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Chewable Volkswagen

a cute puppy chewing on a red KONG chew-toy, inspired by a car-part.

Volkswagen bus bump becomes a dog chew-toy

Inspiration can come from anywhere... Sometimes a dog chewing on a car-part can spark a a new idea.

By Doug Stokes

Wed, Sep 29, 2021 02:55 PM PST

Disclaimer: Don't give your dog car-parts to chew. Obviously, not a good idea.

You know those innocuous tri-lump KONG things that Petsmart gets $8.95 (and up) for? Well, the story behind those indestructible chew-toys is car-related. Thanks to a chew-crazy canine tht had gotten hold of a bulbous rubber axle stop that had rolled away from the parts pile of mechanic (and later inventor and foudner of Kong) Joe Markham as he was working on a customer’s late 1960s Volkswagen Type 2 Bus.

exterior view of KONG founder Joe Markham's auto shop
KONG founder Joe Markham's auto shop

And what toys they are!  Available in a raft of sizes, the former car bump stops (not really, but they sure look like 'em) are classified as good for all ages of dogs and the perfect vessels for dispensing all manner of doggie treats (which, conveniently enough, are also available at you-know-where).

A Volkswagen rubber axle stop, like the one that inspired the KONG-toy's shape
The Volkswagen rubber axle stop that inspired the KONG toy’s shape.

And, before anyone out there gets a bright idea of making other real world items into best-selling pup-pleasers, we suggest that you take a quick reconnoiter(ing) trip over to your nearest big box pet emporium and note that they already have doggie-toy versions of every imaginable household item (from slippers to roast chickens) built out in "heavy duty materials" with VERY realistic color schemes.  Heavy duty materials, if you have a determined dog, will only appear "heavy duty" to the pet's owner and which is considered a sacred honor to destroy by the fuzzy guy or gal in the family (... and I don't mean cousin Lance).

The real lesson to be learned here is that pet owners are all very lucky that Joe Markham (from a "iffy" part of downtown Denver no less) was working on a VW Bus at the time of his spare parts/pet toy epiphany... Had he been working on, say a Rolls or a Bentley, his creation "The RRKNOB" might well have been fashioned from Swabian leather hides and cost BOTH arms and leg instead of the single forearm that the Mega-Pet Shops now ask for his Kong line of dog distracters.

Dash Stokes, the contributor Doug Stokes' dog.
Dash Stokes enjoying his KONG-ball.

Stokes freely admits that he and his wife have KONG toys for their dog "Dash" ... In their case squeaky tennis balls that emit a sound when squeezed or chomped down upon. He (Doug, not the dog) is not a tennis player (the dog doesn't play much tennis either), but often day-dreams about slipping one of these noisey tennis balls into a big tournament somewhere.

Press Release With Full Story From Volkswagen

If you are among the millions of American households who adopted a dog during the past 12 months, you’re likely familiar with the KONG toy, a hollow, rugged rubber cone that can be filled with treats. It seems like a perfect shape for chewing – but that wasn’t its first purpose.

In 1970, KONG inventor Joe Markham owned an auto repair shop in downtown Denver that was prone to burglary. “It wasn’t a great area at the time,” says company president K.D. Decker.

Frustrated, the 25-year-old auto mechanic turned to the police, requesting more patrols in the area, but his request was denied due to budget cuts. The officers at his local precinct recommended an alternative: Get a guard dog.

Coincidentally, Markham knew of a pup that needed a home and could be had for free. Fritz, a lovable German Shepard, had just flunked out of the police academy’s canine division for “excessive chewing.”

A dog lover, Markham jumped at the chance to rescue a fine animal that would also deliver a security system to his shop.

Markham never regretted his decision to adopt Fritz, but soon after adopting him discovered the scope of the dog’s chewing addiction. “Fritz would chew on anything he found, but he especially liked rocks,” says Decker. As a result, he was grinding away his teeth. Markham tried everything from animal bones to radiator hoses attempting to curb the dog’s behavior.

Nothing worked; Fritz tore everything up and went back to rocks.

“Joe turned to veterinarians and other dog behavior experts to try to take care of the problem,” says Decker. “He hit dead ends at every turn.”

Then one day, while working on a customer’s late 1960s Volkswagen Type 2 Bus, Markham heard Fritz going crazy. With the vehicle’s suspension in a state of disassembly, the chew-crazy canine had gotten hold of a bulbous rubber axle stop that had rolled away from the parts pile¹. And he wasn’t tearing it up.

The pliable yet tough nature of the rubber and its shape made the stop ideal for a dog like Fritz – strong enough to survive under his powerful bite, yet soft enough not to damage his teeth. It made Markham think: “This would be a good dog toy.”

Markham spent the next six years experimenting with the rubber composition, size, and shape of the toy. He even contacted Volkswagen to buy the parts in bulk but couldn’t reach the right person. So, he turned to rubber experts in Germany to finalize the right chemistry and composition. “He wanted to be associated with German build quality and engineering,” says Decker.

Markham settled on a design very similar to the axle stop. It had a rounder, closed top that made it bounce more like an animal trying to escape a predator. “Dogs love that,” says Decker.

Markham started selling the snowman-shaped KONG in 1976. It was an instant hit, and today millions of KONG toys have found homes with dogs around the world – thanks to one dog who just wouldn’t stop chewing on part of a Volkswagen.


¹Disclaimer: Vehicle parts and fluids can be toxic and hazardous to animals. Never allow parts or fluids to be ingested or used as a toy.

About The Author

Doug Stokes's profile picture

Doug Stokes

Doug has a long and wide-ranging history in the motoring business. He served five years as the Executive Director of the International Kart Federation, and was the PR guy for the Mickey Thompson's Off-Road Championship Gran Prix. He worked racing PR for both Honda and Suzuki and was a senior PR person on the first Los Angeles (Vintage) Grand Prix. He was also the first PR Manager for Perris Auto Speedway, and spent over 20 years as the VP of Communications at Irwindale Speedway. Stokes is the recipient of the American Autowriters and Broadcaster’s 2005 Chapman Award for Excellence in Public Relations and was honored in 2015 by the Motor Press Guild with their Dean Batchelor Lifetime Achievement Award. “… I’ve also been reviewing automobiles and books for over 20 years, and really enjoy my LA Car assignments.” he added.

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