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- When weather or restrictions prevent outdoor play, engaging indoor dog activities can ensure happiness and health through mental and physical enrichment.
- Dogs need a minimum of 30 minutes of daily exercise to prevent behavioral issues. Breed, age, and health factors determine exercise needs.
- Combat pent-up energy with games that dogs love, like Hide-and-Seek, Race for the Treat, Flashlight Game, Puzzle Solving, Tug of War, Shell Game, Obstacle Course, and Dog Obedience Show.
- Prioritize safety during indoor games, monitor dog and children interactions, and ensure physical and emotional well-being for a thriving pup.
On many occasions, rain, snow, thunderstorms and even allergies can leave your pooch sequestered to his fluffy nap pillow. We humans might enjoy cozying up on the couch and drinking a cup of cocoa on days like these, but our wet-nosed pup pal might be wondering why the heck the big, dark clouds outdoors are keeping him from his much-anticipated run around the block. As dog owners, we should know how important it is to make sure your furry friend stays active and entertained. Fortunately, there are many fun indoor activities for dogs you can do with your dog to keep them busy.
When the weather’s unfavorable or indoor restrictions apply, the dog park might be off-limits. Still, that’s no excuse not to engage your dog with indoor activities to keep them happy and physically as well as mentally fit. I’ve been working from home for a while now, even before 2020, and if you do too, it’s best to work out a system to give your dog the exercise he needs if you can’t give him outdoor time on a regular enough basis. I wrote up this article on fun indoor activities for dogs to help you do just that.
Regular exercise and proper nutrition don’t just ward off weight and health issues – they’re also essential for your dog’s mental and emotional health. No one wants a cabin-sick puppy, after all. So in order to not resort to foregoing playtime, here are indoor bonding ideas for a lively pup and some exercise for you too.
Why exercise is essential even if you’re stuck indoors
Your dog’s natural instincts tell him he needs at least 30 minutes of daily exercise to get all the wiggly energy out of his system. As pet parents, it’s our job to give our dogs that exercise, as well as keeping our dog entertained in general.
Maybe you’re thinking, “but it’s not my fault that we can’t get out of the house! Can’t we just cuddle the day away and take a walk when the bad weather goes away?” Sure, you can try to wrestle your pup down into a cuddle session on the couch, but you’ll soon find Fido staring out that window, anxiously awaiting his daily run through the park. Every pet parent knows that dogs love physical activity, and will take any excuse to start exerting their pent-up energy.
Ultimately, even if you want nothing more than to pull the covers up over your head, ensuring your pet’s physical and emotional health on a daily basis is very important, no matter the conditions outside. Plus, if you don’t, your pup might find more destructive ways to release some of that energy. No matter how much you teach your dog to behave, their instinct to run around will win out in the end if you don’t give them a healthy way to exercise it. So instead of moping around the house, give your pup his own rainy-day treat and make your home an exciting maze of activities that get his heart pumping and tail thumping!
What happens if my dog doesn’t get enough exercise?
Dog Trainer and Behavior Consultant Eugenia Vogel warns, “Pent-up energy can show up in the form of unwanted and unwelcome behaviors like constant attempts to get your attention, unfocused busy-ness (rooting in trash cans, cat litter boxes, etc.), and excessive barking.”
Vogel says, “Exercise needs are individual and are dictated by general health, including level of athleticism, weight, and age.” Even a speedy Greyhound might find satisfaction from an hour-long walk around the block, whereas a petite Chihuahua might fool you into thinking all she needs is a skip around the living room. The truth is that smaller dogs may need just as much exercise as larger dogs (intensity levels vary, so check into your particular breed to find out).
Whether small or large, apartment or mansion, any home can become the setting of a full-fledged doggie amusement park as long as pet parents are dedicated enough. With all of these activities, make sure that all breakables and furniture with sharp edges are safely tucked away. Everyone’s safety is the first priority when playing indoors.
Vogel also recommends that all dogs stretch and warm up before participating in any activity to help prevent physical injuries.
How to give a dog an indoor warmup
Vogel says, “Dogs should be walked around the house for a while, focusing on making slow, deliberate turns to help with stretching, working toward making the turns sharper as they warm up. Use a small treat to ‘bend’ them around corners. Slowly walking up stairs helps as well.”
Once you and your dog are all warmed up and stretched out, let the games begin! Every dog needs exercise and playing a fun game is a great way to help keep them fit.
Indoor games are a great way to help your dog burn off some steam while also providing them with mental stimulation. They’re especially handy for those days when the weather is just too cold or wet for a proper romp outside.
Indoor games to try with your dog
Fortunately, there are quite a few indoor games you can play to keep your dog entertained. For some of these indoor dog activities, you don’t even need toys, or you can use regular household objects to stand in for them.
You may need quite a few dog treats to keep them motivated, however, so hopefully you’ve stocked up at the pet store before you got stuck indoors.
What you need:
- (Optional) Toy or treat for motivation
How you play: Hide and seek is a fun game loved by all, but dogs may have an unfair advantage thanks to their keen sense of smell. A tactic I like to employ is similar to how dogs are scent-trained to track game: scatter a bunch of red herrings around to distract them. However, make sure that these aren’t so distracting that your dog forgets about the game altogether! I personally like to do an equal mix: hide treats, as well as noise-making toys.
To start, get your pup to sit by your side in an unobstructed space. Then, throw a toy, treats or other object across the room as bait to buy you time to hide. Then, find a good hiding place and call your pooch over to you. When he races to you and finds you, make sure to give him plenty of praise. Give him the treats or let him tumble with a favorite toy as a reward.
