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

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’m M.A. Kropp, and I occasionally contribute articles to That Mutt!

I try to walk my dog Lambeau 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. Brutal cold, bitter snow, hot weather, heavy rain, storms, 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

Dog puzzle toy

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.

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?

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Judy Weikum

Thursday 11th of February 2021

Thanks for the perfect timing!

Sandie & Steve

Tuesday 28th of January 2020

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!

Janet Fazio

Tuesday 4th of December 2018

Perfect timing! There is rain in the forecast every day this week and I'm in need of indoor games to keep my dog occupied.

Carol and Carmella

Tuesday 24th of July 2018

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.

Sandy Weinstein

Sunday 22nd of July 2018

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.