Kongs provide dogs with a much needed source of mental (and sometimes physical!) stimulation. They are a challenge, as your dog needs to work to extract the delicious food that you have packed into it, and ideally, this takes lots of time, keeping your dog entertained when you need some peace and teaching him a 'good thing' to chew, as opposed to a 'bad thing' to chew - such as your shoes, or the kitchen cabinet! I often suggest to owners that one simple and practical approach to their dog's boredom or chewing problem is to use a Kong, but some look dismayed. "My dog just isn't interested in it" they tell me, "we've tried and he just gives up". Why is this?
It usually comes down to 1 of 2 reasons...
1. The owner has unfortunately not realised that a kong needs stuffing. For a kong to be really interesting to your dog, it should be stuffed with food, else it is just another chew toy and where's the fun in that?!
2. The owner has not packed the kong correctly for the dog's 'kong aptitude'. So either all the food comes out in seconds and the dog is now just left with a chew toy (see point 1!) or, the food is so tightly packed a dog would need to work on it for ages to extract a tiny morsel - so the dog gives up and finds something more rewarding to do (like raiding the kitchen table for crumbs).
The thing about kongs, is that dogs need to learn how to use it - it is a puzzle and unless we give them some help, they may not be able to solve it. In order for your dog to be a 'kong addict' we need to teach him just how amazing these things are and if the food isn't there, isn't coming out, or comes out too quickly, your dog is going to think the toy is dull at best, or incredibly frustrating and annoying at worst. So here is a quick guide on how to teach your dog to use his kong...
1. Smear peanut butter (or yoghurt or cream cheese) around the bottom (wider part!) of the kong and just on the inside 'lip'. Take a small handful of your dogs dinner kibble and a small tasty dried treat (or two) and pop this in the kong. Make sure that they can fall out easily when nudged and call your dog over and pop this on the floor in front of him - hopefully his powerful nose will pick up the scent of the tasty food and treats and he will nudge and lick at the kong as food now begins to fall out. You may wish to hold it steady for him to lick on the first few sessions, to help him extract the tastiness. Repeat several times so that your dog is now excited by the kong.
2. Smear the peanut butter inside the kong as well as around the bottom outside and pop the dried food inside as before. It is now a little harder to get the tasty stuff out! Repeat until he is getting better at getting out all of the peanut butter out quickly.
3. Start to experiment with different fillings, you can use mashed potato with cheese, carrots or sweet potato, wet food mixed with dry, pate, mushed banana, dog safe dinner left overs etc., to really fill the kong and make it so that your dog needs to start to work a little harder to get the food out,as it no longer just falls out. If you are worried about weight gain, reduce your dog's main meal and mix in some of his kibble with the filling. There are hundreds of recipe suggestions for kong fillings online, just google them!
4. Once your dog is a pro at extracting these soft fillings, you can make it harder, wedge a biscuit in the larger hole which needs extracting and chewing, or for a cool, tasty treat, freeze it!
Owners will quickly find that if they approach kong training in the right way, their dog will learn to love it and they'll have a wonderfully interactive way to entertain and feed their dog. I found that purchasing 5 or 6 kongs and doing a batch of stuffing from left overs and kibble, meant that I could prepare kongs well ahead of times I would need to use them, such as when I needed to crate Lexie and get on with housework without a 'helper'!
So if you've tried kongs before and your dog hasn't been as interested as you'd hoped, give them another go with the method I've suggested above and you will soon find you have created a kong addict!