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When it comes to keeping an energetic puppy busy, there’s almost nothing better than a treat-filled Kong. In my opinion, these toys, which come in all types of sizes and various chewing strengths, were invented by a genius who deserves a Nobel Prize. When Janice and Leroy were still young, learning what was off limits for chewing was one of our biggest challenges. Before I lost too many shoes, though, I started serving bits of their kibble in their Kong toys.
Suddenly they were forced to work hard to get at a small part of their daily meal, and that was all it took to start getting it through their heads that chewing is for dog toys only. Personally I don’t know how any dog lover can have an energetic pup (especially the smart breeds like the Australian Shepherd) and not invest in one of these things. They aren’t only great for kibble. Many different types of treats can be stuffed inside a Kong, depending on what your dog likes. Here are a few ideas:
1. Human Food
Feeding your dog human food is controversial to say the least. What it boils down to is that dogs don’t need human food at all, but a very tiny amount for treats here and there isn’t going to hurt them.
The nice thing about Kong toys is that they allow you to fill them with a variety of textures. If your dog isn’t really excited by crunching, you can also put in sticky or soft treats. Some human treats that would work in a Kong include honey, canned pumpkin, mashed bananas, cottage cheese (low sodium), peanut butter, and even baby food. You can also try cooked oatmeal and yogurt if your pup likes creamy snacks.
All you have to do is spoon a small amount into the hollow center of the toy and you’re good to go! Sticky foods are great for chewers that don’t tire out, because even after the bulk of the treat is gone, your pet will still be licking out the nooks and crannies.
2. Canned Dog Food
Canned, soft dog food is usually reserved for dogs who have a hard time chewing as they get older. I wouldn’t recommend using it for the only source of food or snacks for your dog, because it can cause dental issues if not cleaned off properly. But for an occasional treat, you can also spoon a small amount of wet dog food into a Kong.
Janice and Leroy have their favorite flavors, but you might find that choosing new flavors each time keeps your dog engaged as they try to sniff out the new taste.
Here’s a trick with sticky foods or canned dog food: you can easily combine them with other treats to make a more challenging game of “how fast can I get the food?” With the wet food creating a glue as it lines the inside of the Kong, whatever other hard treats you shove in after will tease your pet into working even harder.
If you have a very aggressive chewer, filling the Kong with a soft and sticky treat, and then freezing for a few hours, is a fantastic way to wear them down. The extra tough layer of frozen treats will have them gnawing at it, and while the food melts, they’ll get just enough of a taste to make them want to keep at it.
I know some dog owners who keep pre-frozen Kong toys filled with treats ready to go in their freezers. If my dogs were destructive, I’d probably look into doing the same – after considering training them out of it, of course. Having a few frozen treat-filled Kongs handy would be nice for days when the dogs are just not feeling cooperative.
One thing to keep in mind with all of these suggestions, is that treats of any kind add calories to a dog’s diet. If you have an older or overweight dog that needs to be stopped from overeating, be sure you are counting the treats in to their daily allotment. You may need to adjust the serving at meal time to compensate.
4. A Full-Course Meal
Here’s an idea that I know my dogs would love. The 4-layer Kong stuffing method basically means that your dog gets an appetizer, an entrée, a dessert, and a little something sticky to keep it all in place. When you pack the Kong, do it in reverse order. Start with a sticky base, like peanut butter. Then add the “dessert”, like dog biscuits. Then the entrée, which would be your standard kibble or canned dog food. Finally, an appetizer should stick out of the opening so that your dog can get that instant reward that makes them want to keep going. This can be something as simple as a soft, chewy dog treat.
Here are some other examples for each “course”:
Base: Canned pumpkin, canned dog food, cream cheese, liver pate, or cheese spread
Dessert: Dried fruit (always unsweetened), berries, banana, cheese, nuts (unsalted)
Appetizer: Deli meat, hot dog, jerky, apple, string cheese, apple pieces
Imagine an energetic puppy being faced with a wide range of textures, flavors, and smells, all wrapped up in the puzzle of their favorite toy. That’s a sure-fire way to earn yourself some peace and quiet, and keep them happy as well. This may also be a good way to introduce a dog to a new type of food or treat – I imagine it’s something similar to hiding vegetables in macaroni and cheese for kids.
5. Premade Kong Treats
There are many different types of premade Kong treats you can buy, many made specifically by Kong. These are snacks designed to go inside a Kong, which is great if you are worried about something not fitting, or not lasting for your dog.
