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Fun Activities With Your Dog: DIY Edition

Splurging aside, as you well know, there is a lot that your dog loves that doesn’t cost much. Dogs can be satisfied with some simple, inexpensive pleasures – and your undivided attention!

Here are some of my favorite DIY ways to keep a dog entertained and give them some variety. See the splurge edition here.

Of course, you’ll want to make sure these activities are appropriate, safe, and fun for your individual dog based upon their needs and preferences. And, if in doubt, always supervise!

If you are looking for more fun DIY dog activities check out:

Lily and Tish would love to hear about your favorite activities! Leave them in the comments!


Ditch the bowl: One of the best things I learned in rescue work was to ditch the bowl. Making life too easy for dogs is a good way to make life too boring. Dogs love to forage and giving them opportunities to work for their food can keep them busy and provide them some mental stimulation (think of it as enjoying breakfast with a crossword or a sudoku). The scientific term for the desire to work for the things you love is contrafreeloading and studies show that dogs are willing to work instead of just getting everything handed to them (boring!).

While puzzle feeders, slow feeders, and treat dispensing toys are the splurge way to go about this, there are great DIY options here. They can be a little messy, but dogs are good at the clean up!

You can feed meals in a paper lunch sack, in a grocery bag, or do a kibble scatter on the lawn (safety check that there are no pesticides or mushrooms in the grass).

Toilet paper and paper towel rolls: One of my favorite DIY toys is the humble toilet paper roll or paper towel roll. Place a treat or kibble inside, fold the ends, and toss to the dog to tear apart and get the treat. You can also cut some holes in the sides to make a quick treat-dispensing toy. The paper itself is pretty safe if your dog is the kind to eat paper (though you might want to limit or cease this game if your dog eats the rolls!).

a dog's eye and nose peeking through a cutout in a cardboard box

DIY bark box: Getting your dog a BarkBox is a subscription level splurge! A bark box is a DIY version. Take any shipping cardboard box that has arrived. Remove any tape or packing tape. Cut nose-sized holes in the side. Take 4-7 small treats (use quantities and sizes appropriate for your dog’s size and dietary needs) and hide them inside toilet paper rolls and/or wrap them in packing paper. Hide them in layers in the box then sprinkle some treat crumbs or kibble over the top. Dab a little peanut butter or wet food on the top and outside of the holes. Let the dog sniff and snuffle and paw their way in to find the treats. The first time you offer this toy you may want to make it easy by leaving the box open and doing just a couple of layers. As your dog starts to figure out the game, you can make the boxes more complicated and close the lid.

DIY bark bag: This is the same concept as the bark box, but even easier to make as

A small dog sitting beside a grocery bag filled with dog treats wrapped in paper. A DIY fun game for dogs.

there are no worries about packing tape. Use a paper grocery bag. Remove any handles. Take 4-7 small treats (use quantities and sizes appropriate for your dog’s size and dietary needs) and hide them inside toilet paper rolls and/or wrap them in packing paper. Hide them in layers in the box then sprinkle some treat crumbs or kibble over the top. Let your dog dig for the goods. Again the paper is safe for your dog to tear into.


Let them sniff! This is one of the best things you can do for dogs. Instead of your usual walk, take your dog on a sniff walks or sniffari (I love this term which I first came across in Zazie Todd’s Wag: The Science of Making Your Dog Happy). Make at least some of your walks sniff walks where you let the dog lead the way with their nose. Take a shorter mosey planning for lots of pauses. In my neighborhood, there is a lot of accidental “street food” lying around for dogs (dropped by crows and humans) so I did teach my dogs a “leave it". Even so, they sometimes snatch something random. Fair warning!

Scent games, another use for those paper towel rolls: Dilute one drop of vanilla in water and dot it on a paper towel, fold it up and place it inside a paper towel roll or toilet paper roll, give it to your dog to sniff or hide it in the yard or house for them to discover. Other dog safe scents include catnip, chamomile, oregano, rosemary, and ginger. Always heavily dilute essential oils or dried herbs or spices in water. Small spray bottles can work well for this. Be aware that some essential oils are toxic for dogs so use caution here. Fresh herbs can be fun to plant in pots or in the garden to make their yard time more interesting, too.


