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DIY FREE or Almost Free Dog Toys

It’s time for a fun post. I need a break from so much talk about dog illnesses, conditions and other health issues. Sometimes the sadness and pain just gets to be too much for me, it makes my heart and my brain hurt and I need to take a little detour. I also promised a special friend (Hi Kelley!) to send her my instructions for making some of our dog’s favorite toys. Then I thought “Why not share this with our readers, too?” So, let’s have some fun making some free or darn close to free toys for our furkids!

What Kind of Dog is Yours?

Some dogs are gentle; they cherish their toys, carry them around and keep them close at all times (hopefully not due to resource guarding!). Year after year all you have to do is toss them in the sink, dishwasher or clothes washer every now and then. Other dogs are on a search and destroy mission — the faster they can bust the squeaker out of a toy or rip it to shreds the happier they are.

Riley and Gracie fall into the latter category but our Nissa isn’t much interested in the common every day dog toys like balls or rope toys for example. She’s a spectator dog when it comes to dog toys unless it’s a puzzle toy! She’s all over puzzle toys like a fly on fly paper. Both of the toys I’m about to tell you how to make are puzzle toy oriented and all our dogs love them but Nissa really loves them! It always makes me feel good to come up with something she’ll participate in and to see her get excited over a toy really tickles my heart! I feel so guilty when the other two are having fun with your everyday dog toys and she’s laying over in the corner or under my desk looking really bored or left out … totally not interested in joining in the games.

Quick – Easy – FREE Dog Toy Swaps

Whether you’re tired of spending money replacing broken toys or sick of seeing your dog carry around the same old toy day in and day out it’s a fact that swapping out toys to provide variety is good for our dogs. These toys are a great way to change out dog toys without having to spend money to do it. The free part comes in by saving and using common everyday things from around the house. Here are a couple of ways that I add fun and variety to our dog’s play time without breaking the bank.

The almost free part are the treats which you need to buy or you can make your own if you’d rather. You can use whatever treats you prefer but make them small as in no bigger than a pinky thumbnail. You don’t want your pooch getting sick or fat from eating too much doggie candy.

The Treats

We used to use Dick Van Patten’s Natural Balance dog food rolls but since they changed to their new formula there have been a lot of consumer complaints and many have stopped buying it. We tried the new stuff just to be sure and sadly, we’ve said good-bye to Natural Balance, I don’t plan to buy it again. It’s dry and crumbles badly, doesn’t even hold up well for hiding medicines in them which we have to do twice a day, so we stick with liver sausage for that. After doing some research we switched to Redbarn dog food rolls. A nice perk is that the Redbarn is less messy than the Natural Balance but the Redbarn chicken flavor kinda reminds me of cardboard. We don’t like the texture as much as the original Natural Balance rolls but our dogs aren’t complaining so at this point the plan is to continue to use the Redbarn. UPDATE — just tried the Redbarn beef — nice improvement over the chicken flavor!

I slice the rolls and cut the slices into thumbnail size pieces. You may want to go even smaller depending on your dog’s size. I use a meat cleaver so it takes me probably less than 20 minutes to cut up a 4 pound roll. We have a Food Saver so I vacuum pack and freeze a full roll and then just grab a pack of treats from the freezer door when we need them.

Before I get started just a reminder that these toys are geared for my own dogs whose sizes range from 63 pounds up to almost 80. You may find that depending on the dog, you may have to get creative to downsize these for the little tikes.

Egg Carton Treat Hide-Aways

I learned this one when Riley was in hydrotherapy for his hips, thanks Karen!

Start saving cardboard egg cartons, I don’t believe the Styrofoam cartons are as safe as cardboard cartons. Our dogs spit out the cardboard pieces but should they happen to swallow any I’d prefer it be cardboard rather than Styrofoam. They can pass cardboard without harm to themselves, but pretty sure Styrofoam might cause intestinal problems.

I drop one or two treats in a few of the divots of the egg carton and close up the carton. You can hand it to your dog or make them work a little bit with a game of Find-It, the egg carton treat hide-away being their reward. The dogs will destroy the egg cartons getting the treats but I can usually re-use them 2-3 times before they’re destroyed past the point of no return. This depends on how voracious or clever your dog is at getting at the treats.


On a sturdier more of a brain teaser note, you’ll need some large plastic coffee containers, I prefer the blue Maxwell House containers because at least currently there’s a nifty easy to grab handle molded into the side but any plastic coffee container should work. I also can’t stand the stench from Folgers coffee, LOL! You’ll also need some smaller plastic containers, what size and how many are up to you but the largest of them needs to fit inside the coffee container. Please refer to the pic at the top of the page taken right here in my own kitchen.

Remember the old nested doll toys for little girls? They go by many names such as babushkas, nested dolls, Matryoshka doll, Russian stacking dolls, Russian nesting dolls but I like Babushkas! So, put your brain in nesting gear and follow along.

The safest plastic containers to me are the ones that sour cream and flavored cream cheese are packaged in. I don’t use plastic deli type containers or any kind of plastic container that when popped by teeth would be sharp and cut a dog’s gums or get poked into or slice their eyes. Sour cream and flavored cream cheese containers are made from are a more” bendable” plastic that stands up pretty well to the power jaws at our house. I can re-use these containers probably six or so times before the dogs have killed them to the point of no return and I have to toss them in the recycle bin. I’d tell you to just look at the recycle numbers on the containers but I’ve found that’s not a reliable identification method. Be careful to not use containers that previously contained any chemicals or other toxic to dogs contents!

SAFETY NOTE! Please make sure to run all your containers through the dishwasher before you use them for the first time or at the very least wash and rinse exceptionally well as some products your containers held may be toxic to your dog. Caffeine of course is toxic to dogs but by running the coffee containers through the dishwasher the dogs will still smell the coffee but there will be no residual grounds for them to ingest.

Assembling Your Babushkas

Assembly only takes a couple of minutes but if your dogs are like ours you’ll find yourself assembling over and over and over again. Drop a couple of treats in the smallest container and snap the cover on. This treat you may want to make a higher value treat such as a small piece of boneless boiled chicken. Drop this container into another. Add a couple treats, snap the cover on and then drop the two nested containers into the coffee container and drop a few more treats into the coffee container itself. Depending on the size of your containers are you may be able to nest more than one or two inside the coffee container. Pop the cover on the coffee container and roll or slide it across the floor for your dog. I don’t recommend tossing it — the covers may pop off and all your assembly efforts will be wasted.

Until your dog gets the hang of popping the lids off the nested containers to find the hidden treats as they drill down into the containers, I suggest that you a) pop a couple of very small holes in the cover of each plastic container so they initially can smell the treats or b) start out with just one container and once they get the idea you can nest them later making it more challenging for them to get the treats. Once they get the hang of it you shouldn’t need to help them this way anymore.

If you’re really patient and dedicated you can probably teach your dogs to bring the empty cartons and containers back to you for refilling — I tried but found that I’m not that patient or ambitious!

Do you have any favorite free household toy ideas to share with us?


  1. John Riboni says:

    These are great ideas! We can try these for our German Shepherds. Thank You!


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