Another piece I wrote for Northern Virginia Today expanded for here.
Toys we can stuff with food! Freezable holders of canine goodies! Where would I be without my Kongs and other food stuffing toys! Kongs and toys like Wal-Mart’s Sumo, etc., are wonderful ways to help alleviate boredom, give your dogs things to do when you leave the house, replacements for food bowls, etc. These toys are meant to be filled with goopy things for the dog to lick out.
Before I continue, check labels for Xylitol. This artificial sweetener is very toxic to dogs even in small amounts. It is found in some brands of peanut butter, other nut butters, reduced sugar yogurts and even some brands of honey. Also avoid other artificial ingredients like aspartame, etc.
When you begin using one of these toys make it easy to start. Loose kibble, a little canned dog food, etc. If the toy is packed too tightly the dog may frustrate and lose interest – even if hungry. Once your dog gets the hang of the toy, you can make things a little more challenging. I will take peanut butter or squirt cheese and smear some on the walls of the toy. I will add some kibble or treats. Some will get stuck to the walls and other pieces are easy to get out. It will not take long for your dog to get the hang of these toys. Soon you will be able to make things a little harder and longer lasting. However, continue to watch for signs your dog is getting frustrated. Even experienced dogs may stop using these toys if they cannot get the goodies out.
You can use a multitude of foods in these toys: mashed banana, plain yogurt, berries, applesauce, pureed pumpkin or squash, rice, ground cooked meat, canned dog food, etc. Layer these foods with kibble so they have to lick and work at some layers and others are easier.
Did you know you can freeze Kongs? Frozen Kongs are a great summer treat and they last longer. As they thaw, the stuff inside becomes easier to get out. Plug the small hole with peanut butter or something similar. Put the Kong large hole up in a plastic cup or container. Layer things until the toys are about three-quarters of the way filled. Before you give the toy to your dog, put something not frozen at the opening. This way your dog has something easy to get out to encourage him then he can work on the harder stuff.
When you leave the house, give your dog a stuffed Kong in his crate. If he can have unsupervised house freedoms, hide a couple for him to find. If you have a dog walker come in, leave a stuffed Kong to be left when the walker leaves. When it is yucky out and the dogs are restless, food stuffed toys are a big help with boredom. It is important that dogs learn to settle and be quiet, Kongs can help give a quieter activity. They are great for use in hotels, in crates in the vehicle, etc. I bring prepackaged squeeze pouches of dog meal enhancements (pureed meats, fruits and veggies) and squish some into each toy. Combined with social skills and travel lessons, Kongs help relax my dogs when we are in hotels.
To save time, buy a week’s worth of toys. Take fifteen minutes on a Sunday evening to prep and freeze. Each evening, rinse the used toys and wash on the top rack of your dishwasher or swirl a bottle brush with hot, soapy water around the inside and rinse. It takes me less than fifteen minutes to get all my dogs’ Kongs stuffed and in the freezer. If you have kids, helping prepare Kongs is a great job for them! Even little kids are able to help fill Kongs.
Instead of feeding your dog from a bowl, use Kongs and other toys. Through measuring the size toys I have, I learned they hold half to all of a meal ration per dog for each of my dogs. I use food to enrich my dog’s environment and encourage activities. Each morning my dogs get part of their ration in a bowl. I scatter a handful of kibble in the yard to encourage them to use their noses. Before I leave, they get food stuffed toys with the rest of their meals. Used wisely, these toys will not “Make my dog fat.” Mix the kibble ration with canned food or pureed vegetables and there is the meal.
If you do not have any of these toys, go get some and get stuffing!
Karen Peak is the owner of West Wind Dog Training and The Safe Kids/Safe Dogs Project in Northern Virginia.