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KONG toys and why your dog should have them

Meet Lucky. She’s a sweet pup who loves people, loves attention, loves treats. What Lucky does not love, is being bored.  What’s a girl to do?

Lucky with her new Kong
Lucky with her new Kong

Kong’s are one of the best items you can get for your pooch, for a multitude of reasons.  We have been welcoming a lot of puppies to the Comfy Family lately, so we wanted to provide some detailed information about why we are such fans, how to introduce and use a Kong, and the benefits for both you, your dog, your shoes, your furniture…

A Kong is described as an interactive toy. There are many interactive toys available these days, but what makes Kong one of the best is its durability.  It’s also inexpensive. The classic red Kong is the most common, and it comes in various sizes. The cavity of the Kong is not all that large, so make sure you are choosing a size that will allow you to insert adequate filling, and also ensure your dog’s success in eventually retrieving the goodies inside. If the Kong is too small and you have a large dog who is unable to extract the filling, it can become an exercise in frustration, and this is exactly what we are using the Kong to prevent; a bored, frustrated dog.  If your dog is an exuberant chewer, consider purchasing the black Kong, as this is the most rugged. Once you decide which Kong to use, get 2-3 of them.  They will be in steady rotation, especially for puppies, and you’ll never be unprepared. There will be a Kong in the crate, a Kong in the dishwasher, a Kong in the freezer, and a happy dog in the home.

Why are interactive toys important?

  • Training tools
  • Deter boredom
  • Prevent bad behaviors
  • Avoid isolation distress

As a training tool, a Kong can help you achieve various training goals. While you are crate training (this applies to both puppies and newly adopted dogs), a Kong will help you train your dog to love his crate. We always say the crate should be a happy and even magical place, where treats and toys just “appear” for your dog to discover. Additionally, giving your puppy his meals in a Kong, while in the crate, is going to render several accomplishments; you are training your pup to like his Kong, you are training your pup to like being in his crate, and you are training your pup to enjoy – or at least, not mind – being alone.

A filled Kong can help deter boredom and prevent bad behaviors in that it gives your dog something to focus on and be stimulated by. It provides a reward. (We always like to reward good behavior!) Additionally, it allows your dog to forage and chew, which are natural behaviors for canines.

Isolation distress (frequently mis-labeled as separation anxiety, which is a serious disorder) can be prevented with a rewarding, interactive toy like a Kong, as it keeps your dog company; it holds his attention, brings him pleasure, stimulates his mind and natural instincts, is fun to play with, and has a delicious reward.

What should you put in a Kong? If you look on sites like Pinterest, you will be inundated with well-meaning suggestions and a myriad of over-complicated or time consuming recipes that can have you thinking “Who’s got time for that?” And if you read the labels on processed foods like cheese in cans (even those created for pets) you’ll find more chemicals and non-natural ingredients that you don’t want your sweet pet to ingest. Don’t overthink it! To initially introduce your dog to a Kong, especially a puppy, take a portion of your dog’s meal (to prevent overfeeding), or all of it for small breed dogs if it all fits in the Kong, fill the Kong with it, and stop up the hole with a smudge of peanut butter or cream cheese or mashed banana.  When you have the time and if you’re so inclined, try those Pinterest recipes, of course! Once you have trained your puppy to enjoy his Kong by serving his meals in it, you can switch to feeding him his whole meal in a bowl at meal time (we discourage free feeding; more on that in another post), and start using the Kong as a treat dispenser, giving it to your pooch when being crated. Or when you leave for work. Or when you’ve got company and want your pup to be happy and occupied. Or as a reward for good behavior. Or because you loooove him!  You can put the filled Kong in the freezer. The peanut butter or banana, etc., will make a yummy frozen treat and will last longer.

Some people have frozen Kongs ready for the pet sitter to give their pup after the visit, so their pup has something fun and rewarding to do in their crate between the visit and your return home. Even after your pup is no longer being crated, the Kong is a wonderful reward after a nice walk and again, gives him something to do so he’s not tempted to chew on things he shouldn’t.

For Lucky, the Kong was introduced both as a way to keep herself occupied when her human is busy, and as a treat dispenser and toy, to stave off boredom when her human is gone. When her human had company, Lucky would of course happily greet the guest, but then she would compete with the guest for attention. This made it difficult for anyone to visit. When I returned recently to offer the Kong as a solution for Lucky and her frazzled owner, I also brought a yummy, high-value treat, low-calorie treat (I like to use Zukes; they have a plethora of flavors, and grain free options – something for even the most finicky pup). I gave Lucky small pieces of these treats for sit, down, good behavior, etc. Now that we know she likes them – more important SHE knows she likes them – I put a few in the Kong. I stuffed one all the way to the top, so it was intentionally lodged there, and then I left a few loose, so they would be easier to extract. Lucky took to the Kong immediately. She could smell these new treats she liked, so she was immediately curious about and interested in this odd new toy.  As as she was examining and playing with the Kong one of the treats fell out.  Jackpot! Now Lucky knew that this thing was more than a toy that bounces funny, it also contains yummy snacks! Lucky picked up the Kong, took it to a quiet corner, and she was occupied with it for at least 20 minutes. (That last treat was in there good and she was determined!) During the rest of my visit with her owner, Lucky was quiet, occupied, and happy.  In fact, Lucky stayed in the corner, calm and content and just watching us, even after the Kong was empty. Eventually, she brought the Kong back to me, as you can see in the above photo, politely asking for a refill 🙂