April 11, 2010

Ruby Visits The KONG Factory

Last fall, I attended the Assistance Dogs Int'l Training Conference in Estes Park, CO. During a break, I started talking with the fellow sitting next to me. He was very knowledgeable about a wide range of subjects related to dog training, and when we finally got around to introducing ourselves, I found that he was Mark Hines, Canine Behavior and Training Specialist for the KONG Company. I was completely embarrassed to admit to him that even after all these years of using KONG products, I had not realized that KONG is located in Colorado, practically in my backyard!

As we chatted, I mentioned that I was raising and training my first service puppy (Ruby was still very young and I hadn't brought her to the conference). Mark kindly extended an offer for my service dog in training and me to visit the KONG factory as his guests. I was thrilled at the privilege (KONG is not open for public tours), and after many months of scheduling correspondence, we finally were able to visit. I know Ruby enjoyed it, but not half as much as I did!

It's an impressive facility with all manufacturing done on site.

I was quite curious about the materials and manufacturing process, and Mark gave me a great tour. KONG toys are made of 80% natural rubber, the remainder being strengtheners and fillers, all non-toxic.

When it comes to safety, KONG holds its toys to the same lead standards as children's toys in America. So, if your kid starts chewing on the puppy's KONG, no worries, it's safe! Well, except for the swapping dog spit part. I don't think Ruby's sharing, though.

Bands of rubber are fed into the machine,

then heated at 350° where the rubber melts into liquid and is poured into the mold.

The amount of curing time will vary per toy size, but they're ready in a matter of minutes.

You wouldn't want to touch them, though, they're hot! If you click on the photo below to enlarge, and look very closely, you'll get a hint of the steam rising off the toys like a tray of freshly-baked muffins!

Once cooled, the toys are assembled, trimmed, cleaned, evaluated for quality, and packed, all by hand.

Toys that have simple defects (such as safe, small blemishes) are deemed "seconds" and donated to shelters, zoos, etc. Plus, any rejected toys evaluated to be a possible safety hazard will not be wasted. That product is crumbled into small bits and donated for use as ground cover in children's playgrounds.

The KONG toys we purchase are all first quality. As I passed by the bins, I thought they were really quite beautiful.

Ruby behaved admirably throughout the visit. As you can imagine, there was lots of puppy jubilation; after all, it's like taking Augustus Gloop (or me) to the Wonka Factory! But even amid the noise of a warehouse and processing facility, all the booms, bangs, whizzes, and pops, she remained calm and took it all in stride. Although she did get a little dirty.

Ha, just kidding, that's KONG's mascot, Chomps!

After our tour, Mark gave me a little history on the company. KONG was founded in 1976 by Joe Markham...and by Joe's German Shepherd, a retired police dog named Fritz. One day, at a Volkswagen repair shop, Fritz took great interest in a part from a 1967 Volkswagen van.

Joe saw the gratification his dog derived from the feel of the rubber car part, and as an inventor, he understood the genius in the simplicity. When he brought the part back to his shop, his partner said, "This looks like King Kong's ear plug!" And so a name, and company, were born.

With my interest in dog training, Mark also took the time to share some insight obtained from his amazing background. He works with veterinarians, shelters, trainers of every discipline, certified animal behaviorists, service dog organizations, and explosives and narcotics detection. He speaks at seminars, serves on military and police panels, and trains in explosive detection. He's also a sport dog trainer and handler (Schutzhund) and works in decoy, which he says, has taught him a tremendous amount about the body language between humans and dogs.

With the kind of opportunities he's had, he said he feels like "the luckiest dog trainer in the world" to be involved in such varied efforts to better the bond and relationships we have with our animals. Listening to him speak about his passion for dogs was inspiring.

What a great educational experience for Ruby and me. A million thanks to the friendly KONG family and to Mark Hines, for the invitation and for his kindness, hospitality, and generosity.

P.S. Stay tuned, folks. Mark gave me a special gift for a lucky Raising Ruby reader...details coming up soon!


Maddie and Betsy said...

Wow that looks like so much fun! You are really lucky!

Heather and Ellie said...

What an incredible experience! You're so lucky you can visit...I would love to do that.
Thank you so much for all those pictures--I had no idea how Kongs were made.

mayziegal said...

