6 Ways to Exercise Your Dog When You’re Stuck Indoors

Note: This post is written by M.A. Kropp who enjoys working with her pitbull mix named Lambeau.

This post is about ways to exercise your dog when you’re stuck indoors due to the extreme heat or cold.

Sometimes it’s so hard to provide enough exercise for your dog. This is especially true if you have a high-energy dog like my pitbull mix.

I try to walk him at least a mile every day, if not more. And we usually get time in the afternoon for a good play session out in the yard.

There’s a really nice park not far from here with lots of walking trails, both paved and through wooded areas. They also have a dog park that is very popular.

Lambeau gets all the exercise he needs when we can take advantage of all of that. But, there are times when we can’t. Hot weather, heavy rain, storms, bitter cold, early sunsets – all those can make it difficult to give him the opportunity to burn off energy.

What to do when the weather just won’t cooperate with your dog’s need to expend some energy?

The following are a few things I have used when we are stuck indoors. Maybe some of these will help you and your dog deal with those days.

6 Ways to Exercise Your Dog When You’re Stuck Indoors

How to exercise your dog indoors

1. Food puzzles for dogs.

These can be valuable any time of the year, but they are especially helpful when you need to give your dog an activity that will keep him busy and engaged.

There are many types of food puzzles available. Just make sure you tailor the toy’s difficulty to your dog. A complex puzzle with doors and compartments might be too much for a puppy, while an older dog – with a little help at first – will figure it out more quickly.

Dog puzzle toy

Any dog can have fun with a treat ball that dispenses pieces of kibble as it rolls and bounces across the floor. Using these for one or more meals can not only work off some energy but also teach him that food and treats are earned.

2. Training your dog.

I think we all have those things we want to teach our dogs but can’t seem to fit the time in. Days when the weather keeps you stuck inside are perfect for working on those lessons.

Does he need some work on his sit or down/stay? Get some great treats – small pieces of cheese, hot dogs, or cooked chicken work great for most dogs – and your clicker, and take a few minutes to work on those behaviors.

The bonus is that once your dog has the behavior learned, it’s easier to work a few repetitions into a regular walk or playtime, since he knows already what to do and you are just reinforcing. You can also use this idea to teach your dog, young or old, new tricks.

We have a three-step stool in the kitchen. I set that up on a rubber mat so it doesn’t slide easily. So far, Lambeau has learned to go “through” the legs, “around” the whole thing and to put his paws up on the steps to get treats. We are now working on a “belly crawl” through the legs.

3. Doggy nosework.

This is fun for most dogs, and scent hounds will excel at this one.

Get a few small, light boxes (cardboard egg cartons cut in half work well). Scatter them around the room, and get a friend to hide a yummy treat in one.

You can hide it yourself if you are alone, but try to move the empty boxes around and block your dog’s view so he doesn’t see which one you put the treat in. Then, let him loose to find the treat.

As he gets better at sniffing out his prize, you can find more difficult places to hide it. Under a pillow, behind a chair, on the arm or back of the sofa, as long as he can get to it without wrecking the room.

A variation of this is a take on the old carnival cup game. I take three red plastic drink cups, cut or punch a few small holes along the rims, and put them on the floor in front of Lambeau (he’s in a sit/stay).

I put a treat under one, and shuffle them around a few times. Then I ask him “Which one?” He should be able to smell the treat through the hole and either paw at or push the cup.

I lift the one he chose, and if it’s right, he gets a treat. Usually, a few repetitions of this is all it takes to get the idea.

Also see our post: Exercise ideas for hyper dogs

How to exercise your dog when you're stuck indoors - dog exercise ideas #dogtraining #labradors #chocolatelabs #labradors

4. Chew toys.

Rubber bones, stuffed Kongs, dental chews and other toys meant for gnawing on can provide an outlet, also.

I stuff Kongs with a mixture of peanut butter, yogurt and kibble and freeze them. It takes a while to clean out all that frozen goodness and Lambeau is usually ready for a nice snooze when he’s done.

Again, tailor the difficulty to your dog. A fully stuffed and frozen Kong might be too difficult for a puppy, but unfrozen peanut butter lightly coating it should work better. And you can work up to fully stuffed and frozen as the dog gets more able to deal with it.

See our post: Best indestructible dog toys

Pitbull mix with Kong toy

5. Fetch.

This is one of Lambeau’s favorite games, inside or out. We have a fairly long hall, so I toss or roll a ball down the hall for him to chase and bring back.

