Living in Michigan during the winter means it’s dark by 5 pm and too cold for long outdoor walks with my dog. I’ve had to improvise and come up with all sorts of games and activities to keep my dog mentally and physically exercised during these cold winter months.
Entertain Your Dog Without Destroying the House
There is a growing acceptance among scientists that play is very, very important and the type and frequency of play are a really good indicator of a dog’s quality of life. – Mark Evans, former RSPCA chief veterinarian
Frisbee inside the kitchen is certainly out, but there are lots of creative ways to keep your dog busy inside. Without giving our dogs something meaningful to do we often find ourselves with a chewed up shoe or coffee table. Bored dogs become destructive dogs.
Just because you’re stuck inside doesn’t mean the fun has to end. Trying to come up with ideas on how to keep your dog busy can be more exhausting than actually getting up and doing it. Next time you’re stuck inside because of the bad weather try out some of these indoor activities.
How to Keep Your Dog Busy (and out of trouble) Indoors
- The Which Hand Game
If you’ve been thinking about teaching your dog some scent work games this is a great place to start. Place a treat in one of your closed fists and let the dog choose which hand it’s in. A gentle “touch” command will be helpful. Our dogs have excellent noses but they need to learn to utilize them. Like us they’re used to visual cues in their normal day to day activities.
- The Three Cup Game
One step up from the which hand game this game is also commonly referred to as the shell game. You place a treat under one of 3 cups and have your dog choose the correct one. Once they get the hang of it you can start mixing up the cups so they’re not just relying on visuals. Don’t let this cat put your pup to shame.
- Hide and Seek
This is by far one of Laika’s favorite indoor games. Have your dog sit and wait while you go find a hiding spot. Call them once when you’re hidden and praise them enthusiastically when they find you.
- Use the Stairs
If you’re snowed in you might not have an opportunity to get in your regular amount of physical exercise with your dog. If you have stairs in your home utilize them. Have your dog follow along as you get in some exercise going up and down the stairs. If your dog isn’t clumsy you can also try playing fetch on the stairs.
- Find The Treats
Grab some smelly treats and have your dog stay while you go hide them around the house. Start with some easy hiding spots and work your way up once your dog is accustomed to using his nose. When we started working on this game I would drag the treats along the carpet so my dog could easily pick up the scent.
- Fetch My Slippers
Dogs love having a job to do, even if it’s something as simple as fetching you your slippers. Make them feel extra useful by teaching them the names of some items you wouldn’t mind them retrieving for you. If you want to impress all of your friends teach your dog to fetch you something from the fridge.
- Stuffed Kong
If you’d like to keep your dog busy with a toy for awhile stuff a Kong with something yummy. You can freeze peanut butter or broth, or just put some treats inside and give your dog something to work for. I love using Kong’s because they’re nontoxic, indestructible, and dishwasher safe.
- Teach Your Dog The Names of Their Toys
Have you seen Chaser the Border Collie? She knows over 1,000 words and can pick out an given toy amongst 800 with it’s name. We’re not all going to be overachievers like Chaser but we can teach our dogs the names of their toys. Start with playing with one specific toy and give it a name while you do. Once your dog has learned that specific toys name and value you can test their skills by seeing if they can pick it out amongst their other toys.
- The “Go Find It” Game
Once your dog knows the names of some of their toys teach them the “go find it” game. Have your dogs toys in a pile or container and tell them to “go find” their favorite toy. Keep it fun for them by rewarding them handsomely with a treat or quick game of tug when they succeed. This game will give your dog a great mental workout.
- Basic Obedience Training
Does your dog know all of the basic obedience commands? Does he have a reliable recall and stay? Even well trained dogs need a refresher course now and then to keep them sharp. All dogs should have a reliable sit, down, stay, drop it, and come here.
- Teaching a New Trick
Does your dog know how to weave through your legs and jump through a hoop? There’s always a new trick you can teach your dog. Here’s a blog (cutepuppiesnow.com) with numerous tips for more tricks to learn, as well as other info and instructions that you can work on. Once your dog knows a bunch of tricks step it up a notch and combine their learned behaviors into new tricks.
- Clicker Training
If you don’t have a clicker I’d recommend picking one up next time you’re at the pet store. When training a dog every second matters; it’s so easy to miss the chance to communicate with our dogs the instant they do the behavior you desire. When you use a clicker you can mark the exact moment your dog made the right choice.
