Category Archives: Neat Stuff

Stuffing Kongs Quickly

Kongs and other puzzle toys are great enrichment tools. They provide oh-so-necessary mental exercise and are a simple way to improve your dog’s life. Here’s how I make Kong-prep easy for myself so that my dogs always have fresh frozen Kongs ready at a moment’s notice.

1. Gather all of the clean toys you’d like to stuff. You’ll need multiple puzzle toys for this. Ask your local pet business if you can receive a quantity discount for ordering a number of toys at once to support small business! If that’s not feasible in your area, there are also great deals available online. I prefer Kong toys, as they’ve historically been the most durable and easiest to clean/stuff (also pictured: Premier’s Linkables and Twist ‘n Treat toys).

2. Assemble your ingredients. I like to stuff both moist and dry food in my dogs’ Kongs. Place the moist ingredients in a ziploc baggie and cut the bottom corner off to make a homemade pastry bag in order to save on time. This time around I used a mixture of canned dog food, canned pumpkin, and baby food. Dry ingredients included kibble, a few dog treats that were left in the bottoms of packages, baby carrots which were old and a little bendy, and cheddar cheese that was one day past its expiration date and needed to be used up.

3. Place toys in a glass with the large hole facing up and begin filling them. The glass will hold the toy in place while you stuff it. Alternate wet and dry layers until the toy is full, finishing with a wet layer. Place the Kong toy in your freezer (small quantities can be placed in the freezer door, or larger quantities can be kept in a bin in the main compartment of the freezer).

4. Pull out a frozen Kong toy whenever you need one! Unexpected visitors, grooming time, and crate confinement are all times when my dogs may receive Kongs. Make sure to consider the amount of food your dog received from his Kong when you feed him so that he stays slim.

Do you have any tips to make Kong-stuffing go more quickly? Please share them here!

Kong Stuffing 101

Last week we introduced the Kong toy as a great tool to provide mental exercise. Food- and treat-stuffed Kongs are excellent enrichment! Here are a few ideas to get you started.

Photo by Nora Kuby

Photo by Nora Kuby

Dogs who are fed kibble can have the kibble stuffed into a Kong toy which is hung from a tree branch or other sturdy object (have the bigger hole in the Kong facing upward), so that the dog must leap into the air and knock at the Kong to release his meal.

Alternatively, kibble can be mixed with just a spoonful of canned food, yogurt, cottage cheese, or other healthy “wet” food and spooned into the Kong, then the entire Kong can be placed in the freezer. The dog must then work extra hard to remove her frozen meal when the Kong is delivered. Multiple Kong toys can be stuffed with the dog’s meal portions and hidden throughout the house, so that the dog must spend his day hunting down and “dissecting” his Kong-kills.

Dogs who like to destroy or chew things can have their energy harnessed into a positive outlet by sealing Kong toys inside paper bags or cardboard boxes, although you will have a shredded mess to clean up later on (and such dogs may be better served by crate training to prevent destruction). A machine that dispenses four Kongs randomly during a period of four or eight hours was available for sale for a short period of time, and may still be found for sale by a diligent buyer.

Crated dogs especially need the mental enrichment provided by a Kong toy during their confinement. My dogs run into their crates in the morning and wait impatiently for me to leave, because they know their Kong goodies will not be delivered until I’m ready to head out for the day. Frozen Kongs make my dogs extra eager for me to go and make the crates into a positive place to spend the day. Dogs who are not yet entirely comfortable with the idea of a crate can be encouraged to spend time in an open crate by tying a stuffed Kong toy at the back of the crate (make sure to supervise your dog while doing this, but do not try to lock him or her in: your goal is to create positive associations with the kennel, not trick your dog into getting trapped).

Dogs who are fed raw, home cooked, or canned diets can get even more enjoyment out of getting their food from a Kong. This is because these diets usually contain much more moisture, which makes them ideal for freezing.

Melted cheese can be another great addition to a kong toy. A Kong can be filled with a small amount of cheese along with some kibble or other dry tidbits, placed in a microwave-safe cup, and heated in the microwave until the cheese melts. Allow plenty of time to cool before giving it to your dog, or place directly in the freezer for an especially tough-to-remove treat.

