Ah, dissection. A natural part of the prey sequence of carnivores, this instinctive urge seldom fails to get pet dogs into lots of trouble.
One of the best ways to deal with self-reinforcing, instinctive behaviors is to give dogs healthy alternative outlet, or to redirect the behavior to something acceptable. If you are tired of spending lots of money on toys that your dog shreds within minutes, you can start saving money by recycling basic household items into dog toys.
Before you begin, know that these toys should only be provided when you are able to supervise your dog and be sure that he is only consuming the treats inside rather than the items themselves – these toys are not safe to leave with a crated or unsupervised dog. Also, these games can get a bit messy, so if you don’t appreciate a messy house, consider allowing your dog to play in the garage, basement, yard, or some other area of your property that is easily cleaned and not a main living area.
This dog might be a great candidate for some of these games!
- Paper towel rolls
- Toilet paper rolls
- Empty, clean plastic bottles
- Old rags/fabric remnants
- Masking tape
- Empty cardboard boxes
- Lots of yummy treats (or your dog’s regular kibble)
Basically, any of the items listed above (boxes, cardboard tubes, empty soda bottles, etc.) are all free food dispensing toys that your dog can tear up. Torn up cardboard can be composted, and you can recycle plastic bottles even if the plastic is in many pieces!
Generally, it is easiest to start with the cardboard tubes or the plastic water bottle. If you know that your dog loves chewing on cardboard, start with the tube – if he prefers plastic, start with the bottle! To fill the tube, simply cover one end with masking tape, fill with kibble, tape the other end, and give it to your dog with plenty of encouragement that it is actually ok to dissect (many dogs, especially those who have been punished for dissecting in the past, may be hesitant). The soda bottle allows you more options – you may simply fill the soda bottle with kibble and leave the cap off, allowing your dog to bat it around and chew it until the food is released (this is fun because the dogs can see, smell, and hear the kibble rolling around), or if you want to get craftier, you can fill drill slightly-larger-than-kibble-sized holes around the bottle and screw the cap on.
Boxes and rags can add another level of complexity and challenge to the game. You may choose to wrap your food-filled cardboard tube or soda bottle in an old rag wrapped in many knots – as your dog gets more proficient, you can add additional knots and/or make your knots tighter. Boxes are especially fun because you can make them “nesting” toys – one small box filled with treats, taped and placed inside a bigger box with some treats, ad infinitum. The complexity levels and amount of time dissection will require for these toys will vary widely according to your imagination (stuffed frozen Kongs wrapped with knot-rags and hidden in nesting boxes, my goodness!) and to your dog’s drive and persistence when presented with a complicated task.
Always avoid making the task too complex for your dog so that he gives up in frustration.
Are your dogs dissectors? What do they love to shred? What creative ways have you found to redirect their natural urges to suitable enrichment activities? Have you created nesting boxes? Used other household items to create great dissection objects? I’m always looking for new ways to stimulate intelligent, active dogs who crave a good challenge!