Summit Tip - How to use a Kong

Hello everyone, this Summit Tip will be how to use a Kong.  I’m sure many of you know what a Kong is and likely have one.  The goal of this tip is to provide ideas on how to make the most of a Kong and show the many behavioral benefits they provide.

Let's start with this video

The following 7 minute video describes the benefits of the Kong, how to select them, and how to get your dog interested in them.  Watch this video first and then we will get into more details.


Benefits of using the Kong

There are many great benefits to using a Kong, but these are especially beneficial for an adolescent dog who is just developing their mind, body, and emotional state.  Look at all these great benefits...

  • Reinforcement for being in kennel or x-pen
  • Stress relief
  • Anxiety relief
  • Boredom relief
  • Keeps them occupied when you are going away (buffers the anxiety of watching you leave)
  • Engages the mind / and tires them out
  • Builds confidence (puzzle, get it out)
  • Alternative feeding – slow down eating
  • Nice reinforcement at the end of a training session and to signal you're done training

When to give your dog a Kong

  • When in their crate
  • Before going to bed
  • After a training session
  • When leaving the house
  • When coming back from somewhere (and you aren’t ready to let them out yet)
  • If you are doing a lot of chores and will be walking by the dog in x-pen
  • After a field trip

How to get started

The goal with a Kong is to keep your dog engaged as long as possible.  Rather than thinking of a Kong as a way to dispense food, think of the Kong as a puzzle and YOU setup that puzzle by the way you stuff it.  Keeping the dog engaged doesn’t happen automatically.  If the dog gets all the food out quickly they are done, but if the dog can’t get the food out at all they will give up.  This is a good opportunity to learn about your dog as you formulate the best way to keep them interested.  This takes some trials as you learn the best balance between too easy and to too difficult. 

The 6 steps below show an example of making the Kong more and more challenging.  These steps should be done at YOUR dog’s interest level and pace.  Do not make it more challenging if you dog is giving up too quickly.  When the Kong is empty, take it away so it is more interesting the next time they see it.  Think of a Kong like a slot machine.  Nobody ever put money in a slot machine if it was too hard.  The casinos know how to keep you working for your prizes.

Each step below is a separate session with a Kong... 

  1. Peanut butter (or sticky/smelly item).  Gets them interested...

  2. (All of the above) + some kibble

  3. (All of the above) + cookie crumbles that come out easy

  4. (All of the above) + 1 cookie crumble that may take some shaking to come out

  5. (All of the above) + 1 cookie crumble that won't come out

    1. Wait for them to bring it to you and work as a team to get it out

  6. When your dog gets to this stage you can freeze the kibble.  This will lengthen the time it takes as each kibble will pop out as it thaws.  Your dog will eventually know it is coming and stay engaged waiting for the thaw to happen.

Anatomy of a stuffed Kong (one of many versions)…



You can stay with this recipe for a long time but while doing this be sure to switch around all the non-kibble treats to keep variety.  For example you can put a spoon full of pumpkin in there just before freezing. 

Taking it up a notch…

But wait, there is more you can do.

Change shapes.  Below are some of my favorite shapes.



Kong as a meal replacement?

For those of you who want to slow your dog’s eating, you can feed their entire meal inside a Kong.  Here is the basics of a fully loaded Kong.  Be sure not to overdue it on the high value treats and ensure you are calculating their total food intake for the day.