Whether you are looking for just a chew toy or a training tool, Kongs can be great for many reasons! Pat Miller, author and certified dog trainer breaks down her top ten uses for them in the excerpt below -
The Thrill of the Chase
This was the original application of the Kong. Because of its unique shape, the Kong bounces every which way but straight, providing intriguing quarry for the prey-oriented pooch. I doubt I would have survived the Kelpie-owning experience without engaging Keli in several intensive Kong-chasing sessions every day. Watching your dog bound and rebound after the elusive rubber prey is guaranteed to entertain you for hours on end as well as your dog.
Caveat: Herding breeds, especially, are known for literally running themselves into exhaustion. If you have a Kong-crazed dog, be careful not to induce heat-stroke or physical collapse (as I inadvertently did with Keli on two occasions) with too much Kong fun!
Many of the more recent Kong applications involve Kong-stuffing (see “Stuff It!”, next page). Puppy distracting is one. Play-biting and inappropriate chewing are common complaints of new puppy owners. An ideal solution to perfectly normal but undesirable puppy mouth explorations is to provide an irresistible alternative to human flesh or wooden table legs – a Kong stuffed full of tantalizing treats.
The crate, or kennel, is a vital dog behavior management tool, and one often slighted by dog owners because of an initial poor crate training experience. (See “Crate Training Made Easy,” August 2000). When Pal is trained to the crate properly and positively, the kennel becomes his den, a haven of security and comfort. A well-stuffed Kong combined with an appropriate training program can help your dog decide that his crate is a wonderful place to be.
Cure for Cabin Fever
A few years ago, during a rain-soaked, endless El Niño California winter, our four dogs were getting seriously edgy with signs of a full-blown case of cabin fever. Stuffed Kongs to the rescue! Silence soon settled over the troubled household as our snarling canine siblings settled into their separate corners, gnawing contentedly on their respective rubber pacifiers.
Stress is the underlying cause of most canine aggression. For a dog who is uneasy with house guests, a Kong stuffed with doggie delicacies can help change the response to visitors from negative to positive. Stress is an involuntary response – the dog can’t help it. The dog’s body reacts without conscious thought in the presence of the negative stimulus, with an immediate “Visitor – BAD!!” response. We can use the stuffed Kong as part of a well-planned counter-conditioning/desensitization program to change his involuntary response from “Visitor – STRESS” to “Visitor – OH GOODIE!”
Someone’s At The Door!
Another great visitor-related Kong application, this basis for this one is suggested by positive trainer Donna Duford. Dogs who want to greet guests too enthusiastically at the front door can be taught to fetch a toy instead. The knock at the door or the ringing of the doorbell becomes the cue to fetch the Kong, stuffed (if you know company is coming) or empty. Pal may then either retire to his rug to chew his treasure as your visitors enter, unmolested, or greet your guests politely at the door with his mouth filled with Kong instead of company. Caveat: If your dog is a food or object guarder, this may not be a good Kong application for him.
Destructive behavior can range from simple high-spirited puppy fun to full-blown separation anxiety. By providing ample exercise for your dog, you can deplete the excess energy sometimes that leads to ruinous house-romps. An intelligently Pal-proofed environment (crate, puppy pen, safe room) can minimize the destruction that occurs during your absences. And one or more stuffed Kongs often keeps dogs happily occupied and their home damage-free while their owners are away.
Note: Crating is generally not recommended for dogs with true separation anxiety (SA) behavior disorders. While Kongs can be a useful element of a complete SA behavior modification program, this complex and troubling behavior should be addressed with an in-depth, punishment-free behavior modification program, usually under the guidance of a competent dog trainer or behavior specialist.
This game is an extension of the destructive behavior application of the Kong. You can occupy Pal’s mind as well as his mouth by teaching him to look for and find his stuffed Kongs before he can chew on them. Start by hiding the Kong in plain sight and asking him to “Find it!” Praise him when he does, and let him chew on it for a while. Then play the game again, hiding the toy partially behind a chair or table leg. Gradually make the hiding places harder and harder, until Pal learns to really search for his prize. Now you can hide two or three Kongs before you leave, tell him “Find It” as you walk out the door, and your dog can keep himself occupied for hours, finding and emptying his Kongs.
NOTE: Hide your Kongs wisely. If you bury them in the sofa cushions or under the bed covers you can expect to come home to an unmade bed, and strewn cushions . . . or worse.
In The Swim Of Things
Here’s another good exercise application that combines Kong fun with a favorite canine activity – swimming! While most Kongs sink, the company makes one model that has a polypropylene rope tied to it, and contains a chunk of bouyant spongy material inside, so it floats like a dream. The floating rope makes the “Cool Kong,” as it is called, easy for owners to throw (swing it around and fling!) and easy for dogs who have trouble getting a whole Kong in their mouths to retrieve. It’s a durable, ideal fetch toy for the dog who already loves to swim, and the perfect training tool for the Kong-loving dog who is a bit hesitant about getting his feet wet. (See “In The Swim,” August 2000, for non-force methods of teaching your dog to enjoy the water.)
In my backyard, at this very moment, is Princess, a little stray Beagle-mix that my husband I found on the highway. She is clearly an accomplished escape artist, as evidenced by her constant running of the fence line and her determined efforts to squeeze through our fence. Thwarted in her efforts to escape, she has taken to non-stop barking to express her displeasure at being effectively confined while we try to contact her owner. Time to bring out the stuffed Kong! Princess is now happily licking cream cheese out of the Kong, and peace has returned to the neighborhood.
There’s no doubt in our minds that this versatile toy deserves to be called “King” Kong. You can find them in almost every pet supply store and catalog – not to mention anywhere dogs are happy! In fact, we’re betting that some of you have come up with some other very creative uses for Kongs yourselves. We’d love to hear them!
"The Many Uses of the Kong" - Whole Dog
By Pat Miller, CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA
Published: March 29, 2001 Updated: April 30, 2019
So which Kong would be best for your dog?
Kongs come in a multitude of sizes and hardness levels. You first need to know how destructive of a chewer your pup is. You also want to make sure you get the appropriate size for safety reasons. Here's a breakdown -
*Keep in mind that Kong is not the only company that makes these sort of products. There are many others take make "kong like" toys with the same use. Different shapes, sizes, colors and hardness levels.
What should I fill the Kongs with?
The possibilities are endless with this question. There are lots of popular fillers for Kongs, but it can also be fun to get creative and make some special treats for your pup on occasions! Just remember to know your own dogs dietary limitations and restrictions. Here's just a handful to get you started
-Your dog's own kibble - make it more of a challenge during feeding time and slow them down.
-Cheese! - No explanation needed there
-Peanut Butter - Try it frozen! It takes more time, effort and concentration for your pup to get it all out.
*Also make sure to avoid any peanut butters that contain xylitol. Its an artificial sweetener that is toxic to your dogs. Most peanut butters do not contain this ingredient anymore, but its better to always check!
-Bananas - Try using a food processor and then freezing. You can also use other dog friendly fruits like berries but watch your carpet, they can stain
-Bite size treats - If you can fill with treats that are just a little bigger than the Kong's opening, or oddly shaped, they can be more of a challenge for your pup to get them out!
-Larger cookie/chew - Jam a larger treat in there to give them some work to do.
-Freeze dried/re-hydrated food - Another high value item that dogs go crazy over.
GET CREATIVE! - Combining some these ideas or adding your own can be fun. Try using some wet food and plain yogurt, throw some bite size treats in and then freeze. Boom! That's a special treat right there! :)