Adventures in Frozen Enrichment
Have you ever cooked a new, complicated recipe with a lot of ingredients? Or watched a movie looking for symbolism? Or played the last level of a video game? I bet you felt mentally tired afterward. I know I do! These kinds of activities count as enrichment for us humans. And, it’s up to us to provide dog versions of these activities to our canine friends.
I often recommend enrichment activities for dogs as part of their daily routines. Enrichment refers to activities that provide dogs with mental benefits. Work-to-eat puzzles are one example of an enrichment activity for dogs. My favorite work-to-eat puzzle for dogs is a frozen classic Kong. I recommend filling classic Kongs and freezing them.
Here’s a step-by-step guide for filling and freezing enrichment toys, along with my dog Mulligan’s favorite filling recipe:
Kongs or other freezable food puzzles
Frosting bag or large plastic storage bag
Hard dog cookies or biscuits
Stand mixer or hand mixer
2 cups peanut butter
8oz. cream cheese
1/4 cup water
Mix peanut butter, cream cheese, and water in stand mixer or with a hand mixer until whipped.
Next, place Kongs top down in the muffin pan. Drop a hard dog cookie into the top to prevent suction problems and give your dog a special treat for finishing the Kong. I’ve also pictured a Hero natural rubber toy that’s shaped like a knobby doughnut. This toy has a large opening which eliminates concerns about suction.
Use a spatula or spoon to fill the frosting bag. If you don’t have a frosting bag, you can use a plastic food storage bag and cut off a corner.
Squeeze a generous amount of filling into each toy, depending on your dog’s activity level and caloric needs. While the filling usually adheres well to the sides on its own, you can add texture by sticking your finger or a small spoon inside and pressing the filling against the sides.
Place muffin pans in the freezer. The muffin pans prevent filling from causing a mess in your freezer. Once frozen, you can transfer the toys to a dedicated ice bin.
From start to finish, it took me twelve minutes to make this batch. By prepping a bunch in advance, you can grab one out of the freezer as needed.
If your dog doesn’t have a lot of experience with frozen enrichment toys, start easy. Fill the Kong with some kibble or other cookies and/or a small smear of a room temperature spread. If it’s too difficult, your dog might lose interest and give up. The recipe I’ve provided here is just one option among many, so be creative and let your dog’s tastes and preferences guide you.