KONG in a Shelter

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How does an Animal Shelter use a KONG?

How does a shelter use KONG toys? The obvious answer is for daily enrichment to keep shelter dogs mentally stimulated.


Written by KONG Ambassador Katherine Kekel.



There can be more to this enrichment than just a basic toy. Many types of KONG toys can be used in different ways in an animal shelter. Dogs in a shelter environment start to mentally deteriorate on average within 30 days, just as any animals kept in captivity do. When housing animals of any kind, they must be offered the Five Freedoms:

Freedom from Hunger and Thirst
  • Provide ready access to fresh water and diet to maintain health and vigor.
Freedom from Discomfort
  • By providing an appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area.
Freedom from Pain, Injury, or Disease
  • Through prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment.
Freedom to Express Normal Behavior
  • By providing sufficient space, proper facilities, and the company of the animal’s own kind.
Freedom from Fear and Distress
  • By ensuring conditions and treatment to prevent mental suffering.

Most of these freedoms are obvious and very simple to provide. However, the one that most shelters can struggle with is freedom to express normal behavior. This is not limited to pets having time outside or space in the kennel to walk around. This can be done by providing each pet with mental stimulation and enrichment, keeping them mentally stable longer than the average of 30 days.

The shelter I work at is lucky enough to have a donation wish list online and donors frequently gift us these items, many of which are KONG toys! We use the KONG Classic toy for our daily in-kennel enrichment by stuffing them full of all sorts of food and treats. These can be simple dog treats and peanut butter or more exciting foods like apples, squash, yogurt, or plain oatmeal. We use many of the other KONG toys as well, like Goodie Bones & Goodie Ribbons in either the Classic red rubber, or the Extreme black rubber for dogs who might need a stronger toy. KONGs are stuffed and given when showing a dog for adoption who may be more fearful of a guest. We can stuff the ends of the Goodie bone and have the guest sit with a dog while the dog chews the bone and de-stresses with their potential new family during the meet & greet.

We also use the KONG Wobblers for feeding our dogs in the kennels. This allows the dogs to forage for their food, using those natural abilities like their sense of smell and problem-solving skills to figure out how to eat dinner in a more fun way!

When it’s hot outside, we fill KONG Classics with yogurt or a pâté wet food and freeze them. Then we will put them in a pool with water and play bobbing for KONGs. We use KONG cat toys and Kitty KONGs, too! We stuff them with tiny treats and give them to the cats to bat around the cage and get yummy things out of them which, again, engages those instincts to express themselves and de-stress.

At the end of the day, we want to give all the animals in our care agency and some degree of normalcy. By the time they leave us and are adopted to new families, we want them to be as happy and healthy as possible. Doing something as simple as giving them the opportunity to play is one of the biggest things we can do. Dogs Need to Play! Especially shelter dogs!

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