“Calm” as a state of mind is not a natural behavior for most dogs. For puppies and adult dogs alike, being calm is something that must be learned. Additionally, dogs are incredibly social creatures and being left alone doesn’t always come naturally. Some dogs need help learning that being alone, quiet and calm can be very rewarding. Food dispensing toys, such as the enduring “Kong,” can go a long way in teaching your pup to settle quietly. They can also give you some much needed peace and quiet!
Initially, your dog may not know how to get food out of a Kong. It is important to set her up for success by making it really easy for her at first. If it’s too challenging, she may get discouraged and give up quickly.
- Begin by filling the Kong with easy-to-spread pastes and encourage her to lick out the ingredients. Repeat this step until your dog is successful. Filler Ideas: Peanut butter*, cream cheese, cottage cheese, spray-cheese, canned pumpkin or wet dog food.
- Freeze the Kong: Once your dog is enthusiastically emptying the Kong every time, you can start to challenge her. Use one of your dog’s favorite ingredients from the list above to stuff the Kong and freeze it overnight. Freezing will make it more challenging to empty and slow down the process.
- Add Layers: After your dog is an expert at emptying a soft-filled, frozen Kong, you can increase the challenge by filling the Kong with layers of different ingredients. Using a variety of ingredients can keep your dog engaged. As an added bonus, it will take longer for your dog to get all of the food out. Use the guide below for ideas.
Filling the Kong in Layers
Layer One: Put a soft and smelly paste at the very bottom of the Kong where the small hole is. The smell emanating from that tiny hole will act as inspiration to keep chewing the Kong.
- Ingredient Suggestions: Wet dog food, canned pumpkin, liver paste, peanut butter, cream cheese, canned tripe, canned pumpkin, canned sardines
Layer Two: Add a few dry dog treats or freeze-dried products to add texture and intrigue.
- Ingredient Suggestions: Freeze dried liver, crunchy dog treats, dog jerky treats, a novel kibble.
Layer Three: The third layer is the main course. It should be soft enough to squeeze through any air pockets left in the other layers, but can also be mixed with your dog’s daily kibble.
- Ingredient Suggestions: Wet dog food, canned pumpkin, broth-soaked kibble that has been mixed with wet food, cottage cheese mixed with kibble.
Layer Four: Layer four isn’t really a layer; it is just a fun treat sticking out of the Kong. Layer four is meant to provide instant gratification for your dog so that he has reason to keep at it.
- Ingredient Suggestions: Fully digestible/small dog bones, carrot, larger milk bone treat, string cheese.
Decoding Kong Colors
Kongs come in many sizes and colors to meet the needs of a wide variety of dogs. Some dogs are very destructive chewers that need a tougher rubber, while others have rather soft mouths and benefit from a softer Kong. The size you choose depends on the size of your dog, as well as how much food you need it to contain. Generally speaking, it is a good idea to have a wide variety of sizes at hand to keep things interesting.
The Red Kong is for adult dogs who are average chewers. Average chewers will have no problem shredding a plush toy, but they usually don’t waste their time trying to tear apart rubber toys. This color Kong is made to withstand moderate chewing from small breed, medium breed and some large-breed dogs as well.
The Black Kong is for the more powerful and destructive chewer. Many large-breed dogs benefit from having this tougher Kong. It is not entirely indestructible, but it is extremely durable and can withstand the jaw pressure of most large-breed and extra-large breed dogs.
Blue and Pink Kongs are meant for the teeth of teething puppies, and young dogs. While still very durable, the softer rubber of these Kongs provides the soothing comfort needed for sore gums related to teething.
The Purple Kong is specifically made for older dogs with a softer rubber formula that is perfect for aging teeth and jaws.
TIP: Try a “Wobbler Kong” feeder in place of a food bowl. Different from a rubber Kong, the larger Wobbler stands upright, and holds a meal of kibble within it. The toy has one small hole and must be knocked over to dispense kibble and will always up-right itself. Using food dispensing puzzle toys such as this, instead of putting your dog’s food in a bowl, will provide him with much needed mental exercise. Mental exercise coupled with daily physical exercise can help to create a more calm and relaxed dog.
*CAUTION: Always supervise your dog the first few times he uses any new toy to make sure he isn’t capable of chewing off chunks that could present a choking hazard. Avoid using peanut butter that contains Xylitol which is toxic to dogs. Drastic diet changes can cause digestive upset and rich ingredients may add unnecessary calories to your dog’s diet. Use rich ingredients sparingly. Contact to your vet to discuss suitable ingredients for your dog prior to starting a Kong regimen.
Need help? Call our free pet behavior help line at (503) 416-2983.