Dogs need physical and mental exercise no matter what the weather is outside. Living in North Dakota, I know that there are plenty of times you just can’t stay outside very long.
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Winters get so cold, at times, that it isn’t safe to stay out longer than you have to for your dog to go potty. When those times happen, it’s a good idea to have a list of indoor activities to do with your dog.
These activities are also great for when you are home sick. Some of them require you to be active as well, but there are plenty that require minimal activity from you if you aren’t feeling well. Or you are having one of those days where you just want to be lazy.
Hallway fetch is just like regular fetch played outside, except played in a hallway in your house or apartment.
You can play it with any toy your dog likes, though some toys are easier to throw than others. Luna loves to play hallway fetch with a tennis ball.
If your dog is young or tends to get into mischief when unsupervised, shut all the doors in the hallway so they can’t get out of sight.
Then just throw the toy down the hallway for your dog to get and bring back to you. Play for as long as you and your dog like.
Hallway fetch is also a good way to start teaching fetch as it limits where your dog can go before bringing the ball back to you.
Stairway fetch is just like hallway fetch, except it is played with a stairway. If you have a young dog or an old dog, or one with joint issues, you should not play this with them as it can stress their joints. If you are unsure whether this is alright for your dog, talk to your vet before playing it.
To play this all you do is throw the ball down the stairs for your dog to go chase after and bring back to you.
We actually combine hallway and stairway fetch when we play fetch indoors with Luna. Since running up and down the stairs may be bad for her joints, we throw the ball mostly down the hallway until she starts running down the hallway before we even throw the ball. Then we change it up with a stair toss.
This limits her trips up and down the stairs while also adding in the challenge of not knowing where the ball will go next.
Tug of War
Tug of war is a great interactive game you can play with your dog to burn some of their energy and stimulate their mind. All you need for this game is a tug toy, like this one, and a little bit of space.
Get your dog to grab the toy and then pull a little. Most dogs will pull back trying to get the toy from you. After tugging for a little bit, you can tell your dog to “let go” or “drop it” to get in a little practice with these terms.
To keep your dog’s interest, you may have to let your dog “win” occasionally so they think they can get the toy by tugging enough.
When you are done playing tug make sure to put the tug toy away where your dog can’t get it. Many dogs will chew a tug toy enough to get little strings off it and that isn’t safe if your dog swallows them.
If you are playing with a puppy make sure you are careful not to tug too hard or you could harm her.
Tug-a-jug is a great toy if your dog loves tug of war, but you don’t want to play it as much as your dog. Instead of tug of war with a person, your dog plays tug of war with a jug of treats on the other end instead of a person.
Your dog will need to push, pull, and twist the rope to get the treats to fall out of the jug.
This can be challenging, causing your dog to stay busy with it for a long time.
Since this has a rope attached to it, you will want to supervise your dog, so they don’t start getting pieces of rope off it.
Hide and Seek
There are three ways to play hide and seek with your dog, though not all dogs will enjoy each version of hide and seek.
People hide and seek
This is a great option if you have children to help you. All you do is have your child or another adult hide from your dog. Make sure that wherever the hider is hiding is accessible to your dog. A couple of good hiding places are behind an open door or behind furniture.
Once the person is hidden, tell your dog to go find them. The first few times you play you may need the hider to call the dog to encourage the dog to come find them. Once the dog finds the hiding person, they should give the dog some praise.
Toy hide and seek
This version works best for those dogs that love their toys. Choose a toy your dog really loves, even better if it squeaks. Show the toy to your dog, squeak it if it squeaks, and then hide it behind you or under a pillow. Tell your dog to “find it” and praise them as they get closer to finding it.
Once your dog has found the easily hidden toy, have another person (if available) hide the toy a little farther away while you keep your dog still. Once the toy is hidden tell them to “find it” and praise them as they get closer to the toy.
As your dog gets better at finding the toy, you can start hiding it in more difficult places. This is also a good game to play while you watch tv since there are so many places you can hide it near you without having to leave the room.
Treat hide and seek
This one requires the most memory on your part. While your dog is in a stay (if they are good at stay) or being held by another person (or in their kennel), you hide several treats (all the same kind) around your house.
