Beyond meeting a dog’s basic needs, such as food and shelter, it is our responsibility to ensure our dogs are mentally stimulated and leading a fulfilling life. In the canine world, this is called enrichment and is essential for brain development and good health.
As well as keeping your dog happy and content, enrichment has been proven to decrease behavioural issues. One of the many simple ways you can provide this for your dog is with a Kong.
What is a Kong?
Although Kong is actually the name of the company that created many different types of ‘kongs’, in this post I’m going to be focusing on the most popular and versatile one – the Kong Classic.
A kong is a hollow rubber toy with a multitude of uses. It is suitable for any age, breed and size.
Picking the Right Kong
Kongs can be bought from most pet stores nationwide and online at Amazon and are relatively inexpensive. There are different sizes and durabilities depending on what your dog needs. See the chart below published by Kong to help you decide:
The kong can be thrown just like a ball would. Due to the rubber it also bounces lots and often in unpredictable directions – so much fun!
Keep sessions short. Most dogs love chasing toys and retrieving them to do it all over again, but too much fetch can lead to over arousal and potential injury.
You could also hide a few treats inside the kong before throwing it. Now your dog has two rewards to find!
The holes either end of a kong mean that you can thread a rope through. This is much safer than many tug toys out there containing plastic which can splinter. Your dog can also really grip onto the kong!
A tug toy really provides an equaliser during play where dogs can use their mouths and you can use your hands! No amount of tug will make your dog dominant or aggressive. But ensure you are tugging gently to prevent injury and overarousal.
One of the easiest ways to use a kong is to swap it for your dog’s food bowl. My dog doesn’t even actually own a food bowl! She has all her meals in some form of enrichment and kong is one of her favourite.
Studies show that dogs and other animals actually enjoy ‘working’ for their food and the anticipation of solving the puzzle can sometimes even be more rewarding than the food itself!
If your dog has kibble then simply tip it into the kong and place it on the floor for your dog to work out how to get it out again. If you have several kongs you can place them in different locations around the house to make it more like a treasure hunt.
Raw or cooked meals can also be squeezed into a kong. Just be aware it may get a little messy so avoid placing it on a carpet or allowing your dog to take it up onto the sofa!
4. Culinary Delights
There are so many amazing recipes out there. Just Google ‘Kong Recipes’ and you will get lots of ideas. Giving your dog new foods to try provides them with variety and enjoyment.
When giving your dog new foods, go easy on the quantity. Dog’s stomachs can be very sensitive and even something that is safe for them to eat can cause tummy upsets if they aren’t used to it.
Also consider how many calories they are receiving. Obesity in dogs is a huge problem in the UK. If you want to give them to a stuffed kong recipe, then reduce how much they get for dinner that day. Think of it as a treat rather than a daily occurence.
Considering all the ways I have discussed stuffing kongs with food, why not try freezing it?
Freezing food inside the kong means it lasts even longer and soothes sore gums for teething puppies. You can do this with anything – including kibble. Just add hot water and leave to stand until the kibble is soggy. Once it has cooled stuff in the kong and freeze.
This is quite challenging for dogs, so make sure they are already pros at getting food out before you try freezing.
6. Hide and Seek
A great game which really uses your dog’s brain and nose. A kong can be hidden anywhere, just make sure you start off with easy finds so your dog doesn’t get frustrated.
You can use this as part of a play session or hide a meal inside and get them to ‘hunt’ for their food.
7. Calm Behaviour
A kong is a fantastic way of keeping your dog calm and relaxed in situations they may find over-exciting.
As I discussed earlier you can use meals in kongs to keep your dog occupied. But what if it’s 2pm and they aren’t due a meal? What if you need something really quick because your neighbour has just announced themselves at the door?
This is where I like to use something that I can quickly squeeze inside the kong.
For this you can use things like peanut butter, fruit puree (with dog safe ingredients), even a few smears of marmite. Anything non-toxic that will encourage your dog to lick (a calming behaviour in itself) and keep them entertained
8. Which One?
You will need at least 2 kongs for this but the more you use, the bigger the challenge. You can do this with part of your dog’s meal or a few treats.
Without your dog seeing, hide a piece of food in one of the kongs. Lay out all of the kongs in front of your dog and ask them ‘which one?’ This encourages them to use their greatest asset of all (their nose!) and channel their natural behaviour.
When your dog picks the right kong, give them lots of praise and help them get the treat out if needed.
9. Bobbing for Kongs!
Great for those of you with water babies who love retrieving. Kongs are waterproof and will dry off quickly making them an ideal toy for this game.
Simply place a kong or several in a bowl of water and encourage your dog to take it out again. I really enjoy doing this with my dog on hot days to help her cool down.
10. Scent Detection
Red kongs are used to teach dogs scent detection work. This is because they can be sterilised to remove any smell and reused again. They are also all manufactured in exactly the same way so one will always smell like another.
Dogs have an exceptional sense of smell, with approximately 300 million scent receptors compared to our 5 million! They were born to sniff and love using their nose. If you are thinking of taking your dog to any classes, I highly recommend scentwork. Check out this link for further information if you are interested.
There are so many benefits to having a kong (or several) in your canine toolkit. The thing I love most about Kongs is that any dog can use them and are particularly helpful when your dog is on bed rest or restricted exercise.
So if you haven’t already, go and get your dog a Kong and start experimenting!
Are there any ideas you can think that aren’t on the list? Let me know below.