15 Indoor Activities for Physically Exercising the Family Dog

Boxer can't go outside

Family dogs become punchy and sometimes even act neurotic without enough physical exercise. Lack of exercise can also lead to unwanted behaviors. Your normally well-behaved family hound can start barking, chewing, scratching, or even exhibiting signs of family dog depression — you might notice your dog looking mopier than usual. It’s important to regularly provide your dog opportunities to stimulate their mind and body and in return, your dog will show you unconditional love and regularly stimulate your soul.

Getting Outside Can be Hard

All breeds of dogs require mental and physical stimulation to stay healthy and happy. Going for long dog walks with your family dog is the best, but some days taking the dog outside isn’t an option. Good luck to you if you have more than 1 family dog. Maybe you have to work, you’re stuck indoors with young children, or the weather is just no good. When that happens, what are your options for tiring out your favorite furry pals?

Stimulate More Than Minds

Many suggestions for indoor dog games have 1 huge flaw. They are treat based. Treating your dog is fine, but if you need to keep him busy for an entire day then a day’s worth of treating will quickly become a problem. A few treats are fine, but you don’t want to border on your dog skipping a nutritious meal in place of too many Milkbones.

Another reason to avoid many of the so-called “treat games” is because they lack the physical stimulation your dog needs. Yes, it’s wonderful to stimulate your dog’s mind by asking him to search for a treat hidden in a snuffle mat, but let’s face it. You just asked your dog to do the equivalent of walking to the fridge, picking out a snack, and sitting down on the floor to eat it. Do you think you would feel satisfied with that kind of workout? Your family dog doesn’t either.

The trick to giving your family dog what he needs is adding movement and physical exhaustion.

Higher-Energy Indoor Dog Games

Try these 15 indoor activities you can at home today with your family dog. Teach yourself. Teach your friends and family. Turn every training session into a fun event for your dog if you’re ambitious. Have fun and let out some energy. WOOF!

1. Challenge Your Dog’s Nose

Playing hide the treat (a favorite dog toy can double as a “treat”) is like playing a shell game with your family dog. Hide the treat underneath or behind something and let your dog’s nose do all the work. Not all dog’s noses work great right out of the gate, but a dog’s ability to track through scent will improve with time and practice. Want to add increase the activity level? Expand your play area or add fake-outs to keep your dog guess and make the game last longer.

2. Hide and Go Seek

Hide and go seek is another great indoor game many dogs find exciting and enjoyable. If your family dog already knows find it means go find something then you’re ready for a fun game of doggy hide and go seek. If you aren’t already comfortable with “finding” things then you should consider starting out with a scent game. Improve your dog’s sense of smell while teaching him a new command, find. Once you’re finding, you can teach your dog to find anything — even a person, spare children are great for this.

It’s okay to help your dog with hints if he’s having trouble or going too far in the wrong direction. Some dog families even implement a “hot” and “cold” command to help direct their pups. It’s so much fun for your dog to explore the cavities of your home, as he finds his prize, and earns your excitement and praise.

3. Under, Over, and Through

Sit, stay, and shake are awesome dog obedience tricks, but they aren’t ever going to amount to aerobic exercise. Playing under, over, and through with your dog breaks the bounds of mental-only stimulation and leads your dog into the wonderful world of physical activity. Under, over, and through going to provide you an aerobic exercise either, but at least your dog will be moving around, stretching its legs, and getting some energy out without you having to leave your living room. The trick is to teach your dog to go underneath, over, through, and around things.

At their core, over, through, under, and around may seem like trivial parlor tricks. However, you’ll be glad your dog knows directional commands if leash ever becomes wrapped or entangled around a foreign object. Have you ever seen a dog on an outdoor lead that’s wrapped around a lamp post? It’s not fun for the dog or for their owners to have to untangle a dog who could have just as easily fixed its own problem by knowing a few directional commands like “go around.”

4. Train like Rocky — Run the Stairs

No one said exercising was glamorous. Get your family dog in the best shape of its life by training like Rocky Balboa — running up and down your home’s staircases.

Staircase dashing isn’t for everyone. It helps if you have a staircase. And, it’s a lot safer for your dog if you have to carpet. Slippery wooden floors can lead to dogs with broken legs and no dog owner likes surprise Vet bills. That said, running up and down stairs can be a fun game for your dog when he has a human friend at the top and bottom of the staircase to join in his excitement.

