Does your dog spend the day relaxing? Just eating and drinking and lounging around all day? Must be nice! No more freeloading - let's put your dog to work - working to eat, that is!
In addition to using food for training rewards, a great way to feed your dog is with a puzzle toy. One of the safer options out there is a stuffable dog toy, like a Toppl or Kong. Hard chews can break teeth, soft chews can be ingested. If you choose the right sized stuffable toy, you can minimize those risks.
There are a number of stuffable dog toys on the market designed to provide entertainment to your dog. It is well worth your time to figure out which toy and which stuffing work best for your dog. Check out my tips and recipes, below. You can find thousands more recipes by searching online, too.
provide mental stimulation that can wear off energy and entertain your dog
provide an appropriate thing to chew (instead of your house, belongings, etc…)
keep dog busy and pre-empt unwanted behavior (guests coming over, to get through the first 20 minutes of separation from human, fireworks or storms coming through)
provide a reward for some behavior that includes duration (staying in the crate)
provide stress relief (chewing is an endorphin releasing activity for dogs)
slow down eating, good for dogs who eat too fast
What if your dog isn’t interested?
could be the contents - maybe he doesn’t like what’s inside
could be too challenging to excavate - make it easy until your dog gets the hang of it
could be the thing that happens around it (humans leave house, dog goes into crate), where the toy predicts the bad thing. Ask Tanzi for help with this one!
What type of toy to buy
look for the version that suits your dog: puppy, senior, extreme chewer (black Kong)
look for a size that your dog can’t swallow or wedge in the back of his mouth/throat
look for one that you can make more challenging (small plus large Toppl)
look for one that is less challenging for young, anxious, or older dogs (Zogoflex, Toppl)
examples: Toppl, Zogoflex, Kongs, Busy Buddy Squirrels, Busy Buddy Barnacles, Gimme Gummy (safe to bake that one!)
How to stuff a dog toy
use a mug or cup or Solo cup or tupperware to hold it upright while you stuff
squeeze it to make the opening wider
use baby food spoons to shove things down inside
use a frosting bag (make your own with a sealed ziploc bag full of soft/wet ingredients and snip off a corner of the bag)
seal the bottom, tiny hole of the toy with food - pb, cheese, cream cheese, or a glob of any food that will squish into the hole
put sticky stuff on the sides
fill with snacks (see recipes)
put in a last piece of something that sticks out a little - biscuit, carrot, apple, bully stick, etc..
seal around the top with sticky stuff - PB, cheese, cream cheese, see recipes
** Use a variety of stuffings to keep it interesting and unpredictable.
** Increase the challenge: make it sticky, make it crunchy, refrigerate or freeze it, melt cheese in it, use larger pieces of food that are more difficult to remove.
** Buy several toys and stuff a week’s worth at once to have on hand for busy days, for scary situations like fireworks or thunderstorms, etc...
** Never stuff things that can make dogs sick:
onions/garlic - watch out for including leftover meatball or meatloaf, for instance, that may contain these ingredients
apple seeds - just remove them before including apple, which most dogs enjoy
** When in doubt, leave it out until you can research it. Many of us know dogs who have eaten some of these things without incident. Depending on how much they consume compared to their weight, they may be ok or get a sick stomach but it’s not worth the risk to stuff something you aren’t sure about.
How to clean it
- read package instructions but they are generally dishwasher safe, though you may need to soak them first, sometimes, or use a bottle brush
low fat cottage cheese
Mix the tuna and cottage cheese together and spoon it into the toy. Serve as is or freeze.
green beans, steamed or cooked in broth
broth (beef, chicken, or veggie)
Use the squeeze cheese to fill any small openings in the toy. Fill the toy with veggies and then pour in broth. Freeze.
low fat, plain yogurt and/or low fat cottage cheese
a few blueberries
narrow apple wedges
Mix the yogurt/cottage cheese with the chopped banana and blueberries and fill the toy. Wedge a few pieces of apple inside. Can serve as is or freeze.
pieces of cooked chicken
small biscuit or Milkbone
cooked green beans
Mix chicken, rice, and green beans together. Fill toy. Wedge the biscuit into the middle. Serve as is.
cooked oatmeal, cooled
honey, just a spoonful
wedges of apple
Mix the oatmeal and honey. Stuff the toy with the mix. Wedge a few pieces of apple into the oatmeal. Serve as is.
Frozen Recipe Ideas
peanut butter (xylitol free)
Mix the peanut butter with pieces of banana and yogurt - use the blender if you like. Stuff and freeze.
mashed potatoes or sweet potatoes
Mix the kibble and mashed potatoes and stuff until the toy is almost full. Stand it up in a up and pour a little gravy. Cap with a little extra mashed potato. Freeze.
In a Rush Recipe Ideas
dry dog food / kibble
narrow wedges of apple
Break the string cheese into small pieces. Mix the pieces with the kibble and fill the toy. Shove a wedge or two of apple in the middle. Put the whole toy into the microwave for about 30 seconds and check to see if the cheese looks melted. Wait until it completely cools, then give it to your dog.
dry dog food / kibble
peanut butter (xylitol free)
baby carrots or chunks of carrot
Smear peanut butter into the small opening of the toy, if any. Fill with a mix of kibble and carrots. Smear peanut butter over the large opening of the toy.
baked sweet potato, cooled, or canned pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling)
Mix the baked potato & yogurt. Spoon into the toy. Serve as is, or freeze.
Bland Stuffing (better for dogs with easily upset tummies)
cooked white rice
low sodium chicken broth
Put a small piece of banana in the small hole of the toy to plug it. Spoon the rice into the toy. Fill with broth. Freeze. (Another option is to cook the rice in the broth, stuff the toy, and serve as is.)
Ready to pick up some stuffable toys and put your freeloader to work? Check out your local pet store or shop online at petflow, chewy, or amazon for a great selection. If stuffing toys doesn't fit into your schedule, search for some puzzle feeders made by Outward Hound that are dump and go, instead. There are a million more Kong recipes on the internet and this article is a favorite of mine if you want more info and some stuffing diagrams.