This time of year, you'll hear me talking about mental enrichment to just about every client. The chances that we're able to get our dogs a lot of physical exercise are slim during the Winter months (usually, anyway - it's been a pretty mild Wisconsin Winter thus far) and I'm always preaching the value of mental enrichment or mental exercise as a supplement during these long months.
One of the easiest (and probably the most recognizable) ways to add mental enrichment to your SideKick's daily routine is to stuff a Kong. It's something you can give to your SideKick in their kennel or while you're trying to cook or when you have guests...You get the idea. Almost every dog parent I've met has at least one Kong in their house. And almost every person with a Kong or two talks about using peanut butter to stuff their Kong.
I love where my clients' thoughts are, providing their SideKicks with this easy form of mental enrichment, but I often can't stop myself from launching into a description of how we can do so much MORE with a Kong than just stuff it with peanut butter! I repeat this conversation so much with so many of my clients that I finally decided to write a blog post about it (actually, I was told by several clients that I should write it...).
What's with the hate for peanut butter?
Just so we're clear, I don't really have a thing against peanut butter; in fact, my Ruby LOVES the stuff - there's a perpetually open jar on our counter at home as proof! Peanut butter has some healthy fats in it, some protein, some natural sweeteners, and A LOT of our SideKicks are fans. This all makes good 'ole PB an excellent option for treats, desserts, rewards, and payment for our SideKicks.
However, there are a few reasons to avoid peanut butter in Kongs (or, at least, limit the amount of peanut butter used):
I've had several clients complain that their SideKicks had digestive issues and could easily point to the amount of peanut butter they were giving in a Kong (since it can hold so much).
Some dogs, just like humans, have peanut allergies or sensitivities.
Variety is the spice of life! Your SideKick may LOVE peanut butter, but only peanut butter as a Kong treat every day may get old fast - and that boredom defeats the purpose of mental enrichment in the first place.
All of that said, I make it a point to get creative with Ruby's Kongs, as well as encouraging my clients to get creative with theirs!
But wait...If not peanut butter, what do you stuff Kongs with...?
Instead of turning to the internet (and falling down the resulting rabbit hole of Kong stuffing recipes) every time I need to stuff our collection of Kongs, I turn to my pantry and fridge with a couple easy guidelines in mind! I try to create a recipe that includes each of the following:
A protein source (usually a lean protein)
A vegetable and/or fruit (that dogs are allowed to have, of course)
A "binding" agent (at least, that's what I call it - something to hold it all together)
(Optional) Something to plug the Kong with
Mix and match and get creative, depending on what you have at your disposal (or what you happen to find on sale at the grocery or pet store)! I've come up with quite the variety of recipes and the list continues to grow!
Check out the categories and the list of ideas within each category below to see what you may already have in your fridge or pantry and have fun building new Kong recipes for your SideKicks!
PRO TIP: In addition to varying the recipe you use to stuff your SideKick's Kongs, freeze them overnight, so that they're a little more difficult and last a little longer for your SideKick!
Did you come up with something really fun that your SideKick LOVED?
Share with me - I always love new ideas!
A can of tuna or salmon
Boiled chicken breast or a can of chicken in a pinch
A can of wet dog food (something that was on sale and that had ingredients I could understand)
Leftover ham bits (the pieces not suitable for a sandwich and that you'd usually make ham salad out of, you know?)
I once used a venison sausage from the freezer that had no date and it's age was unknown, but it smelled fine (the Kongs that included this mixture seemed to be especially well-liked by Ruby that week)
Leftovers of just about anything in the fridge...
Vegetables and/or Fruit
Sweet potatoes (diced or mashed, skins and all)
Fresh or frozen peas
Broccoli (particularly the stalks that no one really likes anyway)
Cantaloupe, melon, or watermelon
Other vegetables and fruits your SideKick likes!
"Binding agent": the glue that holds it all together!
(Most of these can be used as an optional plug for the Kong, as well)
Plain Greek yogurt or regular yogurt
Watered down cottage cheese
A can of pumpkin
Mashed sweet potato or even plain mashed potatoes if you have leftovers in the fridge
If you're creative or you have enough coffee mugs to stand your Kongs upright in the freezer, you can use a broth
Need to stretch the recipe a bit more to fit the amount of Kongs you have (no shame in that - I've found myself in that spot before with our quantity of Kongs)? Other stuff you can toss in there:
Extra helpings of anything listed above
The last bit of a cheese block from the fridge or shredded cheese
Actual peanuts (instead of peanut butter)
Deli meats (not too much, though, since it can be a bit salty)
Hot dog pieces
A couple handfuls of your SideKick's regular kibble (after soaking in the rest of the mixture, it won't be boring kibble anymore!)
Cereals (Chex, Cheerios, Kix, and other plain flavors)
Other leftovers you find in the fridge that your SideKick likes and that is safe for a dog to eat
**Edited 01/16/2019 to include a couple more items in the food lists.