Many dogs are reluctant to work at a Kong toy at first, especially if the toys are packed in such a way that food is difficult to remove. For these dogs, try layering the Kong toy to make it especially rewarding to work on. Simply alternate layers of wet food with layers of dry tidbits, then serve to the dog directly (without freezing). After just a small amount of licking to swallow the wet layer of food, the dog will reach a dry layer. This will make a bunch of treats suddenly fall out of the Kong. Jackpot! Usually this dry layer jackpot is enough to renew the dog’s interest in the Kong, and he will soon begin licking and slurping at the next layer. After just a few moments, another dry layer will appear, and so on.

When using “wet” or moist food in the Kong toy, there are lots of options, so be creative. For dogs who are not used to rich foods, use common sense in introducing new foods and start with small amounts to be sure your dog tolerates it. Some ideas to try include canned food (both dog and cat food), meat flavoured baby food, rice, potatoes, cream cheese (use low fat varieties for most dogs), cheese whiz, peanut butter, Braunschweiger (this is very rich so a little goes a long way), leftover cooked veggies (gooey veggies such as cooked spinach or squash are especially great), tuna, raw ground meat such as hamburger or ground pork, cooked ground meat, canned fish such as salmon or Jack Mackeral, gravy, beef or chicken broth, oatmeal, yogurt, and cottage cheese.

Dry tidbits are even easier to experiment with. Try various types of dog or cat kibble and treats, small pieces of pepperoni or lunch meat, strings of string cheese, cheerios or other breakfast cereal, bread crumbs, croutons, beef sticks, or healthy leftovers from your meals.

For dogs who have become really talented at “destuffing” a Kong toy, use a dry dog biscuit that is slightly bigger around than the large opening of your dog’s Kong toy. Bend the toy by squeezing it so that the hole lengthens in one direction, allowing you to slip the biscuit into the Kong. Once you stop squeezing the sides of the toy, the biscuit will be “stuck” inside the Kong and will not fall out easily. At this point the only way for your dog to get the biscuit loose will be to either break the biscuit into smaller pieces (which can be done by biting down hard on the Kong or by throwing the toy about the room), or by licking at the treat until it becomes soggy and crumbles apart. Be prepared to help your dog remove the tightly lodged biscuit using a pair of pliers if it proves too difficult and is driving your dog nuts!

Do you have a favorite Kong stuffing trick or recipe? Share it in the comments below!

A Case for Kongs

If every dog in the world could be given one toy, I think the Kong would be the way to go. A Kong toy is shaped somewhat like a rounded rubber pyramid with a hollow center. Kongs have three chewing “levels” – red for beginners, black for tough chewers, and blue Kongs, which are the toughest level and are available only through veterinarians because they are radio opaque (which means they will show up on an x-ray if the dog swallows them). There are also special, softer Kongs made for puppies or senior dogs. These Kong toys have a marbled appearance, with white mixed into the pink, blue, or purple color.

Kong toys are extremely durable, which means they can go from the microwave to the freezer to the dishwasher and back again without breaking down. They stand up well to almost every dog, provided you choose the right size and hardness level for your dog’s tenacity of chewing. Kong toys bounce erratically when thrown and provide a great chew toy.

The thing that puts a Kong toy head and tails above the competition, though, is their hollow center. Kong toys can be stuffed with an amazing variety of food items. This is a great source for mental exercise! For dogs who are left home alone all day, consider throwing out your dog’s food bowl and feeding solely from Kong toys.

There are certainly other brands of toys that resemble Kongs available, but the Kong is the “original” toy and is the one that seems to work best for most dogs. There is one Kong knock-off on the market which may be of interest to some people though, and that is the “Squirrel Dude” toy manufactured by Premier/PetSafe. This tough purple toy (yes, it resembles a squirrel) improves on the Kong design by adding four small rubber prongs which line the inside of the toy’s hole. These prongs make it much harder to get food back out of a Squirrel Dude toy once you’ve stuffed it in. A Squirrel Dude toy is not for a beginner to puzzle stuffing, but can provide a nice challenge to dogs for whom a Kong toy no longer gives any challenge. The Squirrel Dude toys can be further customized by lopping off one or more of the rubber prongs with a sharp pair of scissors, so that you can adjust the toy’s level of difficulty.

