13 Indoor Games for Dogs To Keep Your Clever Pet Active and Engaged
Sometimes, it's either too hot or too cold for your pupper to scurry around outdoors safely. But daily exercise and playtime are essential to their wellbeing, so we consulted a pet professional about clever ways to keep your dog active—without ever leaving the house.
Curtis Kelley, CPDT-KA, and owner of Pet Parent Allies in Philadelphia, says indoor games for dogs provide essential interest and novelty to boost engagement. "If the only excitement our dogs get is a walk twice daily, they might spend much of the day bored or waiting for their walk. Indoor entertainment gives you a wide array of tools to satisfy your dog."
Try one—or all—of these 13 indoor activities to keep your pooch tip-top mentally and physically, regardless of the weather.
1. Build an Agility Course
If you can't use the agility course in your backyard, create one in the living room using everyday objects.
First, clear some space so your pup can run and jump without getting hurt or damaging any valuables. Then, create the course. Try an assortment of these:
- Stacked blankets, towels, and pillows to jump over
- A hula hoop to jump through
- A large, open-ended box your doggo can crawl through
- A basket and a few toys they must place inside
- A low ottoman or step stool to jump on
- A pole or broom placed across two boxes to leap over
- A ball or flying disc to catch
Walk your dog through the course a few times, and once they have the hang of it, stand at the end of it and call them. If your dog is a quick learner, have fun mixing up the path and adding more hurdles—and end with a mad dash down a hallway for a treat!
2. Play Magic Cups
Find an open space with a hardwood floor (or a similar surface). Instruct your dog to sit or lie down while you set up the game.
Gather three large plastic cups and a tennis ball. Place the tennis ball under one of the cups, then shuffle all three cups in front of your canine pal. Then, tell them to find it. You might have to help your pup find the ball the first few times until their wits take over.
3. Hide and Seek
Hide and seek is a fun indoor game to exercise your dog that the whole family will enjoy. All you need is your dog's favorite toy. Have your dog stay in one room while you hide in another. Once you're settled, call out to them. When they find you, reward them with the toy.
4. Enhance Basic Skills
Make learning an entertaining indoor game for dogs anytime by expanding their basic skill ability. These skills are rewarding for your pup to know, as you'll put them to good use day after day.
Start with clicker training, then consider teaching stay, fetch, and lie down. Before you know it, your furry pal will be eager to learn even more.
5. Plan an Easter Egg Hunt
"An Easter egg hunt is a great way to activate your dog's sense of smell. Dogs have hundreds of millions of scent receptors, but sometimes they still need some practice with engaging them," Kelley says. "This game is engaging and calming for dogs, as sniffing helps lower their heart rate."
However, it doesn't have to be Easter to play an egg hunt-inspired game. Just stuff a little of your dog's kibble inside a treat-holding toy and let them snuffle at it a few times so they pick up the scent. Then, when your pup isn't looking, hide it in another room. Then, ask them to find it and watch them hunt down the treasure.
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6. Play Round Robin
Here's another great indoor game for dogs and kiddos. Have everyone sit together in a large circle with pupper in the same room. Each person has a piece or two of kibble and takes turns calling their dog's name. Every time he goes to the right person, reward him with praise and (of course) the treat.
"Round robin serves a double function of teaching dogs recall and sharpening their hearing and sound locating. This skill can be expanded into hide and seek as well," Kelley says. "It also benefits every member of the family and their relationship to the dog."
When the weather is nicer, continue playing this game outside, with all family members spread out even farther from one another.
7. Do Safe Stair Sprints
Adult, active dogs who already climb stairs easily might enjoy this exercise diversion—as long as they don't have back problems. Plus, it helps reinforce basic training skills.
Start at the bottom of the stairs and tell your pup to sit and stay. Throw a ball at the top of the stairs, wait a moment, and then say go. Let your pup dash up the stairs as fast as they can to retrieve the ball, then tell them again to stay. Call them back down the stairs. Repeat as often as they have the energy.
8. Try the Muffin Tin Game
This is simple to set up and perfect for dogs of all ages. Find an old muffin tin, hide a tiny bit of kibble or treats in each hole, and cover each space with a tennis ball.
When you have your new puzzle toy set up, place it on the floor and encourage your pooch to check it out. The goal is for your pup to remove each ball to get to the treats. One of the game's challenges is for the dog to remember where they found the food and where they haven't, especially if they roll a ball from one hole to another.
You might need to assist them a few times until they understand how it works, but it shouldn't take too long before they're begging to play again.
9. Bake Tasty Treats Together
OK, no matter how smart your dog is, we're not suggesting she run the mixer on this particular indoor activity. But she'll certainly be up for evaluating the finished product.
We have many homemade snack recipes that should tickle your Fido's fancy. (The ones pictured above are peanut butter banana grain-free dog treats.) And when those blustery winter holidays such as Christmas or Valentine's Day keep you cooped up inside, what better way to pass the time than in the warm and cozy kitchen?
10. Clean Up
This game starts by teaching your pet the cue "put it away." You'll need to train them to pick up a toy, carry it to a basket, and then drop it.
The cleaning game can begin once they understand these cues. Scatter a bunch of toys in a small area, point to one and say, "Put it away." Repeat until your doggo deposits all the toys in the basket, giving them praise along the way.
Kelley says this is a wonderful challenge for dogs and requires a lot of mental energy to master it. "There are several components to this skill used in everyday life. It's also great for saving you the frustration of having to pick up your dog's toys at the end of the day."
Perfect for wherever your feisty pooch needs sink her teeth into something.
Dogs with high energy sometimes need just a little more active daily play to keep them content. Plus, playtime is always a wonderful option for improving the bond between the two of you. Change things up with a sturdy tug toy, teaching them cues such as "stop" and "tug" so they have to think about this indoor game instead of simply tugging until you fall over. To protect their spines, make sure they move more side-to-side and front-to-back, rather than up and down.
12. Ask for Something New
Grab some treats. Then, when your dog is paying attention, ask for "something new" and give them a treat for whatever action they perform: sit, touch, down, spin, paw shake, roll over, stand, beg, and so on.
Once they've done something you feel is appropriate to pay for, ask for "something new" again, offering a treat for any action different from the first. So if your dog sits the first time, reward them for anything other than that. The more tricks or actions your dog knows, the longer you can play.
Kelley suggests this game for furry pals who like to guess before you've requested any action. "It helps them engage in a different kind of learning system. Many dogs are used to being asked to do something but don't often need to generate the action themselves," he says.
13. Build Snuffle Boxes
Similar to a snuffle mat, which really puts a dog's nose to the test, Kelley says snuffle boxes are also interesting ways to simulate foraging and sniffing through something to find a reward. It engages your canine buddy's brain a little differently.
Using two or three boxes of various sizes, stuff them with wads of tissue paper, packing paper, or spare dish towels. Sprinkle a smidgen of kibble within the folds of the paper or towels. Then place the boxes at various places throughout the house, with a tiny kibble clue between each one, so your pupper has to roam to find them.
Additional reporting by Caitlin Scott.