Thursday, April 9, 2009

Food-Stuffing Type Dog Toys: What the heck do I do with this thing?

You may have purchased one of those great interactive food stuffing toys for your dog, right? Maybe one of those red cone-shaped ones from the Kong Company? And you put some of your dogs kibble with a little peanut butter in it, gave it to him or her, and left it at that. But what now? What else can you do with it? OMG there's just SO much! As a matter of fact, I teach an entire class on stuffing food toys, and other types of "enrichment" at my inquisitive canine studio. 

I love feeding my own dog Poncho out of these, and other "interactive" food toys. He enjoys eating his meals out of them as well - I can tell because he goes into his "whirling dervish" mode every time I get one out of the freezer...yes, the freezer - he's at what I call "University Level". Pre-school would be dry kibble topped off with a little wet food. 

The Kong Company is nice enough to supply you with lots of tips and advice on great ways to use your dogs Kong toys. For me, I like coming up with my own "recipes" (okay, I think of them more of concoctions) with anything and everything that is either leftover from me and my hubby, or whatever I find in the fridge that needs to be eaten. 

Because the Kong's are relatively small on the inside, you aren't able to put an entire meal in just one. So, like we humans have sets of dishes, I have purchased a few Kong's of the same size and consider them Poncho's "dishes". I might just give him one, along with his other favorite food toy the Tricky Treat Ball. And of course he gets his veggies in his bowl - there are some veggies in his Kong mixture, but most of them end up in his bowl...I think the veggies are the only thing I'll feed him from his bowl. 

Okay, so what all do I put in it? And how do I do it? Simple...for the easiest "recipe" I combine the following ingredients*:
  • Kibble (high quality like Solid Gold or Wellness)
  • Canned wet food (high quality like Solid Gold or Wellness)
  • Leftover veggies: canned pumpkin, zucchini, asparagus, bell peppers, carrots, peas, broccoli, cauliflower, summer squash etc...and anything else that might be around that he likes.
  • Fruit: apples, pears, berries (or whatever is around that he likes)
  • Grains: leftover brown rice, whole wheat pasta, couscous, quinoa, sweet and regular potatoes...and anything else leftover that he likes. 
  • Meat: scraps of whatever we have leftover
  • Dairy: plain non-fat yoghurt
I mix it all together, making sure there is enough kibble (which has many of Poncho's doggy specific required nutrients) and wet stuff to make it the consistency of a human type chicken salad. I add a little chicken broth or water to thin it out a bit. Then, I cover and refrigerate it overnight. This way, the kibble soaks up the water from the veggies etc...makes it a little stiffer, for easier stuffing. 

Now I'm ready to prepare Poncho's meals. I take one of his Kong toys, and using a small fork or spoon, I fill it tightly with his "casserole". I then wrap it in plastic wrap, and put it in the freezer. This way, I can make a whole bunch of them, and keep them for when I need them. When they're frozen, it takes him longer to go through one...instead of gulping down a meal in 10 seconds!

If you're just starting out, you'll want to have your dog go through all the "stages" - beginners level (pre-school) to "University". If you start with a more difficult level, your dog might get frustrated and not want anything to do with it. Making it easy gets him or her conditioned to loving their Kong. They begin to associate the toy with more excitement than just the food itself. It's a fun game for them - plus again, this action taps into their predatory drive, and gives them something to do! 

Here are some "level of difficulty" suggestions, which are based upon how quickly your dog can get the food out:
  1. Beginner: dry kibble (can add in some dry treats to make it extra tasty and enticing), top off hole with wet food.
  2. Intermediate I: mix kibble with a little wet food, add any leftovers you want, loosely pack it - you still want to make it easy for food to come out. 
  3. Intermediate II: kibble, wet food, any leftovers you want to add, pack it tight. 
  4. Advanced: Freeze it! Initially you can thaw it partially before giving it to your dog, so as not to make it too difficult. 
Remember: there are some foods that are not healthy or safe for your dog - check with your vet if you are unsure. If you're dog has never had a Kong, it's best to supervise until you know he or she know how to "use it". 

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