The Kong Dilemma

Otis can be hard to figure out. Sometimes I think he was deprived of oxygen as a pup or something (just kidding) because he can be a little… slow, but other times he catches on and figures things out quickly. I just don’t get him.

When he finally stopped being finicky about his meals, I started introducing the Kong in hopes that fishing for the kibble would give Otis an outlet for some mental energy. Turns out, the kong-with-kibble combo is not one Otis will pick up on quickly. The poor dude is totally clueless when it comes to figuring out how to get the kibble out when it doesn’t just fall out.

That means once Honey Bunches is done with any kibble that happens to fall out during consumption, he abandons the project all together. I’ve tried showing him that moving it makes the food fall out, but no luck (duh). Any ideas on how to increase his desire to play these games? He isn’t really the best at nose puzzles, which I think is one road block here.

I’m hoping maybe some more desirable treats in there will motivate him to put effort into getting them out; aka the point of the activity. He only worked hard for the kibble when he watched it go out of his reach (pictured below). If I put kibble out of his sight when he is not around he is totally clueless to it’s presence when he returns. I want to give him puzzles and work his brain a little, but I can only do so much until it’s up to him… any ideas?!

For more information on adopting Honey Bunches of Otis, go to his Adopt Me page or email

18 thoughts on “The Kong Dilemma

  1. Amanda

    My dogs love when I add some peanut butter to their kong ball. It can be somewhat messy so be careful, but it really keeps them engaged. I also have heard of people filling the kong with yougurt and freezing it for a nice cool treat for their dog. Maybe he will catch on after that. Good luck!

  2. Heather

    Maybe you can try peanut butter or we put sliced bananas and plain yogurt in them and freeze them overnight (filled all the way). It makes a great/healthy summer time treat. And he could see that it’s stuffed.

    Hope it helps :)

  3. Narda

    Have you tried putting the kibble in with something gooey or tasty he can lick (peanut butter, yogurt that is frozen- not frozen yogurt ;) almond butter,). That might get him to lick which may help him figure out how to get at the kibble.

  4. Sounds like everyone else has already stated my suggestion – peanut butter. Just freeze it so it’s a little harder to get out, but at least Otis will get some kind of reward with each lick!

    • Awesome, thank you for the suggestion! I’ll take a look at the article, but it sounds like this might be what we’re looking for. I doubt Otis’ nose is gone forever, he just needs to remember how to use it, and use it well. Thanks Kristine!

  5. I don’t remember what blog I read it on, but I started this week with easy Kong stuffing. I took some PB, water, some canned dog food and blended it up so it was liquid, then froze it into ice cubes. Now i just pop a couple in the Kong and they are good to go. Not only does the frozen aspect make it last longer, they have to keep working at it to make it melt and chase it around in the Kong. I was worried I would come home to a mess last night from them giving up and letting it melt…WRONG clean kongs and happy dogs! They were super excited to get this again this morning. Once he likes those, maybe you can put it in there WITH the food and he will catch on.

  6. Janet in Cambridge

    Try the little rounds ones (green and purple; sold in 2-packs) for cats and sold at PetCo. The dry food falls out quickly and the little ball rolls around easily with the least bit of paw tapping. If he’s not chewing it to bits, this might be a different delivery method.

    [I had initially used a really big version of round food ball for my very food-motivated cat and he couldn’t get it until I realized the food just wasn’t coming out fast enough or easily enough. When I switched to the smaller ones, he got it right away.]

  7. I agree that peanut butter is a big motivator, but you have to be careful about making the kong too hard at first by putting anything sticky deep inside. Otis’ problem is partly one of confidence — he gives up quickly because he doesn’t think he can solve the puzzle, plus it’s not interesting enough to really risk a bigger effort.

    Put something really stinky at the bottom — a piece of liver, some chicken, cheese, whatever he goes nuts for. Then fill it with kibble, and put just a little bit of peanut butter or cream cheese around the rim to entice him (if he needs it).

    After 10 minutes, pick it up, and put the kibble back in the bin — it gets subtracted from that day’s portion. It looks like you’re using the 1/2 cup kong, but check to be sure — if he gets 2 cups of food per day, that’s 4 kongs. If he doesn’t finish them, he doesn’t eat. It won’t take him more than a few days to get motivated enough to get through them.

    Once these become easy breezy, you can start upping the difficulty — but only after he is totally confident with the easy ones and geting ’em done in just a couple of minutes.

    Good luck!

    • Thank you, Aleks! This is exactly what I was looking for. He of course LOVES peanut butter and will suck that right out, but I’m looking for a mental game, not a long lasting treat (though I didn’t make that clear in my post and everyone’s suggestions above are spot on for that question!). I’m going to try this and let you know how it goes.

      • Start with the stinkiest, most irresistible treat you can find for the bottom — but it’s best if it’s not too sticky, so it’ll tumble out if he keeps batting the kong around. I’m looking forward to hearing how it works!

  8. CLICKER TRAINING!!!! You can click different things he does with the kong. Do you know how to shape a behavior? You could click and treat for him moving the kong with his paw. :) Or you can shape him to pick up the kong with his mouth or pushing it with his nose. There are all types of behaviors you could shape :) If you need help let me know! ~ Jo

  9. Holly

    I taught my dog to hunt her kibble that I hide around the house while she was outside by first putting some in plain sight and pointing it out. She followed me around the house and sucked up all the kibble that I pointed to. Eventually she would come in, and I would say “find it”, and she immediately begins the hunt. Slowly I hid it in harder to find/reach places. She loves the game, but she is also quite food motivated. It’s also funny to watch her wake up from a sound sleep when she catches the whiff of a piece of kibble she overlooked earlier. I know it’s not with a toy, but it is still a good way to make them think and get some exercise. My girl runs up and down the stairs several times during one of these hunts. Good luck.

  10. Your otis sounds like he has some of wyatt’s brain (or space lol). Some things he just gets and others leave me smacking my head wondering why it is so easy for Luna but not Wyatt lol.

    So a couple ideas, I agree with trying some really tasty/smell treats (maybe something easier than something he has to actually lick out)… sometimes it will drive them to be crazy and pick it up and toss the toy which will result in goodies falling out.

    Second you mentioned he works hard when he can see the kibbles, so why not try putting the kibble in something clear at first for him to put two and two together. I have a feeling that is kinda what is throwing him off, he smells it but doesn’t know where it is since he can’t see it. Many dogs trust their eyes more than their nose. A simple solution to kickstart his brain to making the link might be to just use a big gatorade bottle with the lid (and ring) off so he can see the kibble in it. This is how all my dogs started, so maybe that is why I never had any problems.

    Second there are all sorts of easy ways to begin to teach your dog to use his nose. Scatter the food on the floor and it will force him to hunt out each piece. If you put it in places he can’t see right away, or on carpet that matches it will force him to use his nose even more than his eyes. You can increase the difficulty of this by changing locations up, doing it in short grass even. Let him watch you do it as you increase difficulty that may help him make the connection too.

    Here are my two hunting out their food:

    When I try frozen stuffed kongs with some dogs in our kennel, I find that some just don’t want to work for their food. They will eat out what is easy but leave the rest. Some get over this, others just never do as they don’t care. So you gotta find something that motivates him. I know Aleksandra over at Love and Six foot leash will even cut food amount back till they take to the kong so nothing is wasted.

    Hope these ideas help, keep us posted.

  11. Pingback: Peanut Butter Success | Peace, Love, & Fostering

  12. Pingback: Clicker Training: “Kong” | Peace, Love, & Fostering

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