Recently I cleaned out a closet and afterwards had a nice pile of gently worn clothes to donate. But I also had a pile of old t-shirts and items that were too worn out or stained to pass on. Then I remembered that I had an extra dog bed cover, so I fluffed the old t-shirts a bit and stuffed them into the dog bed cover, zipped it up, and voila, instant dog bed. Unlike most commercially made dog beds, this one is fully washable, not just the cover. And if you make one like this, it has your scent built right in, which may comfort some dogs who would otherwise worry in your absence. If you have some old t-shirts or clean rags and want to make a dog bed like this, you can get covers through many online catalogs, including Greener Pup, LLC.
Another thing that you can save for your dogs are people food containers (first, rinse well) to use as toys. Dogs thrive on novelty and love to explore new smells and textures, so it can be a big treat for them to get something unusual to play with like:
- Round lids (like from a buttery spread container) make good targets for training your dog to run away from the door when visitors enter. How-to: Teach him to nose touch the clean lid by holding it in your hand, then affix it somewhere away from the door at nose level. Stand near him and practice until he gets the hang of it (you may need to hold it in your hand first, then attach it to the wall or chair leg). When he is nose touching the lid with gusto on cue, increase your starting distance from it until he will charge over and bop it even if you are both standing near the door. Then add in the doorbell sound before you give your verbal cue, and your dog will hear the bell, then run to the target instead of leaping on your guests.
- It’s also great exercise to run back and forth to a target, so consider nailing a lid to a tree at nose-level, teach him to target that and call him back to you. When you call him back and reward, you are working on his come-when called cue as well.
- Orange juice cartons, rinsed, dried and with a few small holes cut in the sides, make great low-cost food dispensers. Throw away the plastic cap and fill the container with your dog’s kibble. Your dog can enjoy his meal by tossing, nudging, and biting at the container. He may even rip it to shreds, which is what dogs were built to do, so let him have at it as long as he doesn’t ingest any of the pieces of the carton.
- Plastic water bottles make great interactive toys. Fill one about a third full with water and put the cap back on, then put the whole bottle into a sock. Tie a tight knot in the sock and you’ve got a novel toy to keep a (up to 12-16 week old) puppy occupied. (Older dogs may puncture the bottle through the sock and then you’ll have a leaking toy, but you could use an empty bottle, several socks, and create a tug toy.) Freezing a plastic bottle of water can keep a puppy cool on very hot days, they like to lie right next to them.
- Pizza pizza! If you have a high-energy dog who enjoys problem solving, offer him the empty, closed box after you’ve ordered a pizza (take out the paper that is sometimes in the bottom). As long as your dog is not the type to eat what he shreds, this is a safe, fun way to tire him mentally and physically under your supervision. And when he’s finished, what remains of the box will fit in the trash much easier (most places don’t allow recycling of pizza boxes). Toss a handful of dog treats into the box before you close it so he can hear and smell the goodies inside. The short video clip shows an older puppy’s first time with a pizza box: first I surprise him with it for coming when called, then he tears around with it, rips it, and makes the goodies come out and eats them. When I decide not to add more treats, he turns the box into a fetch toy, and then finishes by ripping it up some more. He is tired by the end.) Providing this kind of outlet for your dog’s normal mental and physical energy needs will help prevent him from wreaking havoc with your patience and possessions.
Finally, you can make a terrific, low-cost tug toy from a pair of old jeans. Just cut the legs off and knot them every 8 inches or so. Or you can cut the legs into strips and braid the strips, with knots on each end, for a super tough, long-lasting toy. I found a pair of high-waisted jeans (I swear I haven’t worn them in years!) in that closet I cleaned out, and they are now destined to become tug toys.
If you are not a person who likes to make things (or clean out her closet!), not to worry. Green doggie items are now all the rage; you can find eco beds made from recycled soda bottles and leashes, head collars and toys all made from recycled materials. Some of the proceeds from sales of these products go toward helping homeless dogs, so consider having a green dog!