Kongs are brilliant! I recommend them to all my customers, at training classes and to anyone who will listen really. Most dogs can benefit from them, whether it's a way for the busy dog to earn their tea, something for the teething puppy, or a treat to keep your dog busy in the evening. They are a fantastic activity to not only work the dogs brain, but to help calm and relax them too! However, there is certainly an art to Kong stuffing!
A lot of people tell me they have tried Kongs, but their dog gets the kibble out within a few mins and then is done, or has a bit of a lick but gets bored. Usually there are a few reasons for this.
Common reasons could be:
A) you dog doesn't know how to use a Kong.
B) it isn't worth the work.
C) it's too easy.
D) it's boring.
To help your dog learn how to use a Kong you initially want to make it really easy and exciting. I find the Kong Classic is the best way to introduce your dog to the idea. It has a large hole one end which makes removing the filling nice and easy, but just make sure you have the right sized Kong for your dog breed/size so it isn't a choking risk etc. There are puppy, classic, senior and extreme versions of the Kong Classic, and they come in sizes from XS to XXL.
Many people start with their kibble or wet food in the Kongs which for some dogs is fine and is enough motivation to get them started with the idea. Some dogs though may turn their noses up and need something a bit more to get going. Something soft and smelly usually does the job well, like soft cheese or peanut butter (ensure it doesn't contain xylitol).
Once your dog understands how to use the Kong you can start getting creative, however, don't make it too hard initially as you don't want your dog to think it isn't worth the work. At first you want exciting, soft fillings, but if you want to feed their meals from the Kong start adding that too. You can do this by layering the food, putting the exciting soft filling at the bottom, then some of their regular food, then another layer of soft etc. Not only does the soft layer make it more exciting for the dog to eat through, but it also helps to hold the dry food together. For treats try all different foods, like layering chopped vegetables between cream cheese, banana between peanut butter, or a couple of chopped cocktail sausages between liver pate (top tip: you can get jars of pate for pence at the supermarket).
After a while you will find your dog getting excited at just the sight of the Kong, and may, like my Springer even start asking for one! If you find they start to get through them too quickly, you can start to make them harder.
Start using different Kongs, some are harder than others, and each toy offers a different challenge. The Kong Wobbler allows you to put small dry treats or kibble in as the dog hits it about to get food out. The Kong Biscuit Ball can be stuffed and will roll as the dog tries to empty it. My personal favourite is the Kong Stuff-a-Ball which has small rubber pieces around the hole to allow it to be stuffed easily. This makes the food harder to get out and it has ridges on the outside which soft food can be pushed into.
You can start doing things like forcing large treats in the end of the Kong so the dog has to remove those first, or my favourite, jamming a slice of carrot into the opening perfectly so it's difficult to get out. If you then freeze this it makes for a very difficult Kong! My record for how long this Kong lasted with my very high drive working Springer was 2hrs 50mins, so you are getting towards expert level here!
When freezing, if you are using soft, sloppy or wet fillings, it is best to shove a small piece of carrot in the small end and stand it in a mug. This makes it easy to fill the Kong without it leaking as much and then it you want to, you can put the mug in the freezer with the Kong still stood up. This prevents too much mess and using this method you can even make broth or ice Kongs.
The fillings are virtually limitless as long as they are safe for dogs, so use your imagination. To get you going though, here are some winners, tried and tested! Mix and match, layer them, and see what your dog likes best. All can be frozen if you want to make them a bit harder, and don't forget that carrot slice to seal it if you want to make it harder again.
Broth (for frozen Kongs)
Peanut butter (make sure there's no xylitol)
Cream cheese (Primula is really handy)
Fruits or vegetables (check they are dog safe first)
If at any time you find your dog is losing interest in the Kong, it may be that the novelty is wearing off. To keep interest I always pick Kongs up when they have finished with them. I find leaving them out for them to play with all the time can mean they aren't as exciting. Rotate Kongs too, there are loads of different types and sometimes it gives more of a challenge and increases the novelty to give different ones. Try different flavours, as if could be the dog is either bored of the filling or even doesn't like a certain filling. Another thing that can effect interest in food is free feeding. This is where you leave food out for your dog to graze on during the day. It is recommended that you feed set meals during the day so the dog doesn't have constant access to food, as this alone can decrease interest.
* Final note on removing Kongs:
Kongs, like any food or toy are valuable to your dog. Once given, dogs should be left to enjoy their treat, and Kongs only taken up once dogs have finished and walked away from them. If for whatever reason you have a need to remove a Kong before the dog is finished and walked away, you need to trade with something of higher value than the Kong. This could be a piece of ham or their favourite toy. If you repeatedly remove a Kong from a dog who is eating, you could cause your dog to start showing resource guarding behaviours.