If your dog is not a big chewer, you can use a soft, indoor ball. If he is prone to chewing, you can use the soft ball but you have to watch him carefully.

I use hard rubber because Lambeau destroys anything soft in no time! I just toss carefully so the ball rolls more than bounces off breakable items! This is also a good activity for teaching and reinforcing the “drop it” command.

6. Tug.

This is a great game for working off physical energy, and you don’t really need a lot of room for this one. But you do need to teach your dog to play politely. That Mutt recommends the Mammoth brand of rope toys.

With Lambeau, I put him in a sit/stay, and pick up the tug rope. I tell him “leave it” while I adjust my grip, maybe swing it a little, or hold it toward him just a bit. If he tries to get it, I tell him again “leave it!”

When he is nicely settled, I offer him one end and say “take it” and we are off for a good round of tug-o’-war. After a bit of play, I tell him “drop it” and tempt him with a favorite treat if he doesn’t respond right away. Then we start over from the sit/stay, and “leave it” part.

Tug of war with your dog

There are a few things to keep in mind with this game.

First, never let him mouth your hands or clothes or any part of you. He is only to tug on the toy. If he tries, drop the toy and stop playing immediately.

Lambeau will toss the rope himself a few times, but tug isn’t much fun when someone else isn’t tugging, so he will bring the toy and drop it at my feet. If he’s quiet at that point, I pick it up and we start from the beginning.

Second, while this game will burn off energy, some dogs do get overexcited by too much tug. I try to only play for a couple minutes at a time, and intersperse quieter activities between rounds of tug.

We can’t control the weather, but we can still make sure our furry companions get the mental and physical exercise they need, no matter what the weatherman says.

What indoor exercise tricks for dogs would you add to the list?

Related posts:

Do you play fight with your dog?

How to tire out your hyper dog

Winter running with dogs

27 thoughts on “6 Ways to Exercise Your Dog When You’re Stuck Indoors”

  1. I would like to find a way to have fun with all of our dogs while indoors. Hide and seek treats worked with three dogs, but it’s tougher with four dogs. Each dog is so different that I find that if I spend time with them individually or two at a time, we have fun 🙂

    1. I found this great game last winter. I take out small treats and start throwing one at a time from the top of the stairs all the way to the landing below, then back toward the top of the stairs again. An excited dog loves going up and down to retrieve, thereby getting stress relief and physical excercise. I gear it to my dog’s age and ability, making sure I don’t overwork an older dog. You don’t get much excercise doing it but you dog sure does!

      1. We do the same thing. Normally, we play that game outside, with Griffen on a long line, but when it’s raining, we run up and down the stairs. He’s up to 15 times!

  2. We never seem to have issues with being stuck inside. We go out in all weather every day. Some days are less exercise because of the bitter cold, but we enjoy just being lazy for a change on those days. Nose work is something we practice regularly anyway, tug a war is something Katie used to enjoy playing. They are good suggestions for anyone who is having problems with their dog being bored.

  3. Fetch-soccer. To play this game, you need:

    2-3 squeaky tennis balls

    Throw one squeaky ball for dog. As dog chases after ball, throw the second. Dog will have to carry one ball and dribble the other to keep possession of both.

    Object of the game for human: Tire out dog.

    Object of the game for dog: Maintain possession of all balls in play.

  4. I tend to stand at the top of the stairs and throw the ball down for my dogs. Running up and down a couple of times wears them out in no time! 🙂

    1. Stairs don’t work for Doxies . So we play more nose games ! I have one foxie who loves the treadmil .. so she exercises with me

  5. Great tips for rainy/muddy days! Missy & Buzz get stuffed KONGs or a bully stick to chew on, and we incorporate little training sessions such as sitting/staying while I ring the door bell, rolling over, speaking on command…there’s really no limit to the training possibilities.

    Oh, I also like to play “Find Mommy” or “Find The Toy” with the pups – I’ll put them both in a sit or down-stay, and will either go hide myself or a toy somewhere around the house. Favorite locations are the bathtub (both pups will hop right in!) and closets 😉 Excellent physical & mental energy burner.

  6. Pingback: How to Stop A Dog’s Barking | Make The Reality

  7. This is a most helpful post. I have four dogs and we do a lot of nose work as well as training. I like doing the training because I can get all four dogs to walk easy on the leads at the same time. In the house the have to stay calm no rough housing. So it makes the training easier. We use plastic icing containers for nose work and they are placed all over the house. Then to teach them to stay while only one dog searches for the treats. They have to take turns. This is quite a challenge for them.