Running the stairs is an excellent way to kill some time with the family, keeping everyone busy and happy, building confidence through successful dog training. Remember to praise your dog every time he does something good. Positively reinforcing desired actions is the best way to teach a dog to repeat the behavior.

5. Tag-team Targeting

Targeting is one of our favorite easy to do at home dog activities. When you’re alone it’s easier with a treat, but if you have help sometimes another person is all you need. Essentially, you hold out your hand and wait for your dog to make contact with his nose. On contact, praise your dog, even giving a treat. Targeting teaches your dog to redirect its attention back to you, as well as to come on command. Letting your dog know coming to you means he’ll get lovings and rewards makes him think he wants to come to you when you call (even if he doesn’t).

Tag-team targeting is a way to increase solo-targeting fun and incorporate a higher level of physical exercise.

With a human partner, stand at opposites sides of a room or your home — each with a bounty of yummy treats. One partner calls the dog, praises treats, and then the other partner calls the dog. Over time and with increased performance, you can increase the distance between you and your partner which in turn will increase how far your dog is traveling, burning out more and more energy. With something as simple as a friend and standing on opposite sides of a room you have created a game that will truly benefit your dogs physical and mental quality of life.

It’s always nice to disguise your dog’s learning as a fun game. If you practice tag-team targeting often you’ll discover you are impressed with your dogs recall ability

6. Clean the floor

Cleaning up the floor might sound like a chore to you, but it can be a great game to play with your family dog. Cleaning up, or bring, is sort of like playing fetch with your dog except you don’t have to throw anything. When your dog learns to bring you things you can also teach him to put things away. Practice by scattering toys around a room and asking your dog to get them or bring them to you. Then direct your dog to drop them in something like a basket or hamper. Remember, dogs don’t speak English, so he’ll learn faster through body motion in the beginning, but keep working at it and a simple voice command will eventually do the trick. Tricking your dog to wander all over your house to get, retrieve, and put away your messes is where you’ll burn the most energy.

7. Build an Obstacle Course

Go hard or go home, as they say. Or in your case, go hard and stay home. Setting up an obstacle course for your dog is an amazingly awesome way to have fun. Designing the course and helping your dog navigate it will be great for you, but your dog’s going to think you’re the best human in the whole wide world, too.

Remember making forts out of blankets as a kid? Putting together a dog obstacle course in your house is kind of like the equivalent for adulting — and no one will ever call you childish for it.

The obstacle course is your chance to practice a lot of the skills you can master from the 6 previous indoor dog activities and games. You can work on sit, stay, come, go around, over, under, get it, bring it, fetch, catch it, through it, targeting and more. How ambitious you get is up to you. Usually, it’s wiser to start out with a small achievable task for your dog. If that goes well, graduate to something more difficult, add a 2nd task, or increase the number of times you ask your dog to do a task before releasing the usual reward. Working away from treating for every single action teaches your dog confidence instead of cockiness, and helps shield you from overfeeding.

8. Catch Me If You Can

Playing a game of chase might be the ultimate anyone can do it dog activity. Call your dog to you, reward for a good come, and then take off in the other direction! It sounds crazy, but your dog is going to love it. Let him catch you, praise or treat, and then DO IT AGAIN!

Catch me if you can is a human activity intensive game, but it’s a lot of fun and your dog will really enjoy practicing following their favorite human around. Being exciting makes your dog feel like you are exciting — even if you’re totally ordinary  — and that’s what will help keep Fido at your side at all times, no matter what. Best Freinds 4 Ever.

9. Chase a Friend

Most dogs love playing with and chasing after other dogs. If it’s not too much for your living arrangement, it can be fun to invite a friend over for a puppy play date. Plan a luncheon or make yourself a cocktail, catch up with each other, and laugh together as you watch your dogs chase their tails, run into each other, and generally do funny things.

Not all dogs are social butterflies. Give the opportunity, it’s possible to ease an anti-social dog into the idea of liking another dog, but not all dogs immediately take to being a social go-getter. Some dogs are just more of the wall-flower or grumpy old man personalities. If your dog’s not “into other dogs” you might want to skip a play date, but on the other hand, you’ll never correct an unwanted behavior if you don’t give your dog a chance to practice good behavior.