- Tug of War
Tug of war is extremely tiring, both mentally and physically. The good news is you don’t need a ton of room to play so it can be done indoors. Make sure your dog has a good “drop it” or “leave it” command and have fun. Contrary to what some people have said for years playing tug will not make your dog aggressive. It’s a simple way to exercise your dog as long as you follow a few basic rules. Earn some bonus fun points with your dog by letting them win sometimes.
- Teach Them To Clean Up
If your dogs toys are kept in a container or bin teach them to clean up after themselves. If your dog already knows “drop it” have them pick up a toy and give them their drop it command once they’re standing over the container. Praise them like crazy, then rinse and repeat. Eventually with consistency you’ll have a dog that will be able to clean up after himself.
- Puzzle Toys
Keep you dog mentally stimulated by giving them a puzzle to solve. There are a ton of dog puzzle toys available, as well as treat dispensing toys like the Kong Wobbler. There’s also a ton of great DIY toys out there you can make. I love the simple muffin tin game – if you have a muffin tin and some tennis balls you’re ready to play.
- Make Them Work for Their Food
We give our dogs a nice comfy life – they get a warm bed, lots of attention, and their meals for free. But our dogs were bred to work alongside us, many of our dogs are missing out on some mentally stimulating activities. One of the easiest ways to challenge their minds is to make them work for their meals. You can make your dog perform some tricks before he gets his dinner, or you can have them eat from a food dispensing toy.
- Play a Game of Fetch
If you live on the 5th floor with a St. Bernard you can probably skip this game. Most of us do have some extra room indoors for a simple game of fetch. Hallways, stairways, and big living rooms are popular choices. My dog and I love playing soccer in the basement with her Jolly ball. Be careful with heavy toys around anything that’s fragile or able to be tipped over, and don’t play fetch inside the kitchen.
- Master The Art of Doggie Massage
Learning how to give a dog massage is enriching for owner and dog alike. A nice massage can help soothe and relax nearly any dog. Daily dog massages are great for older dogs or those with arthritis, it helps soothe sore and achy joints. Giving your dog a massage reduces anxiety, relieves stress, improves circulation, and creates a great bond between you and your dog.
- Shaping Games
If you haven’t heard of 101 things to do with a box you’ve been missing out on some fun training opportunities. It’s a great foundation for learning how to practice free shaping techniques, and it only requires a box and a clicker. The basic principle of shaping games is to encourage our dogs to try something new. They get to make their own decisions and increase their mental and physical flexibility. You start out with a box on the ground and without any cues let your dog investigate and decide what to do. Shaping can be used with any item, not just a box. Here’s a great video of shape training a dog to crawl under an object.
- Grooming Sessions
Although your dog won’t find a grooming session as exciting as a game of tug it is something that needs to be done from time to time. Our dogs need to be brushed, bathed, get their teeth brushed, and have their nails trimmed ocassionally. Some dogs will tolerate grooming better than others, but oftentimes the more you practice with positive reinforcement the easier it will become. Don’t be afraid to hand out lots of treats during a grooming session – you wan’t to ensure your dog will associate grooming habits with a positive experience.
- Play Tag
Playing tag will require a partner. Each of you will sit or stand at one side of the room with a toy or some treats. Take turns calling the dog over and rewarding them when he comes. Make sure your dog is receiving lots of positive reinforcement each time they obey. This is a simple and fun way to reinforce a reliable recall.
- Create an Obstacle Course
Create your own obstacle course inside your home. Have your dog jump over some towels, weave through his toys, and then lay down on a blanket. Use your imagination and come up with a set of obstacles for your dog to follow. Once your dog has learned how to jump over the towels you then move onto the toy weave. Building on prior tricks will keep your dog mentally stimulated and encourages focus.
- Make Bubbles
I don’t know why but some dogs are fascinated by catching bubbles. There’s even a wide selection of pet bubble making toys on the market. You don’t have to go out and buy special doggie bubbles – the bubbles that are available for children are nontoxic. If you have a child in the home I’ve got some video proof that babies, dogs, and bubbles are the most adorable thing on the planet.
- Get a New Toy or Rotate Them
Studies have found that dogs get bored with their old toys. You can either buy your dog a new toy to get their enthusiasm going or you can rotate their toys. Instead of giving your dog access to all of their toys all the time give them a couple. If you rotate one of their old toys back into the mix after awhile they’ll have some of that original enthusiasm back. You can always make their toys more exciting by ensuring you’re engaging with them by playing fetch or tug. Toys take on a whole new value once you get involved and start playing with it as well. There’s also a ton of DIY toys you can make from household items such as old t shirts, towels, and denim.