If it’s your first time playing with your pup, he may not understand that you want him to find you at first. That’s why laying on the praise is so important when you first teach your dog how to play. To give your pup extra motivation to find you, call out to him from your hiding spot, or entice him with treats or toys that make funny noises.
If your dog is a little older, however, it may be advisable to just encourage him to stroll around the house from time to time. You can hide treats in unlikely corners of the house to get him moving, which should keep his body strong as he enters his twilight years.
Trainer Wisdom: Vogel says this game can be a great training session that teaches your pup the recall: “He’ll learn that he’s got to keep an eye on you, or you disappear!”
Tug of War
What you need:
- Any rope-like object or toy that’s easy for them to grab onto with their jaws.
Tug-of-war is probably one of the first indoor games you’d think about playing with a dog, alongside tag and hide-and-seek.
To play tug of war with a dog, just bring out a toy that he likes playing with. Show him the toy and let him nibble on it. Once he clamps down with a good amount of force, give it a gentle tug towards you. If your dog answers by trying to pull it back to him, let him for a bit, and then tug it towards you again. Repeat until your dog understands the game.
Remember to let your dog win a few times so he doesn’t get burnt out from playing. When playing tug-of-war, make sure you never let go of the toy because it might encourage your pet to chew on things around your home.
Race for the Treat
What you need:
- A dog’s toys or treats
- (Optional) A helper
How you play: Put a leash on your dog and ask him to sit. Then, place a treat around 10 feet away from where your dog is, or farther if you have the space for it. If you have someone to help you, they can place the treat for you.
Tell your dog to “Wait” as you remove his leash, then give the command, “Go.” Then, race your pup to the treat or toy!
Trainer Tip: Vogel says to make sure to race past the treat or toy – do not try to snatch it up before your pup does, or at all! Otherwise your pup might react with some resource guarding and do whatever he can to protect his treat or toy.
The Flashlight Game
What you need:
- A flashlight
- A spacious empty room
How you play: Turn off the lights, hide the breakables, and bring out the flashlight that’s been hibernating in the closet. Shine the light around the room and have your pet chase the beam of light. Bring the beam back to you and reward your pup with a treat or a belly rub for a job well done.
Trainer Warning: Vogel recommends you direct the beam of light toward the floor in an empty part of the room. She cautions, “Dogs with strong chase instincts will plow into anything to get to the light, and could easily injure themselves.”
Solve puzzles for treats
What you need:
- A dog puzzle
- Some treats
- (Optional) food-dispensing puzzle toys
Puzzle toys are great for honing your dog’s intelligence, and are a good way to slow the pace down a bit after a bunch of highly active games. As always, you’re advised to keep some treats handy for extra motivation.
You wouldn’t want your dog to expect a treat just because he completed a puzzle. So, try to stagger the rewards after about 3-5 solved puzzles.
You can also use treat-dispensing toys if you have any, so you can leave your dog with the puzzle while you go do other things.
What you need:
- Three large seashells, cups, or other concave trinkets that you can hide a treat under
- A bag of doggy treats
Another game your dog is sure to love is the Shell Game. This classic party game makes for a great dog activity too. It involves placing a treat under one of three shells, shuffling it around, and letting your pooch choose which one it’s under. If he gets the right answer, then he’ll be rewarded with his treat.
The Great Living Room Obstacle Course: Dog training
What you need:
- Bath mats
- Cardboard boxes
- Hula hoop or similar object
- (Optional) Puzzle-type dog toy with treats
How you play: First, construct the obstacle course, arranging the items strategically in your living room, creating a sequence of challenges for your dog. Cardboard boxes can be connected to form a tunnel, and if you have kids, they can raise their arms for your pup to jump over. If you don’t have a hula hoop for your dog to leap through, you can substitute any other hoop-shaped object to serve as a fun leaping obstacle, even another cardboard box cut up to resemble something of a ring.
Place bath mats like stepping stones for your pooch to hop between. Because of the complexity of this game, you may have to teach your dog how to run the obstacle course by walking them through it part by part a few times at first. Once they get the hang of it, though, you can repeat the course as many times as you like to let them get as much exercise as they want, and even move the obstacles around to keep them on their toes!
Trainer Warning: Vogel recommends that both dogs and children be closely monitored while playing any game. The wrong situation or a misinterpreted movement could trigger your dog’s chasing instinct and lead to unintentional harm, so always err on the side of caution.
Dog Obedience Show (Trainer Recommended!)
What you need:
- Bath mats or towels
- Dog treats
How you play: This one is a bit less of a physical exercise as much as it is a test of coordination and obedience, which is still crucial, but should definitely take a back seat to actually just letting your dog get exercise. However, if you’re going to be stuck at home for a while, such as if you’re snowed in, it could be a great little event to organize to keep morale up at home.
Create a string of “command” stations, delineated by signs made by you (or your kids) that are posted beside each station. Take your pup from station to station and see if he can do the Basic commands – sit, roll-over, down, etc. Give your pooch plenty of time to respond. The objective is for your dog to learn to do the command with only one request. You can also swap between verbal basic commands and hand-signal cues, and move on to more complex dog tricks if your dog is familiar with them.
Trainer Tip: Vogel says, “If you want to declare a winner in this game, it should be the person who’s the most fun and enthusiastic with the dog, and gives the command the fewest amount of times.”