LOADING A KONG

When we load a Kong, we hope that it will take Otis at least 30 or 45 minutes to empty it, and ideally, we want him to keep coming back to see if there’s more to be found. There is an art to loading a Kong so that it takes a while…

There are many different ways to do this, but here is my basic recipe.

The first thing to do is take a large bit of food – a chunk of meat, a chunk of cheese, a hard dog cookie or something similar and lodge that sucker down at the very bottom of the Kong. This should be lodged in there well enough that it will require you to use a knife or spoon handle to dislodge it. This way, Otis has something smelly in there until you get home.

Now that we’ve got a tasty prize lodged into the bottom of the Kong, we need to fill it. I like a formula that breaks down like this: 85% is Otis’ regular kibble, 5% is tasty tidbits (either dog treats or dog-safe people food) and 10% is a dog-safe soft binder to hold it all together.

MULTIPLE DOG HOUSEHOLDS – Loaded Kongs are a very HIGH VALUE item. If any of the dogs in your house tend to resource guard, be sure to give these in separate locations
– either the dogs are in separate rooms with at least 2 closed doors
between them, or in separate crates. Be sure to pick up and put away all
Kongs before the dogs are allowed to be in the same space again.

BINDER INGREDIENTS

Binders can be ANY dog-safe soft, spreadable food. The ones I use most often include: low fat cream cheese, low fat cottage cheese, low fat sour cream, nonfat plain yogurt, apple sauce, Beech Nut baby food (not Gerber as it has onion powder which is toxic to dogs), liverwurst, peanut butter, mashed potatoes (no garlic), mashed sweet potato, and pumpkin puree. You can also soak about half the kibbles in water or low sodium soup stock until it’s mush – chicken, beef or vegetable are all fine. Or you can use a high quality canned dog food (cut back on the total amount of kibble if you choose this option).

I like to use at least 2 different binding ingredients mixed together and I like to vary what I’m using. This keeps it interesting for Otis if he’s getting Kongs on a daily basis. Specifically, I’ll use something sticky (e.g. peanut butter) with something thinner (e.g. yogurt) so that when mixed together, they create a medium viscosity binder that has some sticky parts and some thinner parts. Once you’ve got all the ingredients together in a bowl, combine it thoroughly and then stuff that mixture into the Kong. It should fill every crevice and curve.

OTHER INGREDIENTS (note: all meats are cooked)

You can add other ingredients to make it interesting. Drizzle a bit of honey (a natural antimicrobial), throw in some slivered almonds or blue berries, melon chunks, bits of cheese, hot dog, chicken breast, ground beef, lamb, pork, bacon as a treat, dog treats, etc. As a special treat, you can put in ‘guilty pleasure stuff’ such as a crumbled tortilla chip or a broken up French fry – these are special treats and should not be regular parts of your dog’s meal.

NOTE: You will need to reduce the ration of Otis’ regular kibble to account for the calories of the binding ingredients so we don’t over feed.

NOTE: If you’re using a high-fat ingredient like liverwurst or peanut butter, be sure to cut it with something lighter such as apple sauce, pumpkin or nonfat yogurt so we avoid giving Otis a too-high fat diet as too much fat in his diet can cause pancreatitis which is excruciatingly painful and can be fatal if left untreated.

NOTE: When freezing, I make sure to fill the Kong to over flowing so there’s a nice blob on top for easy access to get the dog started.

HELPING OTIS BECOME A MASTER OF HIS KONG

If Otis seems to be having trouble with a super full Kong, you can start out making it easier for him. You can put just dry kibble in it so that it will just fall out as Otis moves it around. You can just put a smear of peanut butter or cream cheese on the walls of the Kong and let Otis work at that for a while. You can fill the Kong with just a binding ingredient such as apple sauce, pumpkin or sweet potato and freeze that for an hour just to firm it up a bit and let Otis work that out. Then, you can fill the Kong perhaps only half full, or all the way to the top – but very loosely so that it’s easy for him to get the food out. As Otis builds his persistence with the Kong, you can stuff it more and more densely.

Many dogs will figure out that if they pick it up and drop the Kong, they can dislodge stuck bits. If there are stairs, some dogs will figure out that they can knock the Kong down the stairs or off a piece of furniture such as the couch or an ottoman to dislodge the goodies inside. If your dog is having a great deal of trouble, you can squeeze the Kong to change the shape of the stuck together food inside. Or you can pick up and drop the Kong or you can bang the Kong on the floor (or your hand) with the open end down to dislodge and move the food closer to the opening.

 

If you’ve left Otis with the Kong while you were out, then when you you come home, ask Otis to “get it” and when he brings you his Kong, you will pull out a spoon or a pen and dislodge that prize at the bottom. Ask for a nice Sit and reward his calm behavior with that prize he was unable to get on his own. This creates a nice greeting ritual that’s calm and polite, and helps Otis learn that you are the giver of awesome things, which avoids his becoming resource guard-y over his Kong toy.

 

If you feed a home-cooked meal, you can still do this with the Kong. Simply dice the various ingredients (meat, veg, etc) into kibble-sized bits and then bind them together with a combination of the above ingredients and continue as described. The idea is that we want bits and bites to get stuck along the walls of the Kong so that it’s difficult to empty.

 

Depending on the size of your dog and his meal portion, it can take anywhere from 2 – 4 Kongs to provide an entire meal’s ration. My boys (10 lbs and 35 lbs) get 2 Kongs per meal (10-lb dog gets Small Kongs and 35-lb dog gets Medium Kongs). You can provide one Kong at a time every couple hours to give your dog something to do over the course of the whole day. My boys get Kongs for dinner only, and so I give them one and when they empty it, I retrieve the second one of that meal. You can also provide 2 or 3 of 4 Kongs (the total needed for that meal) at once, so that if Otis does get stuck with one, he can turn his attention to another one, and then rotate as he gets frustrated.

 

MARROW BONES – you can do this same thing with marrow bones, the only difference is that you’ll lodge that prize treat at the narrowest part of the bone, which may not be right at one end. Then, you can load both sides of the bone.

I encourage having multiple Kongs in the house. You can prepare them ahead of time (fridge or freeze) and then just grab one (or more) as needed.

For in between meals, you can just smear a little peanut butter or cream cheese or even a bit of honey (something sticky this time) and stick just a few tid-bits along the inner wall, making sure some are quite deep. This can keep him busy for a time without over feeding him between meals.

About Jody

I have a masters degree in Animals and Public Policy with a minor in Animal Behavior. I also have 3 years of graduate education in animal learning and behavior through different graduate programs. For more than 9 years I have offered professional obedience training and behavior modification to clients in the L.A. area (and one year in MA while earning my masters degree). I have been answering behavior questions for people around the world since 2009 on the volunteer website All Experts. I educate pet parents in obedience, house manners and behavior modification for undesirable behavior issues. I specialize in timid/fearful dogs, resource guarding and leash reactive dogs.
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