As a proud companion to a neurotic Border Collie and a restless Chihuahua, I’ve had to get creative in finding ways to keep them busy. Working from home and living in an area where the weather is often rainy, it’s not always possible to give them an outlet for their extra energy. That’s where puzzle toys — specifically the Kong and Kong-like implements — come in.
All of the ingredients are safe for dogs, but I’m not your vet. If you have any questions about any of these recipes and your particular pet, please consult a more knowledgeable source before you try them.
I’ve shared two kinds of recipes: treats for regular snacking and treats that use leftovers. I also provided a room temperature and a frozen option for each.
Each recipe is composed of three elements: a centerpiece, a binder, and a topping:
- The centerpiece is the main attraction. What is your dog seeking? What is the gold at the end of the quest? It is the centerpiece.
- The binder is the stuff that surrounds it and fills out the rest of the Kong. Sometimes it’s valuable on its own; sometimes it’s nothing more than a placeholder.
- And the topping is the swirl of high-value, high-flavor goodness at either end. The topping is essential to pique your dog’s interest and to give a substantial reward upfront. In some frozen treats, this is particularly important, as cold foods are mostly odorless. Without a compelling topper, your dog may not care to investigate.
These treats can be assembled for your dog on a somewhat regular basis. Low(ish) in calories and inexpensive, these combinations will please your pup.
Barky bark and the crunchy bunch
Centerpiece: Celery. Pack the center of the Kong tight with celery sticks of varying lengths. If your dog is into it, celery is a great source of vitamins and minerals, freshens breath, and adds a teensy boost of hydration to the diet. Plus, the crunchy texture is very satisfying. Also try: carrots, apple slices, fresh green beans. We tried carrots for this one.
Binder: Nothing for this one. If the centerpiece is packed well, it will stay in place. And for the diet-conscious, nothing is lower in calories than air itself!
Topping: Peanut butter! Peanut butter is the magic ingredient in so many of dog-friendly recipes. It’s a powerful mask for unpleasant or unfamiliar tastes (like celery may be to many dogs) but delicious and packed with protein. Give a generous dab of peanut butter at either end of the Kong, fill your dog’s water bowl, and serve! Note: Be sure to use peanut butter without the sweetener xylitol, as it is toxic to dogs.
Centerpiece: Your dog’s usual kibble, or a handful’s worth of low-calorie dry treats. Using a funnel or a spoon, fill the Kong with kibble. If your dog’s preferred daily food is wet, fill the Kong only halfway with the wet food — because it is denser, a little bit will go a long way here.
Binder: Water. This is a tricky maneuver, and I’m still perfecting it with all of my pupsicle recipes, but what works right now is to position your centerpiece-stuffed Kong upside down (small hole at bottom) in a juice glass so it can’t lean or topple. Then add water to just below the rim. Set in the freezer. If some water leaks around the edges and it emerges with a bell of ice around the small end, that’s perfectly fine.
Topping: Peanut butter again! The texture, whether frozen or at room temperature, will bring interest to a situation. Peanut butter makes this special to your dog, and the kibble suspended in ice makes it a bit of a mystery and something tasty to lick for a while.
My assistant and I had a hard time keeping Lupe the Chihuahua from these leftovers!
Here comes a great way to use your weekday leftovers! These recipes are a step above the daily fare, but are not over the top or unhealthy. I recommend these when you’re feeling just a twinge of that special “treat your dog” feeling — or your leftovers from two nights ago are making you feel guilty but not hungry. It’s not the weekend, maybe, but it’s a Tuesday and you’d like to do something nice for your pup.
Centerpiece: Cooked pumpkin or sweet potato. Whether in chunks or puréed, place a moderate amount of these beta carotene-rich autumnal delights into a Kong.
Binder: Scrambled plain eggs. No added cheese or salt.
Topping: The fat used to cook the eggs — whether that’s olive oil, butter, or more egg matter. Just a dab will do ya!
Keeping in mind the goal of making your leftovers even more irresistible, there are many combinations that will work very well. The pork tenderloin pictured here was just what happened to be in our refrigerator from last night’s roast. Feel free to substitute with whatever healthy treats you have in your own fridge!
Centerpiece: Pork tenderloin. The tenderloin was topped with au jus, which I felt was too rich for our dogs, so I rinsed the pieces of meat before placing them in the Kong. Be careful to give your pup only clean, well-done meats, and be mindful of extra salt and fat.
Binder: Pureed butternut squash.
Topping: A dab of mashed potatoes, or peanut butter again. Important to add the topping at room temperature just before serving, after the treat has been frozen. And remember to avoid extra butter and salt if you use potatoes! Here, we just dabbed peanut butter to the ends.