The first thing you want to make sure of is that you have selected the right size kong for your dog; too small and it can pose a choking hazard, too large and it can be uncomfortable for your dog to work on. Each kong has a recommended weight and size on the packaging, so that's the place to start! You also want to make sure you're using the recommended "toughness" of the toy. The pink and blue kongs are typically designed for puppies, and are made of a softer, more pliable rubber than the other kongs. There are also purple kongs which are made with the softer rubber, and these are marketed toward older dogs. The middle of the road kong is a bright red, and was the first kong to be put on the market. Lastly, the black kong is for mega chewers and dogs who tend to be particularly destructive. The black kongs are made out of a tougher, longer-lasting rubber than the red kongs, so they're a better choice for dogs who are on a mission to destroy whatever they can get their paws on.
Now, let's get to the stuffing! Typically I will follow a pattern of a smear of something sticky on the entire inside of the kong, then layer soft and crunchy foods on the inside for added texture, plug the hole up with the sticky food, then stick a long and narrow chewy in the middle of the kong before throwing the kong in the freezer.
The freezer you say?! Yes indeed, freezing your stuffed kong makes it last exponentially longer and has the potential to keep your pup entertained for hours! It is important, though, not to jump to this step too quickly! If your dog has never had a kong before and you give them a fully stuffed, fully frozen kong, what sometimes happens is that it's too difficult for the dog to get the food out and so they give up all together. I suggest giving your dog a kong in the following order:
1) Partially stuffed, totally unfrozen. Your dog will make quick work of this!
2) When your dog sees the kong and gets excited (having figured out that it's a device that delivers deliciousness!) start to stuff it a bit more.
3) Next try freezing it partially without totally closing the hole. Leave it in the freezer for about a half hour to increase the challenge.
4) Try freezing the kong for longer durations as your dog succeeds; usually if the kong has been in the freezer for several hours it will freeze solid, and that is the level where your dog will find it most challenging!
Soon you'll be able to mastermind your own recipes for the kong, stuffing it more fully and freezing it longer and longer to keep your dog entertained for extended periods of time. My best stuffed kong ever was New Years Eve 2017, and it was a glorious thing! (Alright, I know I sound like a total weirdo now, I'll try dialing it down a bit!) Anyways, it lasted a solid two and a half hours and by the time Regis was done emptying it he was EXHAUSTED.
The following are some of my favorite items to use in kongs. You'll notice that they are for the most part "human foods"; yes, I feed my dogs human food all the time! As long as you know the food is safe for your dog to eat there is no harm in feeding dogs something other than "dog" food and the human food is usually better for them anyway!
- Peanut butter (aim for unsweetened, natural peanut butter and make sure it doesn't contain xylitol)
- Almond Butter
- Pumpkin puree (NOT pumpkin pie filling)
- Apple sauce (Again aim for unsweetened)
- Baby food (Beef, Chicken, Squash purees)
- Liverwurst (can be too rich for some dogs so try just a little bit first!)
- Greek yogurt (plain, unsweetened is best)
- Smashed banana
- Cream cheese (again, can be too rich for some dogs so try a little bit!)
- Canned wet dog food
- Rehydrated dog food (I love honest kitchen!)
- Cottage cheese
- Squeeze cheese (not exactly a health food, but a little bit can really get some dogs excited!)
- Kibble soaked in low sodium chicken or beef stock (a great way to feed their meal!)
- Mashed sweet potato
- Mashed white potatoes
- Cooked oat meal, quinoa, or rice
- Your dog's kibble
- Freeze dried treats (liver, white fish, etc)
- Cheese cubes
- Fruits including apples, banana, blueberries, strawberries, watermelon, cantaloupe, mango
- Veggies including green beans, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts, spinach, sweet potato, peas, zucchini (I do tend to steam these first!)
- Any variety of crunchy cookie type treats (i.e. miniature buddy biscuits)
- Meats such as chicken, ground beef, etc.
- Ziwipeak dog food
Chewies for the hole:
- Bully sticks
- Dehydrated fish skins
- Happy Howie Sausages
- Dehydrated sweet potato skins
- Big cookie-style treats like in the photo slideshow above
- Whimzees chews
And the best thing is, you can prepare several kongs at once and have a freezer that looks like this:
Alright, so I know not everyone wants a ton of dog stuff in their freezer, but having a stuffed kong on hand can save your sanity, and if you commit to stuffing them one night a week you'll always have something to keep your dog occupied! That's a win in my book!
Some other great places to find kong recipes are here, here, and here. Feel free to comment what your dog's favorite kong stuffing recipe is in the comments section, I'd love to hear how you get creative!