Your dog needs exercise and mental stimulation every day, but there are days when you don’t want to go outside. How much exercise is enough for a dog varies by size, breed, and individual temperament, but all dogs need some engagement from their human family each day. What can you do when a good long walk or a game of fetch are out of the question? There are fun, easy activities that you can do with your dog indoors to provide an outlet for her energy and engage her mind. While dog exercise needs vary, these top 10 indoor activities offer good options for every dog.
The same kind of deliberate workout routine that can get you into great shape works for your best friend too. This is a great exercise for a small space. Pushups help teach dogs “down”, “sit”, and “stand” and they offer good exercise too. The idea is to get your dog to transition between lying down, standing and sitting. Ask your dog to change positions randomly so that she won’t know what is coming next. This makes the game fun and teaches your dog to watch for your signals.
Best for: younger dogs that have no trouble lying down.
How to Teach Your Dog to do Pushups
- Hold a treat over your dog’s nose and slowly pull back until she is in a sitting position. Say “sit” and reward her with the treat.
- When your dog is sitting, slowly draw the treat downward under your dog’s nose, keeping your hand between the dog and the treat so she can’t eat it. When your dog is lying down, say “down” and reward her.
- Step back so that your dog stands to reach you. Say “stand” and reward her.
- Continue practicing between these commands, reducing the degree to which you lure your dog with the treat as she gets the idea
- Once your dog has mastered the commands, do the exercise by asking your dog to go between different positions for intermittent food or play rewards. Remember to vary the order in which your dog does the activities, and keep it fast and fun.
- *Extra credit: Teach hand commands for the positions and play silently
2. Hide and Seek
This is a fun activity that is super easy to teach your dog. It helps to build your dog’s recall skills and cement the bond between you. If you have a new puppy or dog, this is one of the best first activities to try, but it is great for any dog. Depending on how long it takes your dog to find you, your dog could get a fair amount of exercise running around the house or very little walking right to you every time.
Best for: all dogs, since dogs can set their own pace.
How to Teach Your Dog to Play Hide and Seek
- Call your dog and reward her with a treat.
- Wait until your dog is in another room, then call her and reward with a treat.
- Hide somewhere easy, like behind a door, and call your dog. If she gets anxious or loses interest keep calling to encourage her.
- Keep increasing the difficulty of hiding spots. Be creative! Your dog will have fun relying on her nose and ears to find you.
3. Find the Toy
This activity works in the same way as Hide and Seek, except that you don’t have to hide. This can be great for when you want to do something other than hide from your dog all day. You can make the game much more challenging since a toy is small enough to hide in all kinds of interesting places. It takes a little more time to teach this game than Hide and Seek, but you will be amazed by how long this activity will be able to occupy your dog after training.
Best for: all dogs, since dogs can set their own pace.
How to Teach Your Dog to Find the Toy
- Toss a toy, say “Find it” and reward your dog for bringing it to you. If your dog is uninterested, reward for any movement towards the toy until your dog is bringing the toy to you.
- Restrain your dog by asking her to stay, having someone hold her, or closing her in a room. Put the toy somewhere obvious.
- Tell your dog to “find it”, release her, and reward her for bringing you the toy
- Continue to make the game more difficult, helping your dog if she becomes too frustrated
4. Red Light Green Light
This is a great exercise for dogs to teach self-control and to work on “drop it” skills. Depending on how much room you have, you can use a flirt pole, which is a long stick with a toy attached to it with a line, or you can hold a tug toy. Most dogs naturally love chasing and playing tug with toys, but if your dog is very timid she may need some more confidence building exercises first.
Best for: confident younger dogs without hip or joint issues, since it encourages pivoting which can aggravate joint problems.
How to Teach Your Dog to play Red Light Green Light
- Offer your dog a toy and very briefly play tug
- Present a treat and tell your dog “red light”
- When your dog releases the toy, give her the treat
- Offer the toy again and say “green light” as you entice your dog with it
- Practice until your dog releases on command even during vigorous play
- Begin reducing treats, letting the release upon “green light” be the reward for dropping the toy during “red light”.
Dancing with your dog is a lot of fun, and is a great way for both of you to get exercise and increase your bond. Dogs take well to dancing since they are naturally so aware of our movements. This activity will greatly increase the communication that you have with your dog and teach her to look to you for cues. It isn’t as difficult as you might think to teach your dog to dance. If you’ve ever taught your dog to heel, you already have the essentials of dance.
Best for: all dogs, but be careful to match dance moves to your dog’s ability
How to Teach Your Dog to Dance
- Ask your dog to stand next to you and lure her forward with a treat as you step forward. When she steps forward, reward her with the treat.
- Step backward, again luring and rewarding your dog.
- Keep practicing moving in more complicated ways with your dog right next to you, reducing the treats as your dog becomes engaged in the challenge
- Teach your dog to circle you by luring her with a treat. Tie the command to a gesture that will be easy to incorporate into your dance, like lifting your arms.
- Add a few more moves, like asking your dog to down and stay and run to you, or whatever occurs to you and works well with your dog’s body type
- Set your dance to music and practice the routine. Keep varying it as you play so that your dog remains keyed into your signals.
6. Jump Rope
Jumping is a great way to get your cardio up in a small space. Jumping with a rope add a level of challenge and excitement and keeps your pace consistent. If your dog has a lot of energy to burn off and would benefit from some indoor cardio, you can teach her to jump rope with you, for a fun activity that will get both of you good and tired.
