Stuffable toys such as Kongs, Toppls, Honeypots and more bring incredible fun they bring to your furry friends. They can help provide hours of entertainment and mental stimulation for pets. When we first brought Willow home, her anxiety levels were pretty high. We struggled to tire her out and keep her entertained. Our previous dog, Kimo, had only been fed out of a bowl and we knew very little about dog enrichment. Our trainer taught us about calm protocol and introduced us to stuffed Kongs. This, coupled with other training, led us to our house motto: chewing (or licking) is calming.
Kongs are no longer my favourite stuffable, but they still make regular appearances. There are numerous products available on the market including Kongs, Toppls, Honeypots and much much more, as well as natural options including hooves, antlers, bones, trachea and even vegetables and fruit like peppers and apples. See our blog post on Healthy Treats for Your Furry Pal: How to Make Stuffed Apples for Dogs.
Benefits of Stuffable Toys
Stuffable toys have become increasingly popular among pet owners and for good reason. These toys offer a range of benefits for dogs. They provide mental stimulation, relieve boredom, promote problem-solving skills, and offer a tasty reward. Stuffable toys, like Kongs, allow pets to engage in interactive play, which is crucial for their physical and emotional health.
They provide dogs with an appropriate outlet for their natural chewing instincts, provide enrichment and mental stimulation as well as helping to keep jaws strong and teeth clean.
They are a great training tool and can help with numerous struggles including:
- Inappropriate chewing
- Weight issues/portion control
- Crate training
- Digging & barking
- Separation anxiety
Stuffable toys and treats can be used with almost any type of food: fresh, frozen, raw, human food, canned, kibble, etc. You can give one to your pup right after you assemble it, or you can freeze them to add to the challenge! In fact, if you find your dog becomes Kong-obsessed, you may want to consider buying several of them and stuffing and freezing them in batches so that you can easily pull one out of your freezer for breakfast (or dinner)! Meal planning and prep for dogs made easy!
What is the Difference between a Kong and a Toppl?
We have several of each for our dogs. There are a lot of similarities between the two:
- Strong, durable, and generally considered safe
- Helps train calmness
- Helps with crate training
- Encourages your dog to slow down while eating
- Deters boredom and prevents bad behaviours
- Both are dishwasher safe, or easily cleaned with a bottle brush.
There are, of course, some differences between the two as well:
|Kong||West Paw Toppl|
|Comes in several sizes and strengths||Comes in several sizes|
|Less costly||More costly|
|Narrow opening, good for experienced dogs or dogs who love a challenge||Large opening, good for less experienced dogs or dogs who are likely to get frustrated easily|
|Usually requires bottle brush to clean||Easier to clean|
|Slightly more challenging to fill and layer||Easier to fill and layer|
|BONUS – 2 sizes can be fit together, creating a new level of puzzle|
Are stuffable toys and treats safe?
Nothing is completely without risk. However, Kongs and Toppls are designed to be strong and durable. There are many other good quality products coming to market every day. As with anything new, make sure you observe your dog carefully the first few times they use it. Some dogs may be able to chew off a small portion and swallow it. My in-law’s old Jack Russell would eventually chew his Kong into disks (it was one of his only toys and he had full access to it; they did not use it with food).
Consider your dog’s chewing style, and monitor your dog closely the first few times with a Kong or Toppl. Also ensure that you have the appropriate size for your dog. A Kong or Toppl that is too small can pose a risk.
How to Introduce Stuffable Toys and Food
Not all dogs take to these toys and food immediately. Some dogs are easily frustrated, less food motivated, or less eager for whatever reason. For these dogs, it’s really important to consider levels of difficulty, especially when using Kongs, which have a smaller opening. Other dogs will take straight to it and be able to enjoy a frozen item at their first introduction! Regardless of which type of dog you think you have, is to start off slow at a low level of difficulty. You don’t want to turn them off food-stuffed toys on their first try!
Levels of Difficulty
How quickly you increase the difficulty will depend on you and your dog! If your dog starts to get frustrated and refuses to go back to it, it’s likely time to go back down a level for a while.
At this level, you are just introducing your dog to food-stuffed toys. Keep it super easy and make it rewarding. Place the Kong or Toppl in a cup or a small bowl to keep it stable, and add loose filling only. This might mean just adding kibble, or perhaps a mixture of kibble and treats such as cheese cubes, cubed meat, any homemade treats or even any commercially available treats. Make sure to keep it easy. Nothing moist at this stage. Your dog will finish it very quickly, but that’s ok! Once you think your dog is comfortable and confident with this step, it’s time to move up a level. This may be only a day or two, or could be a week or more, depending on your dog.
