10 Indoor Exercises for Dogs to Try This Winter

Jamie Lovejoy, DVM
By Jamie Lovejoy, DVM on Oct. 30, 2023
A puppy plays with a ball.

Cold and rainy seasons can be a huge drag for our canine companions who enjoy outdoor activities. While sitting on the couch watching movies will entertain us, boredom and inactivity in dogs can lead to unwelcome behaviors and weight gain.

The good news is that there are many activities you can do indoors with your dog!

Why Is Exercise Important for a Dog?

It’s an old saying that “a good dog is a tired dog.”

As with humans, dogs benefit both both physically and mentally from exercise. Keeping your dog at an ideal body condition score with activity will prolong their life.

Obesity can lead to joint issues, respiratory disease, and endocrine diseases like diabetes.

Mental stimulation derived from exercise keeps your dog from developing unwanted destructive or compulsive behaviors.

There’s an added benefit to the relationship with your dog when you can exercise and play with them.

Games that have clear goals and outcomes (like a reward) will improve your dog’s trust in you. Some games may even teach your dog specific obedience concepts that can be useful in other aspects of your life.

How Much Exercise Does a Dog Need?

Though most dogs will benefit from one to two hours of exercise per day, it varies depending on breed, life stage, and how much exercise a pup can handle depending on their health.

Pugs and Bulldogs (English, French) need to stick to much shorter routines in cooler weather because of their smushed noses and the potential for breathing difficulties. But herding dogs like Border Collies need a lot of exercise to keep them healthy.

Puppies, senior dogs, and dogs with certain medical conditions will also have different exercise needs.

Though most of these indoor exercises are safe for all dogs, if you’re considering dramatically changing your dog’s exercise routine, it’s important to talk to your veterinarian first.

10 Ways Dogs Can Get Exercise Indoors

1. Tug of War

Tug of war is a great indoor game because it can really get your dog’s heart rate up with minimal available space.

Though it’s more fun for your dog if they occasionally “win,” it’s important to maintain the upper hand with some established rules.

For safety reasons, your dog should only play with a designated tugging toy. Hands and clothing are a no-go!

You should also train your dog to let go at your command. Resuming play after a successful “drop it” rewards your dog’s obedience.

The ability to get your dog’s attention during the game will also help you get the upper hand in potentially high-stress situations.

A good tug of war toy will need to be easy for both of you to hold onto tightly. They should also be soft on the teeth but strong enough for pulling. Rope toys are a common choice, but some dogs may prefer a plastic toy.

It’s important to remember that most tug toys do not hold up well with chewing. Dogs should not be left alone with rope toys; they can be ingested and can create issues that may need surgery.

2. Puzzles and Games

Our companions no longer need to hunt and forage to survive but stimulating that part of their brain appears to have many health benefits.

Many great puzzles and games are available for dogs.

Snuffle mats and lick mats are calming products, engaging your pup’s nose and slowing their eating process.

Fast eaters are more at risk for gastrointestinal issues like bloat and vomiting. If your pup tends to inhale their food, a slow-feeder bowl should be considered to prevent these health issues from occurring outside of playtime.

There are also products geared to ramp your dog up and provide exercise as well as mental stimulation.

Treat dispensing balls are a simple puzzle that usually results in your dog moving all around the house trying to get the treats out of the ball.

There are even treat dispensing products that you can link to your smart phone so you can keep your dog entertained while at the office. These can be especially effective for dogs with separation anxiety.

The goal of indoor play is to burn calories, so it’s important to make sure all treats and food dispensed through these toys is included in your dog’s daily calorie intake.

This will vary by your dog’s age, size, and breed. Be sure to talk to your veterinarian about what your dog’s calorie goal should be.

Feed portions of your dog’s meals through the puzzle toys or give a lighter meal to make up for the higher treat intake. 

Double-check with your veterinarian to ensure you’re using an appropriate food-to-treat ratio, so you are not underfeeding or overfeeding your pup.

3. Fetch Indoors

To avoid damage to both your house and your dog, choosing the right location and toys for indoor fetch is important. Soft, low-bounce toys are great options.

Tennis balls are also often soft enough for indoor use. If you don’t want to throw the ball by hand (and have enough space), some automatic launchers can be adjusted to shorter distances.

For young, athletic dogs, throwing a soft toy up the stairs can provide some extra exercise at low physical cost to you.

4. Hide and Seek

Though it’s hard to get your dog to count while you hide, this can still be a fun game to play.

Start by hiding in an easy-to-find location and call your dog to you. When they find you, praise them enthusiastically.

Once they understand the rules of the game, ramp up the difficulty by hiding in places where they may have to use their nose and their ears to find you.

Be sure to give them hints as needed—you don’t want them to get frustrated and lose interest in the game.

5. Obedience Drills

It sounds like work, but practicing your dog’s basic obedience commands can be fun.

Once your dog has mastered commands like sit, down, paw, come, and stay, string the commands together in short succession before giving them praise.

You may have to add one command at a time to keep your dog’s attention. When your dog seems to understand the expectations, feel free to occasionally vary the order of the commands to keep them thinking.

Tricks like spin, sit up, and roll over can add extra athleticism to the activity and will be fun to show off to friends at the dog park.

6. Create a Scavenger Hunt

Once again utilizing your dog’s scent abilities, scavenger hunts can use a variety of objects of importance to your dog.

Favorite toys and/or treats can be hidden around the house. The smellier the target, the better.

It may be helpful to also train your dog to find things on command with objects in the room that you can point out.

Let your dog sniff the object before hiding it and giving the command. Make sure you don’t forget where you’ve hidden food items just in case they don’t find them right away.

7. Create an Indoor Obstacle Course

Indoor agility equipment is readily available, but you can also make obstacle courses for your dog with things you have on hand.

Use books, pillows, and broom handles for indoor-friendly, low-height jump obstacles. Paper towel rolls, