Dogs are natural born athletes and scavengers. Most breeds are therefore active and need lots of physical and mental exercise in order to feel content and relaxed in a home environment.
No doubt you fulfill those requirements by taking your dog for long walks whenever possible. But what do you do on days when it’s pouring rain, snowing, super windy, or unbearably cold? Sometimes, staying inside is safer than going outside. But that doesn’t mean your dog won’t require mental and physical exercise.
Remember, a bored dog is a naughty dog! If you’re not keeping your animal busy one way or another while they’re awake, then they’re going to find their own way to stay busy. And that might include destroying your shoes, unearthing your plants, etc.
But don’t worry! We’ve got plenty of great ideas on how you can keep your pet busy indoors. Here’s our list of top indoor games for dogs!
How to play indoors with your dog without toys
In this first section, we’ll be covering some games you can play without toys. Some dogs just aren’t interested in them, and will prefer engaging with you in a different way. So if this sounds like your pup, here are some fun indoor games you can play without toys:
Hide treats around your home
This is a great way to bring your dog back to their scavenging instincts and to sharpen their scenting skills. Tell your dog to sit and stay while you hide treats in various places around the room. Then tell them to “go” and watch as they try to sniff out the treats!
Set up your dog for success by starting easy: Make sure the treats are easily accessible and visible at first. Then, as your dog becomes better at the game, you can start hiding the treats in more complicated hiding spots.
Hide-and-seek in your home
Much like the “hidden treat” game, this game will get your dog’s brain going. But it’ll be even more fun for them, because this time, they’ll be looking for you! Again, tell your dog to sit and stay while you go hide somewhere in the house. Then call them and simply wait until they find you! Start easy, and find more difficult places to hide as your dog gets better at the game.
Play indoor tag
This game is perfect if you’ve got kids at home - and especially if you’ve got a house with room to run in! There’s not much training involved in this as most dogs will follow you if you start running in the opposite direction from them. So all you have to do is start running - and let your dog enjoy the chase!
Just be careful as this game may overstimulate your pup, which could incite them to nip or mouth playfully. If this is the case, stop the game immediately. This will teach your dog that mouthing ends the game, while playing politely keeps the game going!
Race in the halls or up the stairs
If you’ve got a long hallway or even a staircase, this game can be a lot of fun and will help your dog burn off some excess energy. Tell your dog to stay by your side, then say “go” and start running! If your dog needs a little help understanding the concept of the game, have another person at the end of the hall or at the top of the stairs. Have them call the dog’s name when you say “go”.
Be cautious with this game as physical activities in a smaller, indoor environment can lead to injuries. Make sure your pup is fully developed (at least a year old), and always supervise these play sessions closely.
How to play indoors with your dog using toys
If your dog is toy-oriented, then these games are sure to interest them!
Play indoor fetch
You know the concept! Throw a toy, and let your dog catch it and bring it back to you! Because space is so limited inside, this is a good opportunity to try some new moves in your fetch game. For example, go long, or drop the toy right at your feet, race after the toy along with your dog or run away with the toy in your hand before you throw it, etc. This could also be a great opportunity to teach your dog the “bring it back” and/or “drop it” command. Whatever you do, keep your dog on their toes!
Play indoor tug-of-war
This is also a great game to play indoors as long as you have a good, sturdy tug toy. Simply get your dog excited by waving the toy around and using a high-pitched voice…they’ll take care of the rest!
This game is great for bonding with your pooch and also for strengthening their muscles. And don’t worry about letting them win the game - there’s actually no scientific proof to back up the theory that this promotes dominance. On the contrary, it makes your dog think you’re a great playmate, and will make them want to play with you even more!
How to play indoors with your dog using training and brain games
Tiring out your dog isn’t just about making them run around. Dogs can also get rid of excess energy by using their brains! Here are a few fun ways you can challenge them:
Build an indoor agility course
This is a great way to combine both physical and mental exercise. Being indoors, you’ll have to get creative. You could use a broom as an obstacle for instance, or a chair as an object to crawl under.
However you decide to set up your agility course, just make sure you start easy. Lure your dog over a broom you’ve placed on the floor and reward them with a treat if they’ve successfully stepped over it. Take it at your dog’s pace and remember to keep it fun!
Purchase or make DIY treat dispensers and puzzle toys
Treat dispensers and puzzle toys tap into dogs’ natural instinct to scavenge and work for their food. There are hundreds of fun puzzle games or treat-dispensing toys for dogs that you can purchase online or at a local pet store. Kongs, for example, are a popular choice.
However, you can make these games more fun for you by making them yourself! There are plenty of easy ways to make puzzle games for your dog. For example, get a muffin tin and place various treats inside. Then cover the treats with tennis balls or pieces of paper before placing the tin in front of your dog. They’ll have a great time trying to get the treats out of the tin!
Puzzle toys are a great way to keep your dog’s mind active and to keep them entertained when you can’t go outside. It’s also a great way to keep them busy while you’re working - so you might want to prep one right before your next zoom call!
Play the three-cup game
This game will require you to be present and actively engaged! Grab three cups (preferably of a durable material, not glass), and place them in front of your sitting dog. Then, clearly show your dog that you’re holding a treat in your hand, and place the treat underneath one of the cups. Tell your dog to “go” and see whether they go for the right cup. Praise them heavily if they do, and increase the difficulty of the game as your dog gets better at it.
The “Which Hand” game is another version of this, and can also be used to stimulate your dog’s mind!
Do some trick training
If you think training is like homework for dogs, think again! Dogs love to learn and love to please their owners - both of which they can do plenty of during training sessions! But it’s all about how you approach them. Firstly, dogs don’t have a very long attention span, so make sure you keep training sessions short and sweet. Never start or end a training session on a negative note, and always make sure your voice and body language is happy and engaging - this will make your dog feel like it’s all a game!
The rest is up to you! If your dog needs to brush up on the basics, these are the tricks you should start with (sit, stay, come, and down). However, dogs are capable of learning all sorts of tricks, so just like the previous games, you can increase the level as your dog gets better. One day, they might be able to put their own toys away, bring you your slippers when you need them, or bark on command!
So what do you think? Which one of these games will you be playing with your dog this winter?