Here at Horton Dogs, we place strong emphasis on games. Every aspect of our training encourages dogs and owners to have fun together. This helps to promote calmness, and provides consistent mental stimulation.
With the help of the right toys, we can extend this to every part of the dog’s life – including mealtimes! Dogs, given a choice, prefer to work for their food, as mealtimes become more interesting and rewarding that way.
At the beginning of every group class we have in Epsom and Ewell, I encourage everyone with a puppy or adult dog to ditch the bowl. One of the most popular ways to #DitchTheBowl is with the Kong. But we’ve heard that quite a few dogs and owners haven’t seen the best results from these things. Why might this be? Are some dogs just not cut out for Kong? Probably not. Let’s take a look at the problem.
What is a Kong?
A Kong is a rubberised chew toy whose interior is hollowed out. You can put a few treats inside, and leave your dog to have fun extracting them. This limits the amount of food they’re gulping down in a given timeframe, but it also provides what we dog trainers call ‘canine enrichment’ – which you can basically think of as ‘fun’ but ‘calming’ activities, they are using their brains to figure out how to get their food.
Why isn’t my dog interested in the Kong?
Many owners find that their dogs don’t quite get how they’re supposed to get the food out of the Kong. The problem often lies with the amount of food you’ve stuffed into inside. Too much of it, and it’s really quite difficult to get it out.
When your dog doesn’t get good results within a few moments, they’ll quickly give up. After all, why should they persevere with something that apparently isn’t all that rewarding? To counter this, we need to introduce the toy in such a way that your dog can get going straight away.
Introducing the Kong: Step-by-Step
Let’s run through the process of training your dog to use their Kong, right from scratch.
Step 1. Getting Interest
Before we think about actually using the Kong, it’s worth spending a bit of time getting your dog used to being around it – especially if you’ve tried and failed before. Put some treats near the Kong, and then right on the lip. You can spread some pate on the lip or any spreadable dog treats/food.
Step 2. Filling the Kong
Next, stuff the food into the kong. At first you can try something like small pieces of cooked turkey, pate or even kibble that has been softened with warm water. Don’t push it in too tight, we want it to fall out fairly easily at this stage.
Step 3. Working for it
Here’s where you actually make the case to your dog that the Kong is worth their time. Hold out the kong for your dog to start licking and working out how to get the food inside, holding it means it is much easier to begin and builds up the momentum so they want to try harder to get the bits further inside. Leave it with your dog to finish the rest.
Step 4. Gradually make it harder
Once your dog has gotten the hang of things, you can make it more difficult by packing the Kong tighter, or by freezing it for a few hours prior to feeding time. You don’t want to ramp up the difficulty too quickly – you might even make things easier every so often. After all, if the dog understands that things are always going to be more difficult, they may become disheartened.
Where can I pick up a Kong?
If you’re based in our neck of the woods, there are several local shops where you’ll be able to pick up a Kong. There’s a Pets at Home in Epsom where they’re stocked. Alternatively, you can shop online at places like Amazon.
You can get Kongs in a few different shapes and sizes, ranging from five-pound miniature versions to six-stone behemoths. The puppy-focused line will help you to get the ball (or Kong) rolling from a young age, while the ‘senior’ line is more forgiving for dogs who can’t chew as they used to. Finally, there are rugged ‘extreme’ Kongs designed for those dogs which chew through other toys like they’re made from butter.
Setting up for success!
Whichever you choose, try to keep things engaging during those first few sessions. Before long, they’re sure to get the hang of it! Some dogs like to lie down and calmly lick and chew, others like to throw it around to bash all the food out. Either way, they’ll be engaging with their Kong, using their brain and having a good time!