- Make a Dog Play Date
Does your dog have some nice doggie friends? Invite them over for some play time. It’s so satisfying to see dogs engaging in play with one another, and it’s pretty much guaranteed you’ll have one tired dog at the end of the day. You’ll also have a chance to catch up on some chores while the dogs create their own wrestle mania in your living room.
- Brush up Old Tricks
Just like us our dogs need a refresher now and then. When’s the last time you asked your dog to roll over or play dead? If it’s been awhile get out your clicker or treats and run through the drill. Have your dog practice all of their commands to make sure they’re not getting rusty.
- Teach Your Dog the “Go To” Command
Does your dog know how to go to the couch or to his bed? This trick is simple to teach and it’s helpful when you’re making dinner or having guests over. If you tell your dog to go to his spot while you’re making dinner enough times it will become a habit. No dog in the kitchen while cooking means you won’t be finding dog hair in your dinner as often.
- Teach Your Dog to Grab His Leash
Before we go for a walk I have my dog go and grab her leash. She also has to fetch me my boots and her harness. It’s not asking much, but it’s enough to keep her focused and busy while I’m getting ready. Before I taught her to go grab those items she’d be spinning around, whining, and jumping while I got everything ready.
- Teach Your Dog to Turn On/Off Lights
This can come in quite handy when it’s getting late and you find yourself needing some more light and you’re feeling a bit lazy. Instead of having to get up and turn on the light have your dog do it for you. To start with this trick a touch stick or good “touch” it command are handy. If you have a small dog you might have to improvise to make it possible for your dog to reach the light switch. Don’t attempt this trick if the occasional scratch mark on your wall will bother you.
- Work on Impulse Control
Dogs, like children, have to be taught that they can’t always get what they want right away. From a puppy learning bite inhibition to teaching an adult dog to “wait” on command, impulse control keeps our dogs out of trouble and safe. Brush up on the basic impulse control commands like leave it, wait, stay, settle, and down. These commands are important if your dog ever gets loose or decides to chase after that squirrel.
- Make Some Dog Treats
Your dog might not be an active participant in the making of dog treats, but he’ll certainly be reaping the rewards. You can make your own simple dog treats instead of going out to the store. It’s nice knowing exactly what goes into what our dogs are eating. Not only will you have a great supply of training rewards on hand but you’ll also impress your dog with your excellent culinary expertise.
- Teach Them To Say Please by Sitting
Does your dog come up to you and nudge your hand when they want something? If you don’t find this behavior desirable teach your dog that sitting politely is the key to gaining your attention. Don’t be afraid to teach your dog how to act – without guidance they develop bad manners. Our dogs look to us for cues all the time, they like to know what’s expected of them. Reward polite behaviors handsomely, with consistency your dog will get into the habit of asking for things in a polite manner.
- Snuggle Up & Relax
After a nice training session or game there’s nothing better than a little bit of relaxation. We all need time to unwind, and many of our dogs love to lounge around with us. Before bedtime each night I sit on the couch with Laika for a bit. It didn’t start off as anything planned but now when 10:30 rolls around she hops up on the couch and looks at me – waiting for our nightly snuggle before bed.
Keep Your Dog Happy with Interactive Play
Give your dog some extra attention when your indoors – play some fun engaging games or teach them something new. Dogs thrive with interactive play, it’s necessary for a dog’s health and well being. To keep your dog busy you don’t need a bunch of fancy toys or access to the outdoors, you just need a little bit of time and dedication.
We might not be able to provide them with the full time job they were bred for – but we can give them something meaningful to do with a few simple games and tricks. And when you look at your dogs happy face after a simple game of tug you’ll know exactly why dogs are mans best friend.
You call to a dog and a dog will break its neck to get to you. Dogs just want to please. Call to a cat and its attitude is, “What’s in it for me?” – Lewis Grizzard
How do you keep your dog entertained indoors? Does your dog know the name to all of his toys? Do you make your own dog treats or dog toys?
Looking For More Quick Boredom Busters?
If you’re looking more even more ways to keep your dog entertained be sure to check out our 26 quick ways to relieve dog boredom.