10. Play Fetch

Not everyone has the space to play fetch indoors, but if you do: GO FOR IT. Toss a ball and let your dog do the work. Have a staircase? Great, combine another great action game and toss your ball up or down a set of stairs. Either way, your dog’s going to be running those stairs up and down to bring the ball back to you. Make sure you’re giving lots of praise when your dog returns the ball, so he understands that is the action you wanted. Dogs do things because they want to. Dogs do things on command because they want to make you happy. Convincing a dog what they’re doing makes you happy engrains in their doggy brains that they should do that action over and over again because it’s what worked to make you happy. Praise your dog when he brings you a ball even if you’re not in the mood to play because you want him to always be ready when you decide you are.

11. Bouncing Ball Treats

Bouncing ball treats are going to take some practice. Essentially, you’re combining fetch with find the treat. Make an incision in a tennis ball, put a treat inside, and send it flying. Make sure your dog sees you put in the treat, so they know there is more to the game than just fetch.

A neat way to break into bouncing ball treats is to first train your dog to associate tennis balls with treats. You can do that by playing the Muffin Game. It’s not a high-level activity game, so it’s not in this list, but essentially you get a 6-muffin muffin tin, put a muffin in each tin, and then cover a few of them with halved tennis balls. Once your dog realizes there are treats in them thar’ muffin holes, his nose will alert him to start looking underneath/inside the tennis balls too. Take what he’s learned from the muffin game and apply it to fetch for the bouncing ball treat game.

12. Freeze Dancing

You’re sexy and you know it! Some people know freeze dancing as “go wild and freeze,” but essentially you want to get your groove on, do some dancing, jumping, arms flailing, or another boogie-down-esque type movement that gets your dog doing shaking and grooving to the beat, too. Music is optional, but can definitely assist in creating an exciting atmosphere. Once everyone is excited, FREEZE. Stop your body and signal to your dog to do the same. For a successful freeze, praise your dog and then repeat the dance.

Going crazy and stopping on command teaches your dog that there is a time for crazy and a time for calm. More importantly, it teaches your dog that you are the one who is in control of those times. It’s all part of the broader subliminal messaging to your dog that you’re the leader of his pack, so he should probably do what you say when you say it… because you’re the leader. Dogs are less complicated than people. Take it at face value.

13. Self-guided Learning

In the self-guided learning game, the student becomes the master. Your dog literally teaches itself to do something. The catch is, you’re still the one deciding if he’s doing the correct something. For example, put a stool in front of your dog. If he puts his paw on the top of the stool, give him a treat. Treat him every time he puts his paw on the top of the stool. Eventually, he’ll have taught himself to stand on a stool. You can progress standing into jumping onto, then sitting on, and or going over (remember the over, under, through game from earlier?).

Your dog might be smarter than you think. It can be fun to discover what their likes and interests really are. Sometimes the best way to get to know someone else — like your dog — is to listen, rather than do all the talking.

Self-guided learning is a great way to get started with over, under, through. Breaking a desired dog behavior down to smaller steps can make each step easier to learn, in turn making your larger goal easier to achieve.

15. Language games

Scientific studies have shown the average canine has the brain capacity of the average 2-year old human. What that means is they have a huge capacity for learning lots of words. Some say dogs are capable of learning as many as 200 different phrases. Most trainers recommend keeping commands to a single word, though, to give your dog a fighting chance. Slur a few words together to skate around the rules. Learning is never set in stone. Make a fun game out of teaching your dog new words by leading your dog around to each new word’s physical association.

Your dog isn’t a parrot, so make sure your words have meaning. You can’t just yell words at your dog like “cheese pizza!” and hope it clicks with your dog. If you want your dog to understand “cheese-pizza” then take your dog to a cheese pizza, show him the cheese pizza, say “cheese-pizza”, and maybe give him a bite. Next time you say your dog’s name, followed by “cheese-pizza,” you’ll be amazed at the excited look on your dog’s face.

*BONUS* Indoor Activity for Dogs

Technology called. It said they make these cool gadgets for dogs now called automatic ball launchers — otherwise known as a hands-free fetch machine —that you can use inside your home. Auto-fetchers come in many varieties for all sizes of dogs, but there are designs that shoot the ball across a floor instead of launching it through the air that are excellent for indoor use. Best part, there is minimal effort on your part. Life gets busy and it’s not always convenient to stop and play with your dog, but you can still show your love by ensuring they get the exercise they deserve.

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Love this list? Have thoughts or comments? Want to know more about a particular game or staying active with your dog? Use the form in the comments section below to share what’s on your mind.

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