At this level, we want to start making it a little bit more complicated. Stuff the Kong or Toppl the same way you did in the beginner level, but this time add a bit of liquid to moisten the kibble so that it will expand and be a bit more difficult to get out. The liquid can be just water, or you can get fancy and add some bone broth or homemade chicken or beef broth. Let the Kong or Toppl sit for a few minutes to give the liquid a chance to absorb before giving to your dog. Repeat this step until your dog is comfortable and confident getting out almost all of the moistened food.
This is where we can start to spice things up a bit. The possibilities are almost endless, but I recommend starting with something your dog really loves. For most dogs that is peanut butter! Layer it up as you go – a few liver treats at the bottom, a layer of peanut butter, some kibble, a few treats, some more peanut butter. There are tons and tons of combinations. See https://www.kongcompany.com/cuisine/ for Kong recipe ideas (which can be applied to any other stuff item), or experiment with your own! Once your dog is acing Advanced Level (it won’t take them long!), you can stay here or move on to Expert Level. Added bonus: if your dog is on medication, you could consider adding their medication to the mix at this stage. Just watch them carefully the first few times to ensure they are taking it all.
Prepare the Kong or Toppl as above, but up the ante even further by freezing it for a couple of hours, up to a few days! Some people even batch their food stuffed toys, making a week’s worth on the weekend. While many medications and supplements can be frozen, it is best to check with your vet if you are unsure.
How to Clean
Both Kongs and Toppls are top-drawer dishwasher safe or can be hand-washed with warm, soapy water.
If handwashing, rinse with warm, soapy water. Use a bottle brush to remove any stuck-on treats (like dry peanut butter)
If using the dishwasher, you may still need to use a bottle brush to remove any stuck-on treats. Place in the top of the dishwasher and remove before the drying cycle. Remove before the heated dry cycle.
How to Stuff a Toy and What to Use
You will find endless recipes and instructions on how to stuff Kongs, Toppls, tracheas, hooves and other items. Here is the secret – there is no right answer! It’s a good recommendation to put something yummy at the very bottom so that your dog will be enticed to reach the bottom and not give up, but otherwise, be creative! Use any food that your dog can eat and finds appetizing: kibble, wet dog food, meat (cooked or raw), veggies (cooked or raw), dog-safe peanut butter or nut butter, kefir, yogurt, sour cream, fruits (cooked or raw). The options are literally endless. Remember that dogs have a better sense of smell than humans, but a worse sense of taste, so combinations that may not be appetizing to you may be amazing to your dog!
It might be easier to place the item you are stuffing in a mug, bowl, or egg carton to hold it upright while you are adding ingredients. If the item you are stuffing is open at both ends (like a trachea or bone) you may need to wrap one end in plastic wrap before you start. Layer items until you’ve reached an appropriate amount of food for your dog, or until you’ve reached the top. Freeze or serve immediately!
Creative Stuffable Recipes
Looking for some creative and healthy-filling ideas? Try these mouth-watering recipes that will keep your pets entertained and satisfied:
- Banana Bliss: Mash a ripe banana and mix it with a spoonful of plain yogurt. Fill the stuffable with this delicious blend and freeze for a refreshing treat.
- Chicken Surprise: Shred cooked chicken and mix it with cooked rice. Stuff the stuffable with the mixture and seal the ends with a dab of peanut butter.
- Veggie Delight: Steam and puree a variety of vegetables like carrots, green beans, and sweet potatoes. Fill the stuffable with the vegetable puree and freeze for a nutritious snack.
Stuffable toys, particularly Kongs, provide a fantastic opportunity to engage your pets in interactive play. These toys offer mental stimulation, alleviate boredom, and provide a rewarding experience. By incorporating Kongs into your pet’s routine, you can promote their overall well-being and strengthen the bond you share. So, unleash the fun and watch as your furry friends happily tackle the challenge of a stuffed Kong!
Remember to experiment with different fillings and recipes to find what your pet loves the most. Let the joy and engagement begin with Kongs, the ultimate stuffable toy for pets!
While you’re here, make sure to check out some of our other articles including Navigating the World of Dog Treats: The Importance of Reading Labels, and delicious homemade treats recipes like Irresistible Carob Apple Dog Treat Recipe and Pyramid Pan Beet Turkey Dog Treats.