Did you know that chewing has a number of benefits for your dog’s health and wellbeing? We cover what they are and how we can encourage this natural behavior.
For dogs chewing is a natural stress-busting activity. Chewing leads to the release of calming hormones, so simply put, chewing makes dogs feel good. Dogs that chew regularly have access to a great, natural way of self-soothing. Chew toys and Kongs are also a useful way to keep dogs busy, divert them into some quiet time or encourage them heto stay on their bed or in a crate.
Why Use Kongs?
Kongs are just one of the many available stuffable toys with hollow centres that allow you to make them more interesting by putting food inside. Kongs have been around for a long time, are durable and there are different types depending on whether your dog has a strong jaw (black kongs) or is a less determined chewer.
For your puppy a Kong is a great way to encourage safe chewing. Getting into the habit of giving a stuffed Kong or chew before you leave for work is a great way to make a positive association with you leaving the house. Dogs that dislike being left alone can be given a Kong as a distraction, so they can be used as a tool for mild separation anxiety.
Toys like Kongs are a great way to express natural behaviors, like chewing, scavenging and working for food. Using food as a game is much more fun than eating out of a bowl. For dogs that are home alone while you are at work or need distraction while guests are visiting a chew toy is a great tool. To simplify things you can freeze a selection of Kongs, so you have a few ready to go at short notice. We also have more boredom buster ideas.
My Dog Doesn’t Like to Chew
While some dogs chew naturally and the struggle is to divert them to more appropriate things to chew on than a pair of shoes, many dogs don’t naturally like to chew. For those that like to chew on everything else but the chew toys you buy, the trick is first to dog-proof the house and remove anything that is tempting. Anything that can’t be removed (like a chair leg for example) can be sprayed with Wound Guard or a bitterant spray to make it less attractive (just test it on a small area first to make sure it doesn’t stain).
If you do catch your dog with anything forbidden, rather than forcibly removing it or punishing the behavior, encourage him to ‘leave it’ or ‘drop it’ in exchange for a higher value treat. This makes it less likely he will run or hide his chewing behavior because he is worried the treasured item will be taken away. The aim is to encourage him to swap what he has for something even higher value as a reward.
Unfortunately many dogs develop a reluctance to chew due to pain in the mouth, particularly if they are over the age of 2 years. If your dog has some stinky breath, visit your Vet for a dental check that can help you identify if this is why your pet is reluctant to chew.
To encourage a dog to chew on a chew toy or Kong, consider rotating toys to make them more interesting, slather them with pate, cat food or anchovette, and praise your dog every time he shows an interest in one of those chew toys. Dogs that are less food motivated may need to have their breakfast withheld to encourage them to be hungry enough to chew on something or work for their food!
What Can I Stuff My Kong With?
- Kongs and any toy that has a hollow centre can be filled with all manner of substances, depending on the needs of your dog.
- Mashed sweet potato or pumpkin – this is great for dogs who need to lose weight or have food allergies. Sweet potato is a superfood that is low in calories, yet tastes slightly sweet. It also takes a bit of work to lick out and lasts for a while. If your dog is a little fussier, mix in small pieces of liver treats.
- Dry food – most dogs are not that discerning with what they eat, so you can actually just put your dog’s normal dry or canned food in the Kong or in a treat ball. Another option is to soak some biscuits in warm water (or onion free stock) until they soften.
- Peanut butter – Peanut butter can be used to seal the small hole in a Kong, then more runny substances can be used to fill the Kong such as cottage cheese. Most dogs love peanut butter, so you can line the Kong with peanut butter then add other healthier substances. Just avoid peanut butter that contains xylitol.
- Kong ice-blocks – Use the peanut butter or a liver treat to seal the bottom of the Kong, then place it in a cup and pour in some salt reduced (and onion-free) stock inside, then freeze it overnight. Voila! A Kong ice-block.
- Bread – you can soak bread in stock, gravy or make eggy bread by dipping some bread in egg and frying it (like French toast), then stuff that inside a Kong.
- For very fussy dogs who really need to be enticed, try some canned cat food, meat paste, pate or fish paste like anchovette. Just use a small amount, as these can be fairly fatty. Run it around the inside of the Kong so your dog can lick it out.
- Tuna and cottage cheese – who could resist this high protein, healthy combination. Simply mix up equal parts cottage cheese and tuna and stuff the Kong.
- You could also use this recipe for turkey, sweet potato and pea balls.
How to Clean Your Kong
The best way to clean a hollow toy is using a baby bottle brush and lots of hot water. You may need to soak it a bit first, but usually this is the best way to clean your Kong. Some hollow toys can also be placed in the dishwasher.
Additional Fun Kong Tips
- A Kong can be given to your dog when guests arrive to encourage him to stay on his bed and remain calm, also great for crate training your dog.
- A Kong can be used for dogs who love to chase scents. Ask your dog to lie down on his bed, then hide the Kong under a towel. As your dog improves, you can hide it in more difficult locations. For more advanced training ideas and a video on how to teach ‘seek’, read our article on how to teach your dog some cool tricks.
- Hide multiple Kongs or treat balls stuffed with your dog’s daily food ration every morning. Much more fun than eating out of a bowl and this can keep your dog busy for a fair part of the day.
- Bury Kongs or toys in a sandpit or put them in a kids wading pool. Probably best not to stuff them with anything prone to going rancid though!
- Set up a simple obstacle course using cardboard boxes to hide your Kong under, ramps and various obstacles. Think agility training for dogs, with prizes at the end.
- Rotate your toys to keep things fresh and prevent boredom.
- If you have multiple dogs, give them a Kong that is their own and make sure it is dramatically different so they can recognise which is theirs. Dogs are red/green colour blind, which means they can’t differentiate shades made up of red and green. This means that purple, pink and red all look the same colour. Wikipedia has a great example of what it looks like. But bear in mind if your dog isn’t great about sharing, you may need to separate your dogs before giving a high value chew toy.