Yesterday we chatted about Passive Calming Activities (PCAs) and how they are part of the Calmness Triad by Absolute Dogs. Today we wanted to talk about a specific type, stuffed toys or Kongs. While Kong is a brand name, there are many other toys that can be stuffed with food, one of our personal favorites is the Busy Buddy line.
Kongs may be one of the biggest things that made calmness possible in our home. Its how we transitioned dogs into gated communities, increased duration on bounderies, and allowed non-stressful time away from us. Kongs keep your dog occupied, which reduces stress and anxiety when you leave them. It allows them to self soothe and relax in your absence, but please, make sure you know your dog. Never leave a dog that will chew or destroy alone with any toys.
When I first suggest Kongs I often hear from clients that their dogs are disinterested in them. In reality, this is most often because their dog has a low tolerance of frustration. The food is too difficult for them to get out because it is packed tight or frozen so they give up rather than eating - no matter how delicious or tempting the reward is. In order to reduce frustration your dog's first Kongs should be easy to eat and filled with extra tasty goodies. Just think about how easy (and fast!) they gobble up kibble from a bowl. You'll want to think of the type of dispenser you use just as much as what you want to put inside it.
You don’t need a specific toy, just anything that will hold their food. Even household items such as folded toilet paper tubes or small boxes can be used, as long as you are prepared to clean up the shredded paper. Again, take into account how frustrated your dog gets by problem-solving. One of our favorite toys is the Busy Buddy Twist 'n Treat, easy to fill and you can adjust the opening as needed.
Once you have a dispenser you can decide what to fill it with. Something like the Twist 'n Treat pair great with some peanut butter (no xylitol!) or plain greek yogurt smeared on the inside. You can then add kibble, fruit, or meat for an instant reward while the peanut butter or yogurt will make the treat last longer which will build your dog's frustration tolerance.
Be creative! Switch up food and dispensers as your dog becomes more used to them. Once they are no longer frustrated, but excited by Kongs you can begin to freeze them for longer lasting treats. Blended fruit or broths can be a great choice. This will help with separation anxiety, increasing duration on boundaries, and foster rest. Often, once a dog has finished their Kong they are more than ready to take a nap. And that is a truly tired, happy dog.
Owner, Head Trainer