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.
Fair warning, if your dog is more of a shredder, 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.
And, if you’re not feeling particularly crafty, we’ve put together lists of our top picks for both dog chew toys and flying toys. The Himalayan Ruff Bone from the chew toy list has helped us divert some of our team’s pups from furniture and sticks while scoring a perfect 5 out of 5 leaves on our scale.
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 first be upcycled into a handy dog toy. Not only will your dog love the fact that these socks probably smell a bit like you, this toy can be made and remade time and again for hours of enjoyment.
To make the sock ball, I simply tied a half dozen or so socks together quite loosely, tucked in most of the ends to form a ball, and then pushed treats into the sock ball for my pup to snuffle out. Kali would roll the ball around and use her paws and snout to pull apart the tangle of socks to get the treats. Then, when she was done and the socks were liberally scattered around the living room, I’d gather up the socks and save them to make the ball again another day.
Cotton rope dog toys
For a cheap and easy homemade dog toy, try making a recycled cotton rope toy out of an old t-shirt, tea towel, pair of jeans, or similar item that you’d otherwise throw away. First, create a fabric ‘yarn’ by making cuts almost the length of the fabric going in opposite directions for each cut. Then 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.
Because cotton is a long fiber, it’s important to supervise your dog with any toy made with cotton. That’s because cotton fibers can, if swallowed, cause serious intestinal problems that could require surgery or prove fatal. Because fibers such as hemp and jute fray naturally into much shorter fibers, they don’t pose this problem, making them a great option for dog toys.
Fabric chew toys
Going back to that sock ball for a second, I should mention that if the socks got shredded at all, I’d reuse them as a filler in a stuffed toy that had lost some of its heft or make an entirely new chew toy for my pup.
You can also use other old worn out fabric to make your own chew toys, just be sure to remove any metal or plastic buttons and zips first. And, for maximum impact, consider reusing any squeakers or sound boxes from toys previously shredded. Always supervise your dog with these though, to make sure they don’t swallow the squeaker or other parts of the toy.
Another good homemade chew toy can be devised by stuffing a plastic bottle into a couple of old socks (this is essentially what many companies will sell to you for upwards of $20). Dogs love the crackly sound these 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.
Rotate toys and fix 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. While she’s generally pretty gentle with him, eight years of love has taken its toll; He’s had open heart surgery several times and has repeatedly had his stuffing topped up by stuffing lost from other shredded toys, but he still has a smile on his face and is her go-to 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.
As for the other toys Kali plays with, I’ve taken to switching these in and out of rotation on a monthly or bimonthly basis. That means I’ll 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. This way, I don’t need to continually buy new toys to keep her happy and 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.
Timeshares aren’t just for us 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, then switch toys back or loop in another friend to keep refreshing the inventory.
My other piece of advice would be to have a mix of toy types in rotation at any one time. By that I mean having one chew toy, one interactive play toy (such as a tug toy or flying disc), one soft toy, and, if your dog is so inclined, a fun food delivery toy. 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.