Indoor Exercise for Dogs: A How-To Guide

Dogs generally need some degree of exercise for their health and overall well-being. Without daily movement, your dog not only runs the risk of gaining weight, but they may also get bored. Extended inactivity can also lead to behavioral issues.

Unfortunately, it’s not always possible to take your pet outside, especially when it’s too cold, wet, or hot. On such occasions, you have to get creative with indoor dog exercises to stimulate your furry friend. Here are 10 indoor activity ideas to engage your pet inside both physically and mentally

1. Use the Stairs

If you live in a multi-story house, stairs are a great way to tire out your dog indoors. It’s like taking your dog out for a walk, but the constant elevation change adds an extra physical challenge.

If your dog doesn’t want to simply walk up and down, you can make things more enjoyable by standing at the top of the steps with your pup and throwing a fetch toy to the bottom. They will get one up-and-down cycle each time they retrieve the toy. Just be sure to supervise your dog carefully while playing on the steps. 

2. Swap Out Toys

Dogs can get bored when they constantly play with the same toys (just like children can). Rather than buying new toys every time your dog shows a lack of interest, consider hiding the ones they haven’t used in a while. You can then surprise them with the hidden toys after a couple of weeks. This will help you keep things fresh without causing you to exceed your toy budget.  

3. Build an Obstacle Course

You can recycle old items in your house to make an obstacle course for your dog. There are lots of options depending on the types of items you have on hand. Overall, the goal is to set up things your dog can go over, under, or around. You can even rearrange your furniture to create a winding path if you are willing to do some heavy lifting.

You can use treats or a favorite toy at the end of the obstacle course to encourage your dog to complete it quickly. 

4. Play Hide and Seek

Hide and seek is a popular kids’ game, and many dogs also find it enjoyable. This is a great physical activity if you have plenty of indoor space. You can use a dog gate to keep your pup from following you into a room or utilize a crate in another room. While your dog is waiting behind the barrier, you can hide one or more treats around the house. Once you are ready, release your dog and encourage them to find all the treats.

This provides physical exercise and mental stimulation. If you want to get involved in the action, you can hide and call your dog to come find you. Once your furry friend locates you, offer praise and give them a treat.

Once your dog understands the game, you can start hiding in progressively harder places. 

5. Try Tug-of-War

If you have rope toys around the house, you can play tug-of-war with your dog. This pulling game is a great option to help your dog exercise their whole body in a confined space.

You should note, however, that your dog can get over excited while playing this game, and they may have a hard time controlling their bite. If the game gets too intense, you should stop before you get bit or the dog gets a jaw or tooth injury. You need to be confident your pooch can control themselves and abide by safe dog play rules before you give tug-of-war a try.

6. Consider a Dog Treadmill

Getting your dog on a treadmill is a great way to compensate for not being able to take them out on a walk. Even if the weather is acceptable, a treadmill can be an excellent tool for teaching your dog to walk safely.

It might be tempting to use a human treadmill, but that is an unsafe option. Instead, you should get a treadmill made especially for dogs. While such treadmills can be pricey, their benefits outweigh the costs if you live in an urban area or a climate with a long winter.

You can use treats to get your dog on the treadmill for the first time. Then, start with the lowest speed and, after a short while, reward your dog for staying on the treadmill. You can use a leash held in your hand to help keep your pup on the treadmill, but you should never tie it to the machine. With time, your dog will get used to the routine and you will be able to give them a full workout indoors.

7. Make Your Dog Work for Treats

There are toys, dispensers, and bowls that encourage dogs to work for their treats, providing mental and physical stimulation in the process. Puzzle feeders are perfect for this task. These products require dogs to solve a puzzle to get an edible reward.

The shell game is another example that doesn't require a specialty toy. You simply put a strong-smelling treat under one of two cups as your dog watches, then move the cups around and have your dog figure out which one contains the treat. As your furry friend gets used to the game, make it more challenging by using milder-smelling treats or adding three or more cups. 

8. Teach Your Dog Tricks

Training your dog to do tricks is a great way to stimulate them both mentally and physically. You can do this via "shaping," where you reward your dog for getting closer to the desired behavior, one step at a time.

For example, if you are teaching your dog to “roll over,” you would reward them first for lying down on their side, second for moving to their back, and third for rolling to the other side. After teaching the command through these stages, you can reserve the reward for after your dog completes the whole trick.

9. Play Fetch or Keep Away

If you have ample room in your house, you can play fetch and keep away with your dog. Stand at one end of a hallway or large room and throw a ball or other dog-friendly object to the other end. The key is to have your dog cover as much distance as possible.

If a friend or family member wants to participate, you can throw a favorite toy to each other and keep it away from the dog. Of course, your dog may lose interest if they don’t catch the toy once in a while. When your dog catches the toy, play with them for a while and then resume the game of catch with the other person.

10. Schedule a Playdate

Playdates are a great way to stimulate your dog while teaching them to socialize with other animals. You can have a trusted friend, neighbor, or family member bring their dog for a play session. Dogs will typically entertain each other once they become acquainted. However, it is essential to keep an eye on them, especially during the first few playdates, to ensure they get along.