sooner or later, every dog . . .

. . . romances the kong. At least, that is, in our household.

I swear, if I ever met the person who invented the Kong, I would give him/her a great big kiss on the lips. Without this person’s contribution to dog happiness, we would be in a sad fosterplace.

It took a little while for Miss Stevie Wonder to gain the self-esteem to tackle the Kong puzzle, but once she did it, she DID IT.

For days 1-3, Stevie would scarcely touch any food, even if it was slathered in liquid fish oil, liver, and cheese (I know!!). The rest of week 1, she would gingerly eat her dinner and breakfast, but not if we were watching her. Week 2 she started to come around to daintily taking food from our hands, but only if it was in the form of cheese, string cheese, american cheese, cottage cheese, liver/cheese sandwiches, or similar food groups. Toward the end of that week, though, we finally got her. She became converted to the wonder of the Kong.

In our fairly limited experience with shelter dogs, there is a trajectory of self-assuredness that has to be minded, but if confidence is reinforced and built, most dogs will get to a point where they feel comfortable solving puzzles similar to a stuffed Kong toy. Our Chick was on the extreme end at first, where he was extremely food-motivated as long as the food was in our hands (he would do anything we asked for the piece of cheese we were holding) but if it took any brainwork to get the cheese out (from a kong, etc), he would immediately surrender.

When we explained this phenomenon to the greatest dog trainer that ever was, Lee Mannix solved our problem in a heartbeat. He had us start feeding Chick exclusively through puzzles and training, and never out of a bowl. If he refused to work at his puzzle, the portion of his daily ration that was in the puzzle got taken away. It sounds cruel, but he learned in about 1.5 days that from then on, he was going to work for his kibble. And he has been a 90,000% happier dog since. The task of dog food puzzles helps him focus, work, and then relax, so he has less brainpower left for anxious worrying after he has completed his food-motivated task.

Stevie Wonder is not extraordinarily anxious, but still – as a young dog she has a good amount of energy, and the kong challenge helps her reign it in and focus it in a productive manner. And clearly, she enjoys it.

36 responses

  1. Kongs are the best toys ever! And I can relate to what you say about feeding Chick from food toys.

    We’ve done it with Honey since she was 8 weeks old (we started by tipping over a bottle filled with kibble) and she always has a good nap in the morning after breakfast. It does stimulate and focus her brain like nothing else.

    It’s great to see Stevie gaining confidence. Every dog needs to discover the joy of the Kong.

  2. Cute! Our boys are more interested in stealing the toy (or Kong) belonging to the other. I’m afraid they would starve before they would ever get a meal.


  3. Woo hoo! She just keeps on learning! We would never have peaceful meals if it wasn’t for the Kong. I am in love with whoever invented them! It took Ollie a little while to figure them out too, but now he’s got it down to a science.

  4. It’s always fun to see dogs figure puzzles out, she looks like she really was enjoying herself. We have exposed ours to basic ones since they were puppies. And I finally invested in a second kong so each dog can have one… now I wish I had more as I hate filling them.
    I have been wanting to ask you what some of your usual fillers are. Wyatt doesn’t seem to do the best on PB, especially the natural kind… Luna can eat anything but I always worry about her getting kinda fat. So what are your usuals?
    I have not bought the bobble as I don’t know if Luna would bother. She is the type who unless very hungry won’t bother past a point if it’s just kibble. We have several puzzle balls though, and she is always game for a bottle of kibble. Just can’t get too difficult on her or she won’t bother, same with hardy chews.

  5. Oh! I knew there was something else I was going to say. You may be opposed to it, but have you ever tried Green Tripe for the dogs who don’t want to eat? Your fantastic pet store probably sells a variety of it in a can. It’s stinky stuff, but it’s great for the dogs and it’s actually said to be an appetite inducer. My dogs love it, and I wish I could find it fresh. When Luna smells it as I prepare their meals, she starts drooling immediately. May want to check it out next time, but plug your nose.

  6. Oh yeah….someone loves her new Kong! My daughter buys the pretzels that are stuffed with peanut butter and puts them in the Kong. Then her pittie mix Fenway has a worthwhile challenge ahead of him. Looks like Stevie Wonder has some greyhound (or similar) in her background!

  7. I feed Maisie raw, so the Kong as delivery method isn’t a viable option. though whenever I need to crate her, I pre-freeze a Kong full of ground buffalo or venison or mashed sweet potato with a little cream cheese and a couple treats thrown in just to keep things interesting. it’s always cleaned out by the time I come home!

  8. Do you feed all wet food in the kong for Chick? Izzy loves her puzzle toys and typically just eats out of the bowl, but we’re always looking for a nice challenge for her to wear her out!

    She is pretty good at the kong though and if I freeze some sweet potato or something in there, she’ll pick the kong up in her mouth and slam it to the ground so the huge frozen chunk comes out the big end. Genius!

    • Hi Skinny!

