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Dear Crystal,

When I adopted my dog they recommended that I buy a toy called a Kong for her. I bought one and put some peanut butter in it as recommended. She eats the peanut butter out in under a minute and then she is done with it. I don’t get the big deal. Why do so many people recommend these toys? Am I doing something wrong?

Sincerely,

Not Getting It

Dear Not,

I am about to blow your dog’s mind, my friend. There is so much more that you can do with this versatile toy. If you check out any pet supply store you will find aisles of similar type toys. I like to call this category of toys food dispensing toys. There are also different subcategories of food dispensing toys. Some of them are for chewing and others are more for knocking around. The Kong can be used in either way; it just depends on your dog’s style of interacting with it.

Dogs are opportunistic scavengers. In the wild, locating food would consume most of their day. Fast forward to today when biscuits are doled out at the bat of a doggie eyelash and bowls are plopped down with the regularity of a clock and consumed in under a minute. We give our dogs a 20-minute walk and expect that to be enough to entertain the animal living in our house. We come home to see items ripped up and wonder what is wrong with this dog. To put it in human terms, a day or two laying around on the couch can be nice but if that is all you had to do for the rest of your life I am pretty sure you would get bored too. A well balanced dog needs a mixture of physical exercise, mental exercise and quiet times.

Most of us are familiar with that exhausted feeling after a test or a mentally challenging day.  Mental exercise for a dog can be achieved by short training sessions throughout the day and making your dog work for his meals by feeding from food dispensing toys. I exclusively feed my dogs from toys. My fourteen-year-old dog is still sharp as a tack and watching her throw her Kong across the room is a joy to my heart. Who needs television when you have that kind of entertainment?

Food enrichment toys have additional benefits besides burning energy. If you crate train your dog, give him a Kong in the crate to help create a more positive association with being in the crate. When you need to leave the house, offer your dog a food toy. He may not even notice that you have left and it will help entertain him when you are gone. Chewing is a soothing behavior so they can learn to self soothe themselves when they are alone or feeling anxious. They are also great for providing an appropriate chewing outlet. When your dog gets more advanced you can freeze the food inside to make it harder and have the additional benefit of the cold on sore gums for teething puppies.

There are different levels of difficulty to toys and I recommend that you start out with the easiest toys so that your dog won’t get frustrated and give up. My rule of thumb is the larger the hole that the food comes out of, the easier the toy. The Kong is a good toy to start out with for that reason. There is also a progression to follow as to how to fill the toys. You should start out by making the toy as easy as possible so that the dog can get the concept that there is food in the toy and interacting with it makes the food come out. I usually start out by filling the toy with just dry kibble so that it easily falls out of the toy. The next step might be to fill it with kibble and then top with a little peanut butter or cream cheese to make it a little harder. Next you might try freezing that mixture so that it becomes a little more difficult. The most difficult level for your dog to master is to either soak the kibble in water or mix it with can food. Put that mixture in the Kong and freeze. The Kong Company website actually has a whole section of recipes to try. If your dog doesn’t seem interested at first, you may want to add some additional enticement like chicken to the mix. I will warn you that it can get a little messy when your dog eats these frozen concoctions. My dog likes to eat hers on the dog bed so I put a blanket down on it so I can wash it later. You can also give it to them in their kennel on a towel so that the mess is contained.

Once your dog is a master of the Kong, there are a variety of different toys to try. The key to enrichment is variety. Also, the majority of Kongs are too small to hold an entire meal so you will probably need multiple toys. I love to have a freezer compartment full of toys so I can just quickly grab one whenever I need it. These toys are nothing short of a miracle in my opinion. I suggest them for a variety of behavior problems and to prevent behavior problems for every dog. Give them a try and start enriching your dog’s life today. He will thank you for it!

Until next time,

Crystal

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