  8. We invented a game I call Fetch and Find. I throw a squeaky ball into the other room, and Griffen scoots madly after it. But if I don’t make him drop it, he’ll take it away and chew it up. So much for fetch. So at that point, I tell him “drop it”. When he does, I throw a piece of kibble back the other way and say “Find it!” Because it’s small, he has to work to find it sometimes, but he’s so food motivated that he’ll continue until he does. After 10-15 minutes of that, he’s nicely tired out.

    1. That’s a good idea! Lambeau will also take a ball or toy off and chew on it at times rather than bring it back to me. If it’s a tough toy, that’s okay, but he will strip the cover off a tennis ball and then destroy the inside. And he’s very food motivated as well, so searching out a tossed treat would get his interest.

  9. Sandy Weinstein

    thank goodness i have a large covered deck the girls can play on. it does not get as hot as being directly in the sun. i also have little gals, so we play and run up and down the hall. it has been in the high 90’s here. i took the girls to petsmart for a contest yesterday and some idiot left their dog in the car while they went into petsmart. i think someone must have called the police, i heard they showed up. he said he was just running in for a few minutes. a few minutes too long.

  10. I play a game with my dogs where I put them in a sit/stay in the kitchen. Then I go in the living room and hide kibble under and in all kinds of toys that are strewn across the living room floor. Then I release the dogs and tell them to “find it”. They usually find all the kibble within 3-5 min (depending how hard I hid it), but they keep searching for another 10 minutes! A few rounds of this really helps wear them out on these below zero WI nights!

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      That is a great idea. I do that with Remy too sometimes. It gets him really wild and excited but then afterwards he does seem mentally worn out.

  11. Great ideas thank you. I tried an idea I was told about also – it’s a treat game. You use a muffin tin, place treats in most of the muffin holes then sit balls (rubber bouncy or tennis balls for example) into each hole covering the treats or empty space. My dog gets so excited when he sees the tray coming his way! He slowly lifts each ball out and to find and eat the treats.

  12. We play fetch on the stairs I throw the ball up the stairs they chase it and bring it back that works great. We also like to pack up in the car and go visit friends who have dogs to play with. Sometimes I get out there toy basket and throw a toy into the other room grab out another and when they bring it back to me I throw the next one. Usually he brings them right back but sometimes he’ll play with it for a few then come to get the next one.

  13. Cindy Siebrecht

    Cudi used to shove his ball just a little way under the sofa and then pull it out again. He would do this over and over until he shoved it too far and could no longer reach it. Then he would whine at me to get the yardstick and bat the ball out. It was a game I did not particularly enjoy. I found a large, heavy shoe box, taped it shut, and cut a square opening just slightly larger than his ball. I re-enforced the opening with duct tape. Cudi watched me place the ball in the box. When I asked him to get his ball, he went nuts! He shoved his nose in the box, charged around the house, and finally managed to get the ball out. Then, to my surprise, he put placed the ball closer and closer to the opening until the ball fell into the box (just like he used to play with the ball under the sofa) and off he’d go again. This will keep Cudi busy for quite a while and his antics trying to get at the ball not only provide exercise for him, but is very entertaining for me. If he tries to chew on the box, I say, “No cheating!” and he seems to understand. Eventually, I made a little tab with duct tape that he could use to flip the box over. We’ve gone through a few boxes now. We still enjoy game and the price is right!

  14. Sandy Weinstein

    i have a large covered deck that they girls can run and play. i have small (15lb) girls. we also play inside games and do some training. in note to the tugging play, my dental vet, a specialist who only works on pet teeth as started the dental program at the vet school, said no, it can hurt the teeth, it can loosen the teeth and cause damage that you cant see.

  15. We love throwing treats down and up the stairs too! We also play Go Find It (have dog sit, hide treat, and dog finds treat) a lot. I keep indoor soft discs inside to play with my dog and practice a few tricks (around, drop/catch, go around legs). Another game is to take a few balls and throw them at your dog, have them drop, and immediately catch the next ball. Although my dog doesn’t play flyball, we got this tip from someone who does. Great for dogs that love balls but takes practice to go fast.

  16. Our dogs love to chase a red laser, it shows up like a bright dot on the floor, stairs, walls. We walk around the house shining it everywhere and they love going after it! They know where the lasers are kept and they get so excited when they see us go to get them out! We get ours from the dollar store. We have tried other colors but they seem to see the red best. They are also great out in the yard on good weather days!

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