How to Make Your Own Dog Toys Out of Recycled Household Items

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Written by Leigh Matthews, BA Hons, H.Dip. NT

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Leigh Matthews, BA Hons, H.Dip. NT

Sustainability Expert

Leigh Matthews is a sustainability expert and long time vegan. Her work on solar policy has been published in Canada's National Observer.

Updated:

For years, one of the most favored dog toys in our house was a simple sock ‘ball’ that I made to dispense treats. It wasn’t glamorous, but it got the job done and was sustainable, reusable, and completely free. So, if you’re struggling to find an eco-friendly, non-toxic dog toy, you might want to take a break from scrolling through product listings and pulling out your hair and instead imagine the possibilities for making homemade dog toys your pup will love.

Table of Contents
  1. #1. Sock treat ball
  2. #2. Rope dog toys
  3. #3. Fabric chew toys
  4. #4 Crackle toys
  5. Fix toys as needed
  6. Rotate toys
  7. Toy share with dog friends

A note for power chewers

If your dog is a power chewer, you probably don’t want to try making too many toys using household fabrics as they might end up swallowing threads that could cause intestinal obstruction and other problems.

As with store-bought toys, always supervise your pup carefully when they play with new homemade toys, until you get a sense of how they interact with the toy. And check toys regularly to make sure they’re in good condition.

If you’re not feeling particularly crafty, check out our top picks for both dog chew toys and flying toys.

#1. Sock treat ball

If you’re on a tight budget but have a dog who desperately needs a treat dispenser, check your sock drawer.

Old, worn out socks destined for the fabric recycling bin can easily turn into a handy dog toy. You and your dog will love the fact that:

  • These socks probably smell a bit like you
  • You can make and remake this toy again and again for hours of enjoyment
  • It’s free (aside from the cost of treats)!
  • It saves socks from going into landfill
  • It’s machine washable!

To make the sock ball:

  1. Ties six or so socks together quite loosely
  2. Tuck in most of the ends to form a ball
  3. Push treats into the sock ball.

Kali likes to roll the ball around and use her paws and snout to pull apart the tangle of socks to get the treats. Then, when she’s done and the socks are liberally scattered around the living room, I gather them up and save them for another day.

#2. Rope dog toys

For a cheap and easy homemade dog toy, use an old t-shirt, tea towel, pair of jeans, or similar fabric item otherwise destined for landfill or recycling.

  1. Create a fabric ‘yarn’ by making cuts almost the length of the fabric going in opposite directions for each cut
  2. Plait or weave the yarn to make rope toys for your pup.

This creative blogger offers some excellent ideas here on how to make your own dog toys from old t-shirts.

Cotton is a long fiber, so it’s important to supervise your dog with any cotton toys. That’s because cotton fibers can, if swallowed, cause serious intestinal problems that could require surgery or prove fatal.

Hemp and jute fray naturally into much shorter fibers, so they’re a great choice for upcycling into dog toys.

#3. Fabric chew toys

Going back to that sock ball for a second, once Kali shreds the socks, I reuse them as stuffing for any toys that have lost fill or to make entirely new toys. Just remember to wash the sock shreds first in a delicates bag.

You can also use other old worn out fabric to make your own chew toys.

  • Remove metal or plastic buttons and zips first
  • Reuse squeakers or sound boxes from toys previously shredded.

Always supervise your dog with squeaker toys, to make sure they don’t swallow anything they shouldn’t.

#4 Crackle toys

You can easily make another dog chew toy with just a pair of socks and a plastic bottle.

  1. Stuff a 500 mL plastic bottle into a couple of old socks
  2. Tie up the ends of the socks or stitch shut.

Dog toy companies make their own versions of this kind of toy and sell them for upwards of $20. Cut out the middleman and make them at home. This saves you money and saves resources and energy too.

Dogs love the crackly sound these toys make when they chomp on them, and you can just recycle the bottle and the socks once your pup loses interest or the bottle gets thoroughly crushed.

As always, supervise your dog when playing with this toy, and remove the toy if your pup starts shredding the plastic.

Fix toys as needed

Most dogs enjoy a combination of novelty and familiarity, meaning that it’s good to keep most of their toys in rotation while having one or two toys constantly available.

For Kali, her stuffed bear (creatively named Mr. Bear) has been her constant companion since I adopted her from the shelter nearly 14 years ago. While she’s generally pretty gentle with him, all those years of love have taken their toll.

Mr. Bear has had open heart surgery several times and I’ve had to top up his stuffing with leftovers from other shredded toys many times. Despite his ordeals, he still has a smile on his face and is her go-to toy to welcome visitors to our home. 

Every so often, usually when a seam has come loose, Mr. Bear goes onto the ‘hospital shelf’ until I can find the time to stitch him back up and give him a bath. Otherwise, Mr. Bear is always present.

Why am I telling you this?

Because the most sustainable dog toy is typically one you already have, that you can fix if and when it starts to fray. And because you know the toy will likely get shredded again, you definitely don’t need to be a professional sewer to stitch up a busted stuffy.

Rotate toys

One of the best ways to extend the life of toys is to have several in rotation.

I typically switch Kali’s toys in and out of rotation on a monthly or bimonthly basis. I’ll usually take three or four toys to the beach every day, so Kali has a choice and remains engaged. I hide the other toys away and bring them out again once she starts to lose interest in those currently in rotation.

The advantages of this system include:

  • No need to continually buy new toys to keep her happy
  • I can fix toys at my leisure
  • She doesn’t usually get a chance to destroy any of the toys.

Working this system, I’ve managed to whittle our collection down to just six or so toys, with others donated to the local shelter or new dog friends.

Speaking of which…

Toy share with dog friends

Lending libraries aren’t just for humans. Dogs can also learn to live with less by embracing a sharing economy. One great way to do this is to have an ongoing toy exchange with a friend who has a dog with similar toy obsessions. 

It’s a well-known fact that the toy your dog will love most is the one that belongs to another dog. So, instead of letting your dog be a ball thief in the park, broker a deal to keep dogs and their humans happy without fussing or fighting.

  1. Have a mix of toy types in rotation
  2. Switch toys back or loop in another friend to keep refreshing the inventory.

I talk more about how to choose a safe chew toy for dogs here and discuss some of the big brand names who might not quite live up to their hype here.

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