Why dogs love KONGs (and you should, too)!
Behold: The KONG toy.
A seemingly simple beehive-ish looking thingy that doesn't tend to impress on first sight.
But when I tell you that this red piece of rubber can change your life with your dog, you better believe it.
Your puppy is nipping and biting at you?
Give him a KONG to scratch that teething itch.
Your adolescent dog is rifling through your trash and chewing your table legs?
Give her a KONG for added mental stimulation.
Your older dog is slowing down and can't handle long walks anymore?
Give him a KONG to keep his mind and problem solving skills sharp.
Why do KONGs work?
Dogs get both physical and psychological satisfaction from chewing. It is a natural, exploratory behavior which helps dogs learn about and navigate their environment - puppies start chewing before they even open their eyes! (Lindsay, 2001)
Dogs will chew, and if you don't give them something to chew on, they will find chew toys around your house. These "toys" might be your shoes, furniture, etc.
Get your dog in the habit of chewing on appropriate things throughout the day by supplying him with enriching chew toys often.
Every time he works on a KONG, your dog is being reinforced for this behavior by both the physical/psychological satisfaction AND the yummy goodies stuffed inside. Which means that with repetition, your dog will seek out these types of chews, instead of random stuff around the house.
"OK, KONGs are awesome. So how should I fill them?"
Honestly? Anything goes (as long as the food or treats inside aren't choking hazards and aren't toxic for your dog.
Start with easy-level kibble KONGs. Your dog's basic kibble mixed with a little peanut butter at room temperature is usually a good first recipe to attempt - it is relatively simple for your dog to succeed at emptying the KONG, but is more exciting than that same kibble from a bowl. NOTE: you can (and should) use KONGs or other food dispensing toys to give your dog his meals. Skip the bowl!
Mix up the recipe. To keep the KONG experience fun and fresh, try different mix-ins for these easy-level kibble KONGs, to see what your dog enjoys. Don't get stuck in a peanut butter rut :) Keep an eye towards your individual dog's food sensitivities and preferences. Your dog might LOVE one combo but turn his nose up at your next attempt.
Freeze for a harder challenge. Once your dog is an expert at the room temperature easy-level KONG, try freezing those same KONGs for an added challenge.
Make it fancy. Many dogs are quite happy with a rotating menu of basic frozen kibble+mix-in KONGs. But don't be afraid to try layering for your extra KONG-loving pups (see the sheet below)!
Need a cheat sheet?
This sheet provides some ideas for how to stuff your KONG toys to give your dog the best experience. But this is by no means an exhaustive list - get creative with dog-safe stuffings! If your dog has loved any of the recipes here or you want to recommend some of your own, comment below!
Lindsay, S. R. (2001). Handbook of applied dog behavior and training (Vol. 1). Ames, IA: Blackwell.