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6 Creative Life Hacks for Living With Dogs

Slow feeders, enzymatic cleaners, and anxiety shirts aren't cheap -- here's how to make your own!

Marybeth Bittel  |  Feb 5th 2016


Spouses can mirror one another in many different ways. My husband and I, for example, both inherited a fairly frugal, non-fancy nature from our respective families. When in a spontaneous-purchase situation, we employ a disciplined wait-and-see strategy. Specifically, we force ourselves to name three reasons why we really, really need this thing. Then we make ourselves wait until the emotional impulse wears off (OK, way easier said than done), and consider the logic of our responses.

In most cases, this tactic has helped us resist purchasing many nifty-though-not-necessarily-necessary items. It’s also translated into life hacks that allow us to achieve measurable results with our furry family members minus the huge time investments and hefty price tags. When it comes to our canines, we like to put available resources toward whole, healthy nutrition and dietary options proven to support wellness. After all, glossy product packaging and bright, dazzling colors don’t really impress our pups.

With that in mind, here are some of our “habitat hacks.” Maybe they’ll help you save time and money, too.

1. Challenge: Food bolting

Muffin-Tin

Whether you prefer to feed wet or dry food, a muffin tin can help ravenous pups curb their food-bolting tendencies. (Photo by Marybeth Bittel)

In recent years, we’ve seen an increasing range of innovative food bowls for this — one of which kinda looks like a plastic patch of Astroturf. The idea is to create an in-bowl obstacle that makes your pup work harder for each individual morsel of food. We’ve achieved similar success putting kibble in a humble angel-food cake pan. Once, when that pan was in the dishwasher, I used a regular-sized muffin tin with good results. And if you’re really just not that into baking, grab one or two standard tennis balls and place them in your pup’s food bowl. They’re the perfect size to “interrupt” the inhalation cycle … yet too large to swallow.

2. Challenge: Paw protection

Confession: I’m not a big fan of dog booties. They prevent full-paw contact with the ground, which is why most pups begin to walk like the Tin Man having a conniption fit. However, I certainly agree that when the weather gets frigid, many dogs need an extra layer of protection. My own pup Maizy won’t even set foot outside the house when it feels cold and blustery, and I can’t say that I blame her. But boots? She invests every ounce of energy toward trying to shake them off. The same often holds true for bandages that help protect paw injuries.

How do you help these items stay on securely in the snow and slush? Believe it or not, my vet suggested cling wrap … and yeah, okay, I gave it a try. Turns out, you can wrap gauze, bulky bandages, or even high-fashion booties with a layer of this kitchen supply. The plastic sticks directly to itself, so it won’t hurt your pooch. And it seals out freezing sleet and moisture long enough for a quick potty run in the winter.

3. Challenge: Carpet cleaning

Man cleaning carpet by Shutterstock.

Gentle detergents often contain the same basic enzymes as more expensive pet products. Read the labels, then simply dilute to create your own … ahem, solution. (Man cleaning carpet by Shutterstock)

When you’re a pet owner, accidents happen. With Grant — bless his little rescued heart — some of those “accidents” seem suspiciously deliberate. Over time, we’ve learned that his occasional “act-out” mechanism of choice is peeing in stubborn defiance (POW … take that, humans who would rather watch the Oscars than play fetch with me).

Rather than spend a fortune on enzyme products for animal stains, I’ve found that diluting a gentle laundry detergent in water works just as well. You get the same enzyme action, for just pennies per piddle.

Another good way to eliminate any lingering eau de toilette aroma on carpet is by mixing 4 ounces of peroxide, about a teaspoon of dish soap, and a tablespoon of baking soda. Spritz this on the stain until saturated. Then place a clean towel over the top, and a heavy barbell or disc-weight over the top of that. Over a few hours, the fibers in the towel wick up the offending imperfection and any discoloration.

4. Challenge: Anxiety

Thundershirts have become a popular anxiety remedy for pups, and for good reason: They’re handy, quick to apply, and relatively inexpensive. But remember, they exist because some merchandising wizard was smart enough to capitalize on the age-old practice of dog swaddling. This gentle wrapping technique is similar to swaddling an infant and leverages a natural soothing technique called “maintained pressure.” Animal science professor and autism activist Dr. Temple Grandin discovered that this pressure can break the cycle of agitated breathing (or panting, in the case of your dog), thereby leading to a natural, drug-free quieting response.

Patient pet parents can use an Ace bandage to create a calming wrap. Select a wider bandage for large dogs, and a skinnier bandage for small dogs. Simply place the middle of this elasticized bandage across your dog’s chest. Bring both ends up, cross them over the upper back, and bring them over the top of the shoulder blades. Next, cross the loose ends of the bandage under the abdomen. Finally, bring the loose ends back up over the top of the lower back, and tie/tape them in place. You’re going for a helix or figure-eight type of pattern. The wrap should remain snug, but never tight — so carefully check it every so often. Granted, it’s not as stylish as a retail garment … but it can definitely get the job done, and for pennies.

5. Challenge: Cord chewing

RollWithIt

Just roll with it: Any type of hollow cardboard tube can serve as the basis for an effective, inexpensive cord-chewing deterrent. (Photo by Marybeth Bittel)

When your family finishes a roll of toilet paper, paper towels, or gift wrap, save those cardboard tubes! Why? Because duct tape is now available to match your cords, couch, mood, manicure, or general décor. Pick your favorite color, then carefully tape the empty tubes around the exposed cord area. Here’s another option: Cut the toes off colored cotton socks, gently mist them with vinegar or bitter apple spray, and scrunch them end-to-end over the cord segment in question. If you pick a complementary color, this actually looks more decoratively European than you might think.

6. Challenge: Fur and fluff

I once fostered a sweet and beautiful Chow mix with such pronounced shedding that she’d leave nearly life-sized replicas of herself all over the house. If you can relate, take heart — because regular rubber dish gloves can remove fur residue from most surfaces faster than you can say “wow.” In a pinch, I once used a rubberized shower squeegee with similar success. And don’t forget, draping a simple blanket, beach towel, fabric remnant, or pillowcase across pet beds and other favorite nap areas can be a time saver. Just throw these articles in the laundry when washing your own towels and bedding.

(Rubber gloves by Shutterstock)

The rubberized surface of your regular household dish gloves can help consolidate and sweep away most pet fur residue. (Rubber gloves by Shutterstock)

Do you have effective, cost-saving strategies that help you and your pup lead a more productive life? Share your helpful suggestions below! I, for one, can practically guarantee I’ll try them out!

Read more by Marybeth Bittel:

About the author: Marybeth Bittel is a freelance writer who lives in the Midwest with her wonderful husband, her crazy rescue dog Grant, and her level-headed rescue dog Maizy – all of them Heinz 57 mixed breed types. Marybeth identifies as mostly Italian, so she enjoys feeding family, friends and furkids almost as much as Grant and Maizy enjoy eating. She’s also a marketing communications consultant and former marketing/PR exec. Connect with her on LinkedIn or — to see her latest pet pics (and be careful what you wish for here) — check out her family Instagram feed.