Once you have all the treats hidden, let your dog sniff (and eat) one of the same treats that you hid. Tell them to “find it” and they will sniff all over your house trying to find all the treats.
You want to remember where you hid all the treats so you can go back later to make sure your dog didn’t miss any treats. I would recommend using harder, drier treats as those are less likely to cause issues if they are missed.
A flirt pole looks like a giant cat toy. It’s a pole with a rope attached at on end. On the other end of the rope is a toy, like a stuffed toy or rope toy, for your dog to grab.
To use a flirt, pole your dog must have a decent “let go” or “give” command. You hold the pole and wave it to get your dog to chase and grab at the toy. Once your dog gets the toy, them “let go” and give a treat. Then repeat.
This is a great way to teach your dog impulse control since they have to release the toy when you tell them. It’s also great for working on your dog’s coordination.
Keep your sessions short so your dog doesn’t get too tired from the running, jumping, and twisting they will do to try to get the toy.
Also, put the flirt pole away where your dog can’t get it when you aren’t using it. Flirt poles are not designed to be used unsupervised and your dog could end up destroying the flirt pole and swallowing pieces of rope that could cause serious issues.
One other safety tip is to play on a non-slip surface to prevent your dog from falling and getting hurt.
Chase is a simple game that requires no equipment to play it. It’s also a great way to get some exercise for you and your dog at the same time. The only issue with chase is that you will probably tire out from it faster than your dog.
All you have to do for this one is get your dog’s attention and run away. Your dog will chase you and try to catch you. Once your dog catches you, reward them with praise and excitement.
You can repeat this as many times as you want until you or your dog are tired.
If you have a larger dog, like Luna, you do want to be careful that you don’t get hurt when your dog catches you. You can try teaching your dog what you want them to do when they catch you, so they don’t hurt you by accident.
I’ve gotten numerous bruises from Luna jumping on me because she’s excited. If you teach your dog what to do when they catch you, you should be able to avoid the bruises.
Blowing bubbles for your dog is another cheap and easy activity to do indoors. All you need is some non-toxic bubbles, like these peanut butter bubbles for dogs.
To do this you just blow some bubbles and point to them, encouraging your dog to chase them.
If your dog seems unsure about the bubbles, try catching some yourself to show them it’s alright.
Only play this for a short amount of time since the bubbles could cause stomach upset if your dog eats too many in one day.
Also, wipe off your dog’s face when you are done to prevent eye irritation if any bubbles popped on their face.
Monkey in the Middle
This simple game requires two people and a toy your dog really likes. If you have kids, you may have played this game with them. Otherwise, you may have played this game as a kid with the name I knew it as when I was a kid, keep away.
To play this game have one person stand with the toy and the other person stand several feet away with your dog in the middle.
Then toss the toy from one person to the other while your dog runs back and forth trying to catch the toy.
Let your dog catch it every once in awhile, otherwise, they may get frustrated. Your goal is to have fun with your dog and not frustrate them. Vary how often they are allowed to catch it so your dog doesn’t begin to predict when they will get the toy.
If you’re as bad at catch as me you won’t need to plan on dropping the toy for your dog, they’ll get plenty of chances to get it without you even trying.
To add a little difficulty to the game you can try putting a small hurdle, like a rolled-up blanket, in the middle for your dog to jump over.
This simple treat game uses your dog’s natural scenting ability to choose which of your hands has a treat.
When you first teach this game, you want to use small, smelly treats but after that, any treat should work just fine.
To start, show your dog your open hands with a treat in one. Then put your hands behind your back and put the treat in either hand.
Bring your hands back in front of you and show both fists to your dog. Your dog should then signal which hand they pick. They may do this by using their paw, pointing, or barking at one hand. Luna sometimes will lick my hand if she thinks I have a treat in it.
Show your dog the hand they picked, and if it’s the correct hand give them the treat.
If it’s the wrong hand, show that it’s empty and try again.
Those dogs that have a stronger scenting ability may get this game more quickly, but the longer you play it becomes less about ability and more about luck.
You can also make it more difficult by adding more hands, though then you need additional people to provide you with those additional hands.
Three cups is a variation on “Which Hand?” and is easiest to teach after your dog has mastered “Which Hand?” Three cups is a great game to test your dog’s problem-solving ability and to make them think.
