For almost a year, I’ve been wanting to write posts about toys for aggressive chewers, because Barnum is a shredder!
Most of the toys we started out with are now scraps in the sewing or rag-bag, with the stuffing waiting to be used in cushions or made into new dog toys.
Today’s Featured Tough Toy: The Kong Stuff-a-Ball!
[Image description: Red rubber Kong toy, sort of ball-shaped, but not round, maybe octagonal. It has "dental ridges" running vertically along the sides, which supposedly clean the dog's teeth, but the best feature is that it's big, tough, and rollable (like a ball), and stuffable. It has a cross-shaped hole on the bottom, which is large enough that food does come out, but not so big that it comes out easily, if you use something sticky and freeze it.]
Like most of the Kong products, it’s all-natural rubber, which I like. For my MCS readers, I admit that I don’t remember what it smelled like when I first got it (several years ago), but I don’t remember it being extremely problematic, and it is certainly completely outgassed now.
Not all Kong products are made equal, however. The bone-shaped Kong, which Barnum really liked, was too easy to destroy, so I bought the black version of that (the black rubber Kongs are made for aggressive chewers), and it reeks. Even non-MCS people who have been around it were appalled. I’ve been outgassing it for over six months, outside, in the sun, rain, and snow, and it still smells!
Barnum also chewed through the Biscuit Ball quite easily. I’ll write more about other rubber and Kong products another time.
Anyway, I made it my mission to find tough toys, and I have. Several of them. As I get the chance, I’ll write product reviews on which work for us, and why. But this is one of the few I already had, pre-Barnum.
In the last few days, Barnum has been getting a lot of use out of his Kong Stuff-a-Ball. This is because I have been A Neglectful Mommy and A Bad Trainer.
Instead of spending most of my energy on him, I was writing and revising a personal essay, inspired by my previous post, about the discoveries I made in training Barnum to help me with my agitation symptoms. I was behind on the deadline, so I had to be very single-minded.
Since writing took all my time and energy (and then some) for the last few days, I was either writing, resting, or sleeping all the time, and Barnum was very bored.
Even though he was getting physical exercise (from two of my dog walkers), he was not getting training, and he missed it! He whined and jumped on my bed and barked inappropriately, generally acted like a grouchy teenager, demanding to be entertained.
I couldn’t have been more pleased! How very different from the low-energy, tentative, careful dog of yore!
Well, I did feel guilty, actually. I tried to keep him occupied, and was most successful with his favorite toy, which is the Kong Stuff-a-Ball. I stuff it with dog food and cottage cheese (his favorite), then freeze it. (I recently used wet dog or cat food instead of cottage cheese, to reduce his calcium intake, but the smell made me sick. I need to find an all-natural brand that he likes, that doesn’t trigger my MCS.)
The Stuff-a-Ball works the best of any toy because it’s really big, can be played with like a ball, and it’s difficult to get the food out (as opposed to the Kong Biscuit Ball, which is not only too easy to get food out of, but too easy to destroy).
This Stuff-a-Ball was Gadget’s, and it’s still in one piece, which is true for very few of the toys that Barnum inherited. Not because Gadget was an aggressive chewer — he wasn’t. That’s the issue. I had not stocked up on indestructible toys in the past because both Jersey and Gadget were gentle chewers. Then
Jaws Barnum came along and sent those toys to their demise.
Anyway, Barnum nudges it with his nose, rolling it all over the house, like a canine Pelé, leaving a trail of cottage cheese everywhere. (Not that I am suggesting Pelé left a trail of cottage cheese, ever. I think smearing the soccer ball with cottage cheese is probably against FIFA regulations and would earn you, at minimum, a yellow card.)
Periodically, I’d call Barnum, just to work on his recall and remind him that good things happen when he comes to me. (Good things in this case are food, some lovin’ up, and a release to go back and play with his toy.)
The regular Kongs are not reinforcing enough to keep Barnum busy for long because either the food comes out too quickly and easily, or not at all. Also, they can’t be rolled around the house, like a ball. Barnum prefers ball-shaped toys to other shapes.
With the Stuff-a-Ball, with it all frozen and sticky inside, pieces come out often enough that he doesn’t give up in the beginning, but not so often that it’s too easy. The unpredictable, intermittent reinforcement keeps him going for a long time. I also give him knuckle bones for entertainment chewing, but our supplier is out of those, currently.
-Sharon, the muse of Gadget (who was much too dignified to destroy his toys, except his pink, squishy rabbit, which clearly provoked the incident), and Barnum, SDiT and Toy Demolitions Expert
P.S. In case you’re wondering why I don’t use peanut butter inside the Kongs, it’s because Barnum hates peanut butter. He acts like it’s poisonous. If it even touches other food, he won’t eat any of the food. Maybe he’s allergic to it. Who knows? He will work on a ground-meat stuffed Kong, sometimes, but not with much enthusiasm or tenaciousness. He also doesn’t like honey. In other words, he’s incredibly picky, which I’ll write about in another post, so unless you have an all-natural, wet dog food to suggest for use as a sticky substance, please don’t suggest foods for me to try in the Kong.