You may have seen Kongs advertised on new-puppy checklists, but here I share my tips for making the most of these amazing feeding-toys.
Kong's are made from natural rubber which is considered one of the safest materials for dog toys. They can withstand a hell of a lot of chewing, bouncing and rolling without showing even a dent. In this post I'm going to outline a few of the ways I use my Kong and a few of the simple ways I stuff my Kong.
I personally have three Kongs so that I can have one being used, one being cleaned and one ready to go in the freezer. If you are a fan of freezing your Kongs (and if you haven't tried it yet - you should) then it is handy to have at least two on hand.
Ways to use your Kong:
There is an increasing amount of research into the benefits of slow-eating for dogs. Not only may it decrease the likelihood of bloat and other gastrointestinal issues, it also could improve the dogs perceived satiety after a meal. At the very least it gives your dog something to think about and work at for a while, rather than gulping down his dinner and then wagging his tail at you Oliver-Twist style; "can I have some more"?
Weighing out your dogs food for a meal you can then either stuff it directly in (if it is wet food) or for dry food submerge the food in boiling water until it softens (and cools - don't give your dog burning hot food). Then stuff it in the kong and viola! a meal and a toy in one.
2. A chew while you're absent, busy, have guests or just need some peace and quiet
You can stuff your dogs Kong with all sorts (more on that below). Some trial and error can find the recipes your dog loves and never underestimate the power of 90% healthy food and 10% naughty treats (like natural peanut butter, meat juices, dog treats etc). I then freeze the kong to make it even harder to get out. You can give your dog the kong as a reward, or to help curb over excitement when visitors come over, or to help with crate training. When frozen these can take a long time for your dog to finish with. If your dog initially rejects the frozen Kong (too much like hard work) start by giving them an unfrozen Kong to condition your dog to love the site of it and want to work to get the yummy food out.
3. A new dimension to fetch
The kong is naturally bouncy and also oddly-shaped. This means when you throw it the Kong will bounce off in unexpected directions. This gets your dog into their natural chasing state - fantastic exercise and mental enrichment as the Kong moves in unexpected directions - like prey would - rather than in the predictable pattern of a tennis ball.
If your dog is initially reluctant to chase the Kong, make sure you have first used it as a feeding-toy in order to condition their excitement for it.
4. A plain old chew toy
Once your dog is accustomed to the Kongs brilliance they are likely to chew on it even if no obvious reward is present. Natural rubber is one of the safest chews to provide to your dog as it does not break down easily. Chewing is a stress reliever for your dog and fires happy chemicals that will keep them amused and away from your previous sofa.
5. A cooling toy on a hot day
In the summer it is really important that we pay close attention to how hot our dogs are getting. In addition to cooling mats, iced water and plenty of shade a Kong can be a fun (and less messy than plain ice cubes) way to cool our beloved pooches down. Using something edible to stopped the hole at the bottom (veggies, kibbles, peanut butter) pour water into the Kong and let it freeze. If your dog needs extra motivation to enjoy the treat you can add some salt-free meat juices from yesterdays dinner to make a doggie-squash or drop in a couple of treats to flavour the water.
My favourite Kong stuffings:
1. Kibble (for lazy people like me!)
While there are 100s of creative ways to stuff your Kong I'll be totally honest with you - I can be quite lazy. My most common Kong stuffing is my dogs usual kibble, soaked in water until it is soft and then left to cool. Sometimes if I'm feeling generous I mix it with some kefir or plain yoghurt which is great for tummy-health and my dog loves it.
2. Fruits & Veggies
Experiment with your dog to find out what they like best but lots of dog owners underestimate how many things in their fridge they can feed their dog as treats that are healthy. Before chucking leftovers away I always think about whether this would be something I could stuff in a Kong (make sure it hasn't been cooked in excess flavourings, salt, sugar or oil that could make your dog unwell).
Always consult a list of foods toxic to dogs first (such as grapes, raisins, cherries, garlic and onions).
Veggies: grated carrot, broccoli, kale, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, green beans, celery, cucumber, spinach & peas.
Fruits (always remove seeds and rind): melon, strawberries, apples, bananas, mango, blueberries & pears.
If you want to feel very fancy you can make yourself doggie smoothies by blending these ingredients together and pouring into your Kong.
As mentioned above plain, unsweetened yoghurt is great for dogs. My two favourites are Greek-yoghurt and Kefir - they are both lower in lactose than other types and offer probiotics that are key for gut health.
Be careful not to overfeed yoghurt (especially if your dog isn't used to it) as it can lead to loose stools. A tablespoon mixed in with the rest of your stuffing is a delicious and healthy way to mix up foods and help them stick together. Some dogs can also present with lactose-intolerance so if you are concerned always speak to your vet.