Best for: young, healthy dogs who like to jump anyways and have lots of energy to burn
How to Teach Your Dog to Jump Rope
- Begin without a rope. Stand facing your dog and encourage her to jump up by holding a toy or treat out of her reach.
- Tie her jumping to an easy hand signal like raising your arm
- Practice until every time you raise your arm, your dog jumps
- Raise your arm to signal your dog to jump like before, but jump along with her
- Continue practicing until you and your dog are jumping in sync every time
- Add the jump rope, practicing with only one jump at a time before moving on to continuous jumping.
7. Dog Yoga
Yoga builds muscle, increases concentration, and relaxes, and it can do the same for your dog. Doing simple yoga moves together is a fun way to gently work out with your dog. This activity also teaches your dog to mimic you, which increases your bond and your dog’s tendency to look to you for cues. This activity doesn’t provide a lot of cardio, but it does challenge dogs to use their muscles in new ways.
Best for: all dogs, but make sure to match the activity to your dog’s abilities and body type
How to Teach Your Dog to do Yoga
- Start by lying down on the ground and encouraging your dog to lie next to you, giving a command like “copy”. Reward your dog for lying next to you.
- Quickly stand up, encouraging your dog to stand as well with the “copy” command. Reward her for standing.
- Keep practicing until your dog always lies when you lie and stand when you stand.
- From a lying position, lift up your butt and stretch your arms on the ground into downward dog, telling your dog to “copy”.
- Your dog will probably be confused and may circle you or even bark.
- Go back into a lying position and encourage your dog to lie next to you again.
- Again move into downward dog, encouraging your dog to do it too.
- It may take a few sessions for your dog to get the idea that she should mimic you by going into a bowing motion, but she is likely to play bow at some point.
- As soon as your dog mimics you, reward her enthusiastically and practice the movement again
- As your dog masters positions keep trying more and more until you can do an entire yoga routine together.
This is a fun and useful activity to teach your dog. The idea is for your dog to get all of something: stuffed toys, inflatable balls, tennis balls, socks, etc. into a designated goal area. If your dog has a tendency to leave her toys all over the house, you can use this activity to get her to have fun cleaning up by herself. If you have a very active herding dog you can let her use her herding instinct to push inflatable balls into a goal.
Best for: active, intelligent dogs that like to carry things in their mouths or herd
How to Teach Your Dog to Gather
- Ask your dog to fetch you one of the desired objects. Encourage her by tossing it or playing a game of tug if necessary.
- When your dog brings the item back, reward her with a treat, set the item in the goal, and encourage your dog to get another item, using a command like “Gather”.
- Continue asking your dog to bring you items and rewarding her until she is doing it consistently.
- When your dog brings an item back, point to the area where the other items are being kept and tell her to drop it there. Reward her when she does so.
- When your dog is consistently bringing back items and depositing them in the goal, reward but don’t ask her to get the next item, just wait until she goes to get another item on her own.
- After some practice, your dog will know to go gather all of the desired items by herself when you tell her to “Gather”.
This is an easy game to play with an active dog, provided you have a bit of indoor space and not too many breakable items nearby. Just toss an inflatable ball that is bigger than your dog’s mouth and encourage her to bounce it back to you. This is a good way to give your dog a fair amount of exercise in jumping to get the ball and positioning herself under the ball as it comes down. It also requires good mental focus and can tire out an intelligent, active dog.
Best for: active, intelligent dogs with prey drive. Dogs with hip or joint problems should not be encouraged to bounce.
How to Teach Your Dog to Bounce
- With your dog standing in front of you, hold the ball above her, shaking it enticingly. When she seems interested, toss the ball up so that it falls downward towards your dog.
- When your dog tries to catch the ball, she will bounce it back up into the air. Catch the ball and encourage your dog by telling her “good catch” and rewarding with a treat.
- Keep practicing, encouraging your dog to bounce the ball back to you each time.
- Make it more challenging by tossing the ball in unexpected places and encouraging your dog to position herself correctly to bounce it back to you.
If your powerful dog is bored inside but the weather isn’t good for outside exertion, you can let her burn off some energy and build muscles with an easy indoor pulling session. Pulling lets your dog really exert herself without running all over your house. Kids can have a lot of fun being the weight that your dog pulls, and if you have lots of laundry to do you may even find this a useful activity. Remember to always keep your dog’s safety in mind and not let her pull more weight or more vigorously than she should.
Best for: powerful, energetic dogs with energy to burn
How to Teach Your Dog to Pull Inside
- Fit your dog with a high-quality pull harness that spreads pressure across her chest and shoulders.
- Start by attaching a very light weight, like a pillow or empty laundry bag and encouraging your dog forward with treats.
- Gradually increase the weight that your dog pulls until she is exerting a good level of effort but not struggling
- Encourage your dog to pull her weight around the house, over different types of flooring, etc.
- Always reward periodically for good work
Just because you and your dog are stuck inside doesn’t mean that you can’t find some great exercises and activities to do together. You’ll be amazed by how much physical exercise and mental stimulation your dog can achieve right in your own home, without much space or equipment. Have fun enjoying these indoor exercises with your dog, and remember to always work to meet your dog’s exercise needs.
Coral Drake has worked professionally with dogs for over four years, initially as manager of a dog daycare, then as the liaison of integrative and neurologic medicines in the Small Animal Hospital at the University of Florida. She uses the latest research, as well as emerging opinions from trusted dog trainers, behaviorists, and other experts, to provide a thorough discussion of issues from health to training and dog-related products.