Dog music and TV. When you are gone, leave the radio or television on for your dog on a low volume. Studies show dogs prefer talk radio or classical music or you can search for “calming music for dogs”. Try Sama Dog's peaceful music or DogTV and music from Relax My Dog.


Give them some dietary variety: See what fruits and vegetables they might like. Here’s a list of fruits and vegetables you can offer your dog in very small quantities (for most remove seeds, peels, and pits). Unlike some human foods, these are good for your dog! Do a taste test with your dog and see what they like. Then you can incorporate them into your bark boxes and treat bags: apples – remove core and seeds, bananas, blueberries, cantaloupe, cranberries, cucumbers, mango, oranges (no seeds or peels) peaches (no pits), pears (remove pit and seeds), pineapple, pumpkin, raspberries, strawberries, watermelon (remove rind and seeds), broccoli, brussels sprouts, carrots, celery, green beans, and peas. The AKC has a nice list of which fruits and veggies are dog safe and which are not.

Pup-cute-rie board: Use a lick mat or plate to make your pup a pupcuterie board. Load it with little bits of a variety of dog-safe foods and see what they choose to eat first!

Frozen summer treats: Since summer is coming! Here are some fun frozen treats. 

Peanut butter Frisbees. This is a classic shelter dog activity, but the lucky dog in your home might love it too. Smear a little peanut butter, less than a teaspoon, (make sure it does not contain any artificial sweetener, xylitol is unsafe for dogs!) on a Frisbee. Freeze. Clip to a fence with a ziptie and carabiner.

Pupsicles! Add water to your dog’s wet food and/or mix in a teaspoon or so of 100% pure pumpkin (no spice) or unsweetened applesauce (no sugar or artificial sweetener). Freeze in ice cube trays or Dixie Cups and you’ve just made your dog’s day.

Frozen apple or banana slices: If your dog likes apples or banana, frozen fruit slices with a little wet food spread on them can be a nice treat. Use a size appropriate for your dog. Supervise.

Large frozen carrots or carrot chunks: Soak a large carrot or bite-sized carrot chunks overnight in a low salt unseasoned broth. Freeze. Offer to your dog as a treat (use a size appropriate for your dog). Supervise this chew. Don't use baby carrots as they can be a choking hazard. Alternately, you can also freeze carrot chunks.

Homemade puppuccinos: With some Dixie Cups and a can of coco-whip, you can skip the drive through and still show your dog that car rides are the best! This is a great training treat, too, to teach your dog that new destinations are fun. When it's not vet day for example, drive your dog to the vet office, park, give your dog a puppuccino. Drive home!


Your undivided attention: Of course, this may be what your dog loves best.

"I love that!" training game session: If your dog has already practiced a few things like

A happy open-mouthed large breed dog sitting on a green mat in the sun.

“sit,” “shake” and “down” with you, do a little refresher training session. Count out 30 small soft, treats (pinky-nail sized) or pieces of kibble may work if your dog is super food motivated. Put down a mat or towel. Say “Let’s go!” Lure the dog to the mat. Ask the dog to show you their skills on the mat. Ask for each “trick” five times. If the dog sits glued to the mat say, "find it!" and toss a treat off the mat to reset them. Reward them when they return to the mat. When finished say, “All done.” and remove the mat. 

"I love that!" throughout the day: Here's an alternate game if your dog hasn't practiced a lot of skills or if you'd like to spread the game out. At the beginning of the day, count out 30 small soft, treats (pinky-nail sized) or pieces of kibble may work if your dog is super food motivated. Say, “Yes!” whenever the dog is doing something you like. Capture a cute behavior like offering a paw, playbow, or rolling over for belly rubs. Or reward something as simple as lying quietly in a place you'd like your dog to be or looking at you sweetly with soft eyes. Mark the behavior by saying, “Yes!” and reward with a treat.

Dog meditation or doting. Turn off the tv, shut your computer, put away your phone, and just sit quietly loving your dog for 10 minutes. This is Tish's favorite activity! Or, if you like, you can read aloud to your dog. They will love to have your undivided attention. It’s time well spent! If you like, Sama Dog offers some free guided meditations for you and your dog on YouTube.

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