If you have dogs, you have probably noticed that most conventional dog toys are filled with that horrible white polyester stuffing and often a plastic squeaker. You may have also heard horror stories (or experienced them) about dogs eating those squeakers and needing some medical intervention. The polyester stuffing can also be irritating if eaten, which is more of an annoyance, but still… avoiding doggie stomach upsets is always preferable. I have two solutions to this problem:
1a. Make dog toys out of scrap materials in the house
You could sew something if you really wanted to, but let’s face it: dogs don’t know that their toys are a duck, an elephant, and a frog.
That is for the humans, and we do enjoy watching them fetch Duck, squeak Frog, or carry Pinky around. The dogs just know it’s a soft thing to chew on. My very most basic dog toy can be made in under a minute. Take your bag o’ used-up socks (what, don’t you save all your retired socks to use as cleaning rags, disposable cloths for painting, and dog toys?), choose a good one, and stuff a bunch of other socks into it. I used whole socks for the stuffing, and I can’t decide whether cutting them up into smallish pieces would be better or worse in terms of potential eatability. Tie the end in a knot and you’re done. They love it! You can also put in a squeaker, but I didn’t in this case because I wanted to give the dogs a toy they could have in their crates without worrying about whether they’d eat or choke on the squeaker.
I also made a simple toy out of a scrap of fleece fabric. I had made a fleece sheath for Max’s harness (more on that later). A couple of times, Sonny found Max’s harness and wanted to play with it. Harnesses should not be chewed, so I decided to give him a better alternative. I took an extra piece of fleece about 1.5’ long and several inches wide, rolled it lengthwise, and tied three knots in it. Sonny likes it.
Even dogs like to make their own toys out of household items! Fortunately, this pillow was on my list for replacement long before Sonny found it.
1b. Modify store-bought dog toys
I wait until a dog rips the toy open. They’re supervised enough with such toys that I can take away any ripped toys before they have a chance to eat the innards. Then I pull out all the polyester stuffing and the squeaker. This is a good time to throw the toy into the washing machine, because it’s probably been soaked in slobber several times over by now. Stuff with sock pieces (see above). Putting the squeaker back in is optional - if you leave it out the toy may not be as fun for your dog, but on the plus side it may last longer before getting torn open again and when it does there is less danger. Either way, sew it closed and return the clean toy to the mouth of a happy dog. Charlotte’s favorite toy was named Bear (did you notice our tendency to give dog toys the most uninspired of names) and I had to patch and sew that thing a couple dozen times.
Dog treats are crazy expensive! I buy kibble in a different flavor than the dogs eat for their meals and use it as treats for training. You’ll likely need higher value treats when you’re training outside the house or with distractions, but it works well for me when we’re working in the living room. I use Natural Balance original dry food. Economical high value treats are Natural Balance food rolls, cheese, or cook some meat (any of these will require extra work to cut up into morsels).
3. Random things
Both dogs wear Wonder Walker front-clip body halters, a local Seattle product that helps dogs walk nicely on leash instead of pulling. It worked almost like a miracle for Sonny. The first day we brought him home, he pulled so hard that it was very unpleasant to walk him, and cannot have been good for his poor neck. The next day I bought him a Wonder Walker. Within a couple days of training (stop and/or change directions the moment he pulls), he was walking very nicely. Last week I took him for a short 2 mile run around the neighborhood, and he stayed right next to me the whole time. It was like a dream. Max requires a lot more work. I’m trying to clicker train him to walk on a loose leash, and I really hope it will pay off. So far we are successful in the living room, the yard is our next goal, and the street seems like a pipe dream right now. We’ll get there. Matt is using a non-treat method to teach Max to heel by doing a lot of unpredictable turns in both directions. So far, Matt is doing a lot better than I am.
Anyway, I made this quick fleece cover for Max’s harness. I used an old fleece scarf I haven’t worn in a while. I threw it together in a hurry, and it is not pretty, but it serves its utilitarian purpose. Between his sensitive skin, his fur having been recently clipped short, and his rambunctious leash pulling on walks, we were concerned the harness was rubbing his skin too much. I cut fleece triangles and sewed their points together over the triangle rings in the harness. Around the straps, it was simple fleece rectangles, folded over and sewn to make tubes, but I left some gaps in the tubes so we can still access the rings to attach a leash or make sizing adjustments as needed.
They do make neoprene padding for the Wonder Walkers, but I 1) needed something right away, 2) didn’t want to pay for it (my solution was free since I used fabric I already had), and 3) think Max’s fur will grow out and then he won’t need the padding anymore. Here’s a shot of Sonny in his au naturale harness and Max in his fleece encased one.
For our late Belgian Shepherd, Charlotte, I made several random things (and please note these were all to serve a utilitarian purpose) including:
- a rain jacket/poncho type thing - she did not care if she got wet, but it was easier for us humans if her long fur didn’t get soaked on walks and then need extensive toweling off (we live in Seattle and we go for our daily walks rain or shine or any weather in which the postal service delivers)
- modified some of my old tank tops into shirts for Char when her fur got really thin due to Cushing’s disease (and it didn’t help when the vet had to shave her entire belly for an ultrasound… and it was winter… and she was sick)
- modified a couple of other old t-shirts into shorts-like-articles to keep her from licking her back when she had another skin problem - this was enough of a deterrent so she didn’t have to wear the dreaded cone collar [no photo]
Wonder Walker also sells coupling leashes, seat belt leashes for car safety, and long leashes for training. They’re not unreasonably priced, but since I have a sewing machine, I can make all of these for much cheaper without spending a lot of time. I’m planning to buy the nylon webbing and clips this weekend or next, and whenever I get around to making the leashes I’ll write about it.