Some of these include “spray-in” treats, like this pepperoni-flavored snack. Or you can go with a paste, like this sweet potato spread, for a little less mess. There are also many types of hard and crunchy snacks, like the Stuff’N Snacks line and the Stuff’NZiggies line. These have the added benefit of being better for your dog’s teeth.
Really, any type of dog treat you can buy in a store can be stuffed into a Kong, as long as it fits. Toss some dog jerky in there, or even a Greenie or rawhide chew. If you’re worried about small treats falling out, just use some peanut butter to act as a paste to keep them in place. Easy peasy!
If you are the creative type and want to take it up a notch, you can also make tasty treats to put in your dog’s Kong toy. Janice and Leroy occasionally get a little extra spoiling when I’m in a rare mood to try my hand at cooking, and they haven’t complained yet. If tossing some mashed sweet potato or yogurt into the Kong isn’t as exciting, try something like these:
Mashed potatoes, peas, carrots, and plain cooked, shredded chicken: Mix well and stuff into Kong for their very own chicken pot pie!
Strawberries, yogurt, kibble, and honey: Mix well and stuff into Kong for a sweet dessert! NOTE: Honey should ONLY be fed to adult dogs. Puppies should never be fed honey!
Carrots, applesauce, pumpkin puree, dried unsweetened cranberries, and some peanut butter: Mix well and stuff into Kong for a hearty snack that has tons of vitamins and nutrients in it.
The key to making homemade Kong treats is a sticky or wet base, with any kind of dog-safe vegetable or fruit. Meat or other type of protein is great for the dog who isn’t intrigued by veggies. Try whipping something up with your leftovers! As long as the food is plain, cooked without excess oil and fat, and is safe for dogs, it would work great in a Kong. Freeze these up for that emergency “stop chewing!” distraction.
Finally, we have the humble kibble. This is my favorite way to stuff a Kong, and there are many reasons for that. First, it’s a great way to actually feed your dog. You don’t have to think of the Kong as just a special snack. If your dog needs to slow down when eating, or they just have a lot of energy to get out, having them enjoy part of their daily meal from a Kong can be a great time.
Second, feeding kibble in a Kong can help train dogs to understand what to eat and what not to. When they associate the smell of kibble with that specific toy, they know that that toy can be chewed on. Kibble-filled Kong toys are also great for introducing a dog to the Kong in the first place, if they have been busy destroying a few shoes. Now your pup gets the idea that only toys are for chewing.
It’s also really easy to make kibble more exciting with the Kong. Put down a sticky base layer, then toss in some kibble. Then add any liquid, like chicken broth, canned tomato juice, the liquid from drained veggies, anything, and freeze. This adds more nutrients to kibble, makes the treat more fun, and keeps the pup busy for longer. Additionally, you can also put the Kong in a freezer-safe cup, so that the hole faces upwards, and fill with kibble and liquid. The liquid will spill out and overflow, but just keep filling till the hole in the Kong is holding liquid. Then freeze, in the cup, till the liquid is juuuuust solid enough to stay put. Remove from the cup and finish freezing the rest of the way. This is perfect for dogs who can’t or won’t eat the peanut butter layer.
Janice and Leroy have taught me a few hard lessons over the years. One of those was that dogs, just like people, get bored after a while. Imagine eating just peanut butter every day for the rest of your life! I love peanut butter myself, but after a while, I think I’d start seeing steaks and hamburgers dancing in my dreams.
Switching up your Kong treat routine is the best way to keep your dog interested in it. If they always know that they’ll have peanut butter in their Kong, they may eventually start nosing around to see if there are any new treats to be discovered. This is another great reason to freeze a few Kong treats ahead of time. Make a few different flavors so that you can surprise your pup on a whim from time to time.
Offering them something new is a real lifesaver when they are in the midst of a destruction mode. Maybe you’ve tried everything, including the tried and true favorite snack inside the Kong. But because you were so prepared, you can pull out something to interest them from the freezer and stop the whirlwind in its tracks.
A Note on Choosing the Right Kong
Knowing what to stuff in a Kong is great, but it’s also important to choose the right Kong! If you want to keep a hyper puppy busy with snacks inside this interactive toy, they need to be able to chew like the Dickens without ruining the toy.
Kongs are designed so that the color of the toy corresponds with how sturdy the toy is. Adult dogs who are average chewers need the red Kong. This is the “classic Kong”, and most recognizable. If your dog is a large breed, or is very hyper or destructive, you may want to get the black Kong, called the “Kong EXTREME”. Not even Janice and Leroy can destroy one of these.
Kongs also come in a range of sizes, from extra-small to extra-extra-large, to suit the dog’s muzzle size. What size you get will determine what kind of snacks you can stuff in the hole, so be sure to consider that before buying!