This post is part of the series in response to Dunbar’s 2012 Australian seminars. See index.
You didn’t have to be at Ian Dunbar’s seminar long to understand that Dunbar had a pretty big crush on Kong toys! To me, I think he was a bit biased – I think there’s a bunch of other chew toys highly appropriate for a similar purpose. But Dunbar mostly focused his attention on Kongs.
He suggested that every household, especially puppy households, should have Kongs, and advised that the largest dog in the household should determine the size of the Kong.
Why use Kongs?
Dogs who eat Kongs will automatically perform a bunch of desirable behaviours (and cease to display undesirable behaviours) by being given a Kong that serves as a distraction of sorts.
When dogs are eating from a Kong, they can’t be barking, they’re normally laying down, and the motion of eating decreases their stress. Eating from a food toy increases a dog’s confidence in being alone. Basically, they reduce behaviour problems by training your dog to create ‘good habits’.
Dunbar also argues that Kongs increase food drive, and encourage the dog to only chew ‘food wielding items’ (summed up in, “Why would I chew the furniture? It doesn’t have food in it.”).
Teaching a dog to use a Kong
Dunbar advocates for dogs to be fed exclusively from a Kong, so there is no other options – the dog has to eat from the Kong or he doesn’t eat! Dogs can also be encouraged to eat from a Kong by stuffing it with awesome stuff (like bacon) and ‘teasing’ the dog with the awesome Kong. Kongs, when used consistently, become regular and ‘normal’ for your dog to eat from
To me, the best reason to use Kong toys is in the statement, “Why would I chew the furniture? It doesn’t have food in it!” I can really see dogs embracing this logic. I plan to purchase food dispensing toys for future litters and encourage puppy buyers to have them.
I have hygiene concerns. Food toys are close to impossible to get all food out of. Even with soaking and toothbrushes, they get pretty gross.
Food dispensing toys aren’t great for dispensing raw food. And are even harder to clean when there’s a chicken neck stuck in them!
I have concerns about pet owners feeding too much because of their obsession with keeping food toys ‘full’. Personally, I have strategies in mind where I could stop this happening, but I have less faith in ‘the general public’ who have fat dogs anyway. Along with this, I have concerns that dogs will ‘get over’ food and not value it as a reward in training any longer.
Dunbar didn’t explain how a breeder would go weaning a puppy onto Kongs. Some puppies are really annoying to get onto solids pushed into their mouth, let alone solids that are pushed into a toy and they have to work on. 5 week old puppies aren’t the type that you can fast for a couple of days, hoping their appetite spurs them to eat from a toy. Plus, you also get puppies that are not food motivated and are too lazy to eat from a bowl, let along working from it from a toy. Though my border terrier puppies would probably do quite okay on food toys, I have apprehension that other breeds, with poorer appetites, would thrive when putting so much work into getting food in the first place.
But, I am willing to experiment and give it a go, and I will be using food toys for my next litter.