      No, it’s always dry food, but usually mixed with other goodies to make it sticky. We wrote about the different stages of kong mastery for our dogs in this post a while back:

      Lately we have been making dog snack ice cubes by mixing some kibble, some leftovers, some peanut butter or cheese, and a little water in the blender until it’s kind of apple saucey in consistency, and then pouring the mixture into greased ice cube trays. When the cubes are frozen, I pop them into a ziplock bag, so we always have snacks available. And a regular ice cube happens to be the exact right size to squeeze into a kong. The dogs love them!

      • Wow, you are so ambitious. I make doggy ice cream, too but I’m lazy so it’s only store bought puppymilk and some anchovy thrown in. Doggies still love it, though. Will try your version once the weather heats up again.

  9. Look at how hard she works for her treats – reminds me of Turk! The inventor of the Kong totally deserves a collective high-five from the pittie community (and other breeds as well!). If it weren’t for the Kong, Turk would be bored all the time – he LOVES his Kong so much (especially thanks to your post on different variations of treats to put in there).

  10. Her frame reminds me of Molly, that slender build, we have managed to put 10 pounds on Molly but I still feel she is thin. So she gets more kongs and yogurt :). Love the pictures she is such a beauty.

  11. I am seriously in love with the guy who invented Kong. The guy is a rockstar in my eyes. (Sad, I know.) Other idols include the guy who created the stegging egg, the Canine Genius Toys and Nina Ottosan, who’s puzzles are the mother of all puzzle toys. (We recently bought her Dog Casino and Kolchak couldn’t possibly be more enchanted by it. Even Mr. Unmotivated by Food Felix loves it.) Without these toys, I genuinely don’t know if Koly & I would have survived his puppyhood. I also love how they have slowly helped build up Felix’s confidence!

  12. I also had the pleasure to work with Lee Mannix when I adopted a wonderful dog who had some fear aggression. He truly was a character and a wonderful trainer. I subsequently went on to adopt 3 dogs in total. I never could have led that pack without his mentoring and support. He is sadly missed.

  13. After Wilbur sucks the marrow out of his soup bone he tends to lose interest in it. We then put some peanut butter down inside where he can get it but has to work for it. If we’re lucky he’ll lick and chew for a couple of hours and that makes all of us happy! I just love the piggy look they get on their faces when they smoosh their noses up against their kongs.

  14. I’ve got a Kong and a Kong Wobbler. The kids prefer the Wobbler, but the Kong proper is getting very tatty now. Stevie is really enjoying her Kong!

    We’ve just been awarded an Inspiration Award and we’d like to pass it on to you for all the wonderful work you are doing with your fostering. If you’d like to pop over to our blog and pick it up that would be lovely:) If you’ve got heaps already just add another one to your collection:)

  15. What did you stuff the kong with? I’ve tried a couple kongs with my pit mix and instead of playing to get the goodies out, he kicks into high gear and eats out the bottom of the kong to get the stuff out :/

  16. I would smooch the Kong inventor in a heart beat. It’s the only toy Pickle will play with but it keeps him plenty busy. Now that we have Pepper, she doesn’t care much about the Kong but thoroughly enjoys following Pickle around and picking up his crumbs. Less vaccuuming for me šŸ™‚ I like stuffing the kongs and then sticking them together using nylabones (which the dogs couldn’t care less for) and wrapping plastic tires around it all. Pickle has to pull them all apart to get to the treats. LOVE the Kongs!

  17. We feed our naughty OES strictly out of the kong now, and it may have minorly decreased his need to forage… which is fine by me.

    We also give all our foster homes kongs for their dogs, to help them cope with the horror of being crated while the foster goes to work. It’s been a life saver for a lot of dogs, so I too would like to plant a wet one on the Kong inventor!

    Just found your blog, by the way, and we love it!

  18. the first time i gave basil a kong he didnt understand that he could hold it in place. so he pushed that peanut butter filled kong all through the house (leaving smears of pb along the way, of course). then i actually had to hold his paws around it, like hey look! you can control this thing and keep it in place to get maximum pb consumption! he caught on.

    yay for stevie wonder! i’m always surprised when i meet a dog owner who hasnt heard of The Kong.

  19. I can’t imagine life without Kong!

    I’m glad to be catching up on your posts. I found a couple of stray pit mixes about a week ago and brought them to the local shelter. One of them is not doing well. She’s emotionally shut down and the shelter may euthanize her. I’m considering taking her in as a foster, though I’m overwhelmed by the prospect and also not confident about working with a shy dog. This post gives me hope.

    • Hey- I’m not gonna tell you what to do one way or another, but most of my friends who are seasoned fostering veterans say that shy dogs are their favorites to work with. And if she is likely going on the e-list, there isn’t much to lose, right? Tommy seems very confident, and that helps a lot of dogs come out of their shell. You will just have to give each of them some private time too. Let me know if you want to talk more!

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