WHAT? WHAT WHAT WHAT? They make Kongs in Collie-rado???? I LIVES in Collie-rado! How come I never ever knew this? I am Most Happy (and sorta jealous) that you and Ruby gots to go to Kong Mecca. That was all so very much interesting abouts how Kongs are made. I just kinda thought they grew on a Kong Tree.

Gosh, the Kong people...right here...in Collie-rado. I am all aquiver.

Wiggles & Wags,

Lisa, Ellie and Hosta said...

WOW, that is so awesome!!! You are so lucky to get a private tour! Thanks for the special look inside how they make kongs. He seems like a super nice guy! That is so cool. Ruby looks like she had a blast too! Did she get to quality test any of them?

Kari in WeHo said...

how cool is that! we love Kongs

1000 Goldens said...

I am so happy for you both, that is awesome! My favorite part of the factory is the 3-D logo on the building with the Kong sticking out. Also very cool to learn where the name came from because I always wondered. Hooray for Ruby :)

Lori Jablons said...

This is so cool! By any chance, is the Kong factory next door to a peanut butter manufacturer? :)

LeonPalm said...


Anonymous said...

Great pictures and writing, v interesting.

Karen Siddiqi said...

Wow! Very cool!

Khyra The Siberian Husky And Sometimes Her Mom said...

How khool!

That was khwite an inkhredible tour!

Fur some reason, the orange one khaught Mom's attention - since we didn't see a purple one!

That is furry khool they donate the sekhonds!


Dennis and Kelly said...

Looks like you guys had a lot of fun! Thanks for sharing!!

Anonymous said...

What a great experience for you both. We all are learning and enjoying somthing new, reading your blog. Ruby I loved your picture with Mark you gave him a great smile.

The OP Pack said...

What a great post! We loved seeing how one of our favorite treat toys is made. We have several of the red ones and one blue and one orange one that have the knobby things on them. Mom fills them with peanut butter and tops it with a biscuit, then freezes them. We love them. Thanks for the great tour, it was fun.

Woos - Phantom, Thunder, and Ciara

Sue said...

Creede (Ruby's uncle) loves Kong toys. It's the only toy that he can't destroy!! Thanks for educating us about Kong toys...the dog toy that stays strong and lasts for many moons in our household. The best part is that Kong toys are made in the good 'ol USA...and better yet...Colorado!! This post was doggone interesting...thank you, Ruby!

Sierra Rose said...

What an amazing tour!! Very cool on how the Kong concept came about! VW parts!
Are all the products made in CO?

Hugs and snaggle-tooth kisses,
Sierra Rose

Bloom said...

I am a new follower - found you through Blogs of Note - and I am really enjoying your blog. We used to own a lab that looks almost identical to Ruby, so her pictures bring back good memories!

Kyla Duffy said...

That's too cool! I didn't know Kong was here in Colorado either. Thanks for the awesome photos - I felt like I was on tour with you.

Abby said...

Hello! I discovered your blog through the Blogs of Note page (congrats on that, by the way) and just felt so excited because I have a lab puppy named Buffy, who is not a service dog at all, but your blog showed me that even service dogs have to start somewhere! Buffy loves to watch bikes and bark and pull but it seems that sometimes Ruby likes those things too! Good luck to her as she continues her training, I'm always really impressed by service dogs, especially after getting my own dog and realizing how fun and hard it can be.

Coffee Please!?! said...

very cool! we can only use the kongs themselves - sans rope - our silly dogs tend to eat the rope! :-) great, great post!

Whidbey Woman said...

Vey nice post. Here's a link for you and your followers. PBS is showing a documentary on service dogs Wednesday April 21st. It is called Through a Dog's Eyes. If the link doesn't work, do a search for it on You Tube. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DB0QM_bLd1I

Toby- The dog with a blog said...

That looks like a lot of fun, what a great experience!
Good job Ruby!

AVCr8teur said...

Ruby sure goes to lots of fun places! And, thanks for taking us humans along too. :)

Fybromyalgia and other fun things said...

What an interesting visit, thanks for sharing it with us, since it is not opened to public, I could just visualize myself coming in for a tour with my Golden AND my crazy Black Lab, boy oh boy.

Shannon said...

I LOVE Kong toys. It was amazing to see the factory and to know they are all inspected by hand! Just another reason to raise Kong puppies! And I admire what you are doing with Ruby, What a fantastic opportunity!

Susie Sovereign said...

Kong products are awesome. They are hard to destroy, unlike tennis balls. Thus the reason they are expensive, you'll only ever need to purchase one.