There are a few kernels of wisdom related to dog training and behavior that I feel compelled to share with others as often as possible. One of these is the value of a frozen Kong. Of the many tools at our disposal for making life better for ourselves, and for our dogs, the frozen Kong is one of the most universal.
Kongs offer a wonderful option for feeding our dogs in a way that keeps them occupied. When the food inside the Kong is frozen, it takes longer for the dog to get it all out, which provides them a greater opportunity for problem solving, mental exercise, and using their mouths in the physical way that so many dogs need.
This is valuable because many dogs require more mental stimulation than we provide them each day. Working to get food out of a toy is much more satisfying to the majority of dogs than eating it straight from the bowl. It involves the chewing and licking so many dogs enjoy. It keeps dogs occupied for a long time. It provides them the opportunity to problem solve and to stick to one task for a long time.
Having a dog work on a Kong is useful to us as well as to them. It allows us to be pro-active about preventing trouble that is predictable at certain times of day. Many dogs seem a bit bored and restless in the mid-morning and again in the late afternoon, and this is when much misbehavior happens. Giving them a frozen Kong just ahead of those times that they are predictably not able to be at their best can be a sanity saver for everyone.
Similarly, if you know your dog gets overly excited when visitors come over, have a frozen Kong ready to give to your dog just before they enter. If your dog is already happily engaged with this treasure, he is less likely to be overly exuberant in his greeting, and that’s good for everyone. (If your dog tends to guard special objects or food, it’s wise to have him in a crate or in another room with his Kong when visitors come over, just to be on the safe side.)
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Stuffing Kongs is like any other kitchen endeavor—there are plenty of strategies and techniques that make it easier and better, but no one way to do it right. Here are a few of my general guidelines for stuffing a Kong.
For dogs without a lot of positive experiences with a Kong, it’s important to make it easy so they have success early on. The big solid chunk formed from a full Kong that is frozen stiff might be too hard for beginners to extract, and that can be a problem unless you work up to it. You don’t want a novice dog to get frustrated and give up on Kongs before they’ve learned how wonderful they are. Start with Kongs that are not frozen so that they can easily get what’s inside. Once they love them and will not likely give up, make it just a little harder. With the first few frozen Kongs, one option is to line just the surface of a Kong with peanut butter, cream cheese, canned food or some other soft treat. You can also fill the Kong ¾ full and freeze it, then add unfrozen easy-to-get soft stuff in the last ¼ just before you give it to your dog.
To keep it upright and easier to stuff, put the Kong in a cup or glass with the large opening facing up. Squeeze the Kong to make the opening oblong when you are putting in large items or using a spoon to scoop in goopy ones. The tighter you pack the Kong, the more challenging it will be for the dog to get it, so start with loose packing and work up to the greater (and longer lasting!) challenge for your dog.
I like to stuff Kongs in layers before I freeze them. To keep things from spilling out the bottom smaller hole, first put in something that acts as a stopper and is also so delicious that your dog will stay interested in the Kong until it is empty. You can use a piece of chicken or steak, cheese, peanut butter or anything your dog really loves. Next, I put in a little canned dog food, as I always do between each layer, to keep everything together when frozen. The next layer is small pieces of dog treats, again followed by canned food. Depending on the size of the Kong and how generous I am being with the other layers, I may put in some dog kibble, and this is especially true if the dog tends to take meals with a Kong. After the next bit of canned food to almost fill the Kong, I add a long, hard treat sticking out so that the dog is sure to be interested in the Kong and get something from it right away.
Frozen Kongs have made my life better by making life better for dogs. What about you?