To clean your dog’s Kongs out, use the cleaning brushes that can be used for baby bottles, or just scrub around inside the opening with your fingers. Kongs are dishwasher safe, but be warned that tightly lodged food can easily sneak through an entire dishwashing cycle. Make sure your dog’s Kongs are cleaned regularly to prevent food from spoiling.

Next week we’ll discuss Kong stuffing options, as well as other games to play with these toys.

Do you use Kong toys for your dog? Please share your favorite Kong stuffing recipes, games, or other tips and tricks in the comments below!

Tuna Brownies

This is one of our favorite treat recipes. Use these treats for dogs, cats, or ferrets.

Ingredients:

  • 4 6-oz cans tuna
  • 1 c water drained from tuna
  • 12 T scrambled egg
  • 1 c cornmeal
  • 2 c whole wheat flour

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Run the tuna and egg through a food processor (or chop into very fine pieces) and combine with the water. Add cornmeal and flour and blend to form a dough. Knead into a ball and roll out to about 1/4″ thick on a cookie sheet. Set empty bowl on floor to be licked out. Bake for 20 minutes, allow to cool, then cut into bite-sized pieces with a pizza cutter. Refrigerate, freeze, or feed immediately.

[Mostly] Wordless Wednesday

This picture is making the rounds on Facebook right now, and it made me laugh so hard my stomach hurt. I hope you enjoyed it too. Have a wonderful Wednesday!

In Praise of the Gentle Leader

The Gentle Leader is a special collar that fits on a dog’s head, much like a halter on a horse. It’s one of my favorite training tools, and also one of the most misunderstood among both the general public and professional trainers.

I use the Gentle Leader for every foster dog who comes through my doors, and it’s rare for a dog not to be as comfortable wearing it as a regular flat collar within 2 days. The secret? I put the Gentle Leader on before pleasant things (mealtime, walks, playtime, Kong time, etc), and take it off when the pleasant activity is finished. I also ignore any pawing. I find that many owners unintentionally reward this pawing because they pay attention to it. My dogs are trained to stick their noses through the nose loop of the Gentle Leader as soon as I hold it out, and they do this happily because they know it means Good Things Are Going to Happen.

So, why do I like the Gentle Leader? For me, this management tool makes the training process quicker and more effective. If I can control my dog’s head, I can control my dog’s focus. I’m able to redirect him if he becomes focused on a squirrel, another dog, or a biker outside. I’m able to teach him right from the start to walk on a loose leash, not to bark, and to sit politely for greetings. There’s a reason veterinary behaviorists and well-known professional trainers use Gentle Leaders with their own and clients’ dogs. They work. They’re humane. They’re effective. They save owners time and prevent dogs from engaging in bad behavior until the dog is trained.

The Gentle Leader is a must-have for working with aggressive or reactive dogs, but I also use it in basic training with all puppies and adolescents, or with untrained or strong adults. There are so many uses! A Gentle Leader and drag-line in my house allows me to teach house manners quickly and easily.

My goal is always to train every dog to a point where he doesn’t need any equipment (including a collar or leash). I find that the Gentle Leader is a great place to start the training process, but I don’t stop there. I work with the dog and teach him to walk nicely on leash, ignore distractions, and greet people politely. Once he knows these skills, we fade the Gentle Leader and the dog instead wears a flat buckle collar on his neck. I could certainly teach these skills on that flat collar to start with, but I find that dogs just learn faster with the Gentle Leader, and it’s easy enough to fade.

In the future, we’ll discuss some of the most common myths and misconceptions surrounding the Gentle Leader, other training tools I use, and some of the training games I play using the Gentle Leader. In the meantime, please comment below with your thoughts. Have you ever used a Gentle Leader (or any other brand of head collar), and what did you think? Did your dog adjust easily to it? What other training tools have you found to be helpful?