Excessive Anything

As I have previously written, we are smack in the middle of Rio’s recovery.  She needs to wear a cast for 4 for more weeks. She cannot lick, or worse, chew on it at all. The recommendations are for her to wear a really cumbersome Elizabethan collar all the time to prevent her from doing the above. Frankly this part is the most taxing for both of us.

When I am watching her, she gets to take a break and we both breath happily. This morning I gave her a Kong with a hard-boiled egg for breakfast.  I watched her as she diligently licks and licks the toy to extract every bit of the egg.  Once she is done with the Kong, I notice that she is less active and most definitively not wanting to lick her cast-bound leg.  Now she is snoozing. Aww she looks so content and relaxed that I don’t even want to take her just yet for her daily car ride, which she loves.

I have seen this before, but now I am reminded of it close at home.  When dogs are stressed or anxious for whatever reason Kongs or any other food dispensing toy- especially the ones where dogs need to use their mouths rigorously to extract the food, satisfy a pretty basic need in them.

IMG_3159So many of my clients have dogs that are dedicated barkers, lick themselves, chase skateboards or cars with gusto only as an obsessed dog can muster. As part of our training and modification plan, I strongly suggest they feed their dogs out of these toys.

When they are motivated enough to do it, they readily notice the benefit the chewing and licking – in short, the positive effect it has on their dog’s overall demeanor and behavior. I have never heard anything different.

They might be, of course, important physiological reasons behind the high return in behavior from such a simple activity. For now, I will stick to observation and experience on how we can help ourselves by helping our dogs when we provide outlets like this which pay big dividends.

I get that most people feel really taxed with a myriad of daily chores. However, this “chore” is like anything else we choose to subscribe to in our day to day lives, be it meditation, fitness, eating well or else.  All of these activities require our commitment, and we commit to them because we find them valuable. What we can do for our dogs should not be any different.

Of course, I am not saying that your dog eating out of these toys will resolve all behavior problems. But I am saying that doing so will be a very solid foundation to help with whatever emotional or behavioral problem you need to work through with your dog.

If I can keep that collar on Rio for less time, it makes total sense to bite the bullet and spend a few more minutes every morning serving her meal this way. Below you’ll find a training plan to help your novice dog learn how to eat this way. If your dog has had more experience you can look at my suggestions as well so that your pup gets as well a nice dose of mental challenge.

Teaching Level

  • Fill a size – appropriate KONG® for your dog with kibble or your dog’s food.
  • Give the toy to your dog for her to experiment getting the food out of it by rotating it, pawing it, etc.
  • Feed your dog her whole meal out of KONGS once she is adept at getting all the food out and appears to enjoy the activity.
  • At this level, it’s okay to encourage your dog or even help her a bit by rotating the KONG® yourself so food comes out.

Beginner’s Level

  • Make the extracting of the food a bit harder by stuffing the KONG and then placing a harder item such as a piece of jerky, dry liver, frozen banana chip, etc. in between the kibble.

Advanced Level 1

  • Increase the level of difficult by wetting the kibble ahead of time so that it swells and becomes a “mush.” You can wet with water or something special such as chicken broth, etc.
  • Serve to your dog.

Advance Level 2 / During Warmer Months:

  • Prepare KONG® as you did for previous levels but freeze overnight or for a few hours.
  • Allow KONG® to thaw for about 1 hour before serving.
  • Best to serve in a crate or outside to avoid a possible mess.

Recipe Examples Courtesy of Jean Donaldson, From The Academy For Dog Trainers

Tight Version (more advanced) Stuffing

  • Layer 1 (deepest): roasted unsalted cashews, mild cheese chunks, freeze dried liver bits
  • Layer 2: dog kibble, cookies or Liver Biscotti, Cheerios, sugar-free/salt-free peanut butter, dried banana chips
  • Layer 3: baby carrot stick(s), turkey and/or leftover ravioli or tortellini, dried apples, dried apricots

Pack as tightly as possible. The last item in should be a dried apricot or piece of ravioli, presenting a smooth “finish” under the main hole.

“Lite” Version:

  • For cashews, substitute crumbled rice cake; for freeze-dried liver, substitute Caesar croutons; for peanut butter substitute fat-free cream cheese.

The goal is to feed your dog at least one of his daily meals via a food dispensing toy.