To start you want to use just one cup and place a treat under that cup and have your dog either tip the cup over or touch the cup and then give them the treat.
Once your dog understands that there is a treat under the one cup you can start making it more difficult by adding cups. Move to two cups and then three cups, showing your dog which cup has the treat.
Once your dog reliably chooses the right cup when you show them where the treat is, you can make it more difficult by moving the cups around after placing the treat under one cup.
If you don’t have cups you can use boxes or any other small container that isn’t see-through.
Tag with your dog is a great way to reinforce their recall. To play this game you need two people and a few treats. You can play this anywhere you have some space, like a hallway.
To play you have one person at one end of the hall and the other person at the other end of the hall with your dog between you.
One person starts by calling your dog by name. Give your dog some praise and a treat when they get to you. Then the other person does the same.
Once your dog gets the hang of it you can make it more difficult by spreading out in your house. One person could be in a bedroom and another in the kitchen, or wherever you want in your house. Even different floors.
The only issue I have with this game is Luna starts to just run back and forth between me and whoever is helping me, not even waiting for her treat and praise. It does give her more exercise but reduces the mental challenge.
When this happens, we start randomly throwing in a sit command to make her pause.
Other than that, my dogs love this game, probably because it gets them their two favorite things, treats, and attention.
Dogs can use a treadmill, just like people. They just need a little training and constant supervision. Though they can use a regular treadmill, there are also treadmills made specifically for dogs.
The treadmills made for dogs can be a little pricey, but if you plan on using it regularly may be a worthwhile investment. And if you already have a treadmill, it can be a great way to get in a run for your dog when the weather is crappy outside.
To get your dog to use a treadmill you need to start with letting your dog get used to it while it’s still off.
Once your dog is used to it off, you can start it at a slow speed and slowly work up to a comfortable pace for your dog but keep it on the slower side.
To encourage your dog, you can offer treats from the front end of the treadmill.
The treadmill should only be used for a short period of time each day, about 5 to 10 minutes daily.
For safety, never leash your dog to the treadmill. Also never leave your dog unattended while they are using the treadmill.
Indoor Obstacle Course
An indoor obstacle course is a great way to work on your dog’s agility while stuck indoors. You can use everyday household items or order agility equipment online.
Blankets and chairs could make a tunnel. A hula-hoop can be used to have your dog jump through. An upside-down basket could work as a jump for a larger dog. Use your imagination and be creative.
Once you have your obstacle course set up encourage your dog to go through it. You may need to use some treats to lead your dog through the course the first few times.
But once they are used to it, they should be able to run the course just to reach you.
Always have your obstacle course on a sturdy, nonslippery surface, like a carpeted hallway.
Also start slowly and never force your dog if they are scared. Some dogs just don’t enjoy obstacle courses. Of my dogs, Luna loves to jump things, but Morgan would prefer to walk around them.
Use your judgment and listen to your dog if an obstacle is too scary or challenging for them.
Teach a New Trick
Teaching your dog, a new trick mentally challenges your dog and many dogs love the challenge of learning something new. Even if you have an older dog you can teach them new tricks.
If you have a young puppy, or you haven’t mastered the basic commands, you should start with those first before moving onto other tricks. Basic commands are those like sit, down, and stay. Those will be discussed a little more in obedience training below.
Whether you are stuck inside or not, spending 15 minutes a day on teaching your dog a new trick is a great idea.
Some ideas of new tricks to teach your dog are place (or go to bed), sit pretty, play dead, rollover, back up, crawl, hug, kiss, leg weave (may be easier with the little dogs), open/close the door, speak, shake, take a bow, wave, high five, or clean up their toys.
For more ideas, and tips for teaching them, see this book.
It’s always best to end your training session on a positive note. If the trick you are trying to teach is too challenging, end with a trick your dog knows. And be sure to praise them when they do it.
Working on obedience training is another great activity no matter the weather outside. All dogs should know the basic commands of sit, down, stand, stay, leave it, and come.
If your dog doesn’t know the basics, start teaching them. This book is a good place to start if you are new to dog training.
If your dog does know them start with reinforcing them and slowly increasing the difficulty.
You can increase the difficulty by adding distractions or increasing your distance from your dog.
You can make this time more fun by using treats and toys in your teaching and practicing. And also by adding playtime in between commands.
Any time spend reinforcing these commands makes it more likely your dog will respond properly if you need them to.
Puppy pushup is a great game for kids to practice two basic commands with your dog. Your dog does need to know how to sit and lay down, but that is all you need for this besides some treats.
To do a puppy pushup you first tell your dog to sit and then tell them to lay down. Then sit again. This is one pushup. At first treat after each pushup, but then treat randomly.
If your dog gets really good at this type of pushup you can toss in a stand after a sit. Do it randomly so your dog can’t predict what you want.
Interactive Food Toys
Interactive food toys are a great way to keep your dog busy and entertained when you are unable to play directly with them. These toys use a dog’s natural skills in foraging, nose work, and problem-solving.
They can also be used for those dogs that tend to eat their meals too fast, though some do a better job at it than others. These are also easy to teach as your dog is already interested in them because of the food they contain.
I’ve listed some of my favorite interactive food toys below.
The classic Kong is a great treat-dispensing toy for when you can’t supervise your dog closely. Depending on what you fill the Kong with, these can keep your dog busy for a while.
You can fill the classic Kong with all sorts of things like kibble, treats, fruit, veggies, yogurt, and peanut butter. To keep the food in the Kong, and to make it more challenging, you can “seal” the ends with the peanut butter or yogurt and then freeze the Kong.
Freezing the filled Kong makes it harder for your dog to get all the food, making it take longer for them to get all the food out.
For non-aggressive chewers, you can give them a filled Kong when you need to leave them home alone. It will help keep them busy while you are away.
Aggressive chewers should be supervised while using the classic Kong.
If you get a few of these you can keep a couple in the freezer and have one ready whenever you want to give one to your dog.
The Kong Wobbler is a great toy to use at mealtimes. The largest one, the one I use for Luna, holds about 1 cup of food at one time.
To get the food out your dog will have to push it around and knock it over to get the food pieces to fall out of the hole on the side of it.
It does a great job of slowing down a dog’s eating and also makes them problem solve on how to get the food out of it.
The only thing I don’t like about it is if you have a larger sized kibble the pieces may not fit through the little hole on the side of it. Before giving to your dog, make sure the food will fall out of the holes.
Snuffle mats are made out of fabric that is interwoven in a way to make it “mimic” grass. You then hide your dog’s food, or treats, in this fabric “grass” and place the mat on the floor for your dog to use.
Your dog then uses their nose to sniff around and get the pieces of food that you hid.
This is a great food puzzle for dogs that struggle with harder puzzles or for those that you want to challenge a little for their food, but don’t need to slow down.
Whether you buy one or make your own, these are not chew proof. Supervise your dog while they have this.
Puzzles are great mind games for dogs and there are lots of options for different types of puzzles.
Many dog puzzles involve hiding food inside something and letting the dog figure out how to get the food out. The simplest is the classic Kong. It’s both an interactive food toy and a puzzle.
The best thing about puzzles for dogs is there are so many options including DIY and store-bought.
One idea is the hide-a-squirrel, one of the few options I’ve seen that doesn’t involve food. For this one, your dog gets to pull a stuffed toy squirrel out of a stuffed toy log before your dog can play with it. You do need to supervise your dog if they have a tendency to chew up stuffed toys.
For DIY, a simple one is the Muffin Tin Game below.
Muffin Tin Game
To set up the game put a small treat in each muffin spot and cover each with a tennis ball.
Then put the game on the floor for your dog to find the treats. They just have to get the tennis balls off to get the treats.
Once your dog understands that moving the tennis balls results in treats you can make it more challenging by putting treats in only half the spots while still covering all the spots with tennis balls.
Some dogs may find this game too easy, but many will still enjoy getting the treats. This is also a great game to have kids set up and play with your dog.
Relax on the Couch
Finally, after sending time playing with your dog, you may want to spend some time just relaxing on the couch.
Some dogs will love to cuddle up with you on the couch, while others may want a little distance and be content laying near you or just in the same room with you. Let your dog decide how close they want to be.
No matter what you decide to do to keep your dog entertained and active inside, make sure it is something your dog enjoys. What do you like to do with your dog when you are stuck inside?