By The Farmer's Dog | March 30, 2017

This post was contributed by Melissa McCue-McGrath, CPDT-KA. Melissa is a dog trainer in Boston, Massachusetts and has a special interest in dogs living in urban environments with their owners. She is the author of Considerations for the City Dog which is available on Kindle and on Amazon.

A dog’s gotta play, but toys can be expensive. Good news: it’s possible to make fun, engaging toys for your dog with odds and ends from around the house, or from local hardware and crafting stores. Read on for tips on DIY toys for your dog.

Flirt Pole
My favorite toy for playing with dogs in urban environments has the most unfortunate name in the world. I suggest doing a Google search for “flirt pole dog,” or else you’ll find yourself in the wrong corner of the Internet. Essentially, a flirt pole is a giant, glorified cat toy, but for dogs. It’s a tool used to encourage chasing, tugging, and pulling, and I use it as a means to exercise impulse control. The great benefit is this toy works with whatever size space you have available. It’s my favorite way to get a high-drive dog some aerobic activity without personally needing to get in shape for distance running.

What you need:

  • 4-6’ PVC pipe, ¾” diameter. These are measurements for a 45-65 pound dog. If you need to go bigger or smaller, adjust accordingly.
  • 10-15’ sturdy rope
  • Dog toy (I like to use the de-stuffed toys my dog has in his toy box, but you can splurge on something new if you prefer!)

Think of this toy in terms of a fishing pole. There is the end that is held, and the end that gets the fish. First, thread the rope through the PVC pipe. Tie a large enough knot at the casting end of the PVC pipe so the rope won’t get pulled out of the pipe when Sparky tugs. Next, tie a similarly large knot in the rope at the other end of the pipe so the rope doesn’t slide in and out of the PVC. Finally, secure a stuffed toy or rope to the business end of the rope. Your dog will grab, tug, shake, and chase this secured toy. For bonus points, you can use electrical tape to decorate or add extra grip.

A training note: Please don’t use this on slippery surfaces! Enjoy these toys on dry, grassy areas or rugs only.

Buy It ($17 – $30): Squishy Face StudioOutward Hound

Snuffle Mat
A snuffle mat is a fantastic option for a dog who likes to dig or sniff. This criterion basically qualifies every single dog on the planet.

What you need:

  • An anti-fatigue mat OR a doormat with holes. I found that inexpensive sink mats with holes work fine, too.
  • Approximately 1.5 yards of fleece cut up into strips (the tutorial below says 119 strips)

Starting at the top left corner, lace the strips of fleece through two adjacent holes on the top row so there is a “U” of fleece. Flip the mat over and tie the “U” together with a single knot. Flip the mat back over and lace the next piece of fleece through the second hole and the third hole. The second hole should now have two strips of fleece. Flip the mat over, tie a single knot. Repeat. (It might be less tiring to lace the fleece first, then flip the mat over and tie the fleece. It is anti-fatigue matting, and this seems pretty fatiguing).

Once you start the next row, lace a strip of fleece from the top corner (the very first hole you laced) to the first hole on the second row. Then, it’s a series of diagonals. Lace the second hole on the first row down to the first hole on the second row. Then, lace the third hole on the first row down to the second hole on the second row.

Confused? I’ll just let Lindsay Kinney show you.


Buy it ($25-$45): Snuffle MatsAmazon

Spin the Bottle
This is a doggy version of spin-the-bottle, with a slightly different outcome than when we were teenagers.

What you need:

  • A plastic bottle
  • Sturdy String
  • Treats

Cut two small holes on opposite sides of the bottle about a third of the way down from the bottle opening. Pass the string through these holes. Tie one end of the string to a secure surface. Tie the other end of the string to another secure surface. Make sure the bottle hangs about nose height to the dog or this game will not be very fun. Load the bottle with some treats!

Study up here:


Buy It ($10-$25): Tug-a-Jug from PetSafe It doesn’t tether, but is a bottle that dispenses food or treats.

Recycling-the-Boxes Game
Have you recently purchased shoes or ordered something online in the last month? Is the box still kicking around? This is literally the easiest toy you can make.

  • Stuff a KONG toy, freeze it, and put it in a shoe box. Hide the box and have your pup find his toy and open his “present.”
  • If you are particularly ambitious, you can put the frozen, stuffed KONG in a shoebox and put the shoebox inside of another box.
  • Alternatively, you can poke holes in a box large enough for your dog’s treats, then tape up the box so your dog has to shake the box to get the food out.
  • You can put food in the box, and then hide the box. Let your dog out of his crate and say “go find!” Your mighty wolf is now hunting for his food.
  • If you wish to level up, you can follow the tutelage of the woman in the video below. She took this idea to an entirely new level.


Buy It ($1.00 – Infinity): Go on Amazon. Buy any of the toys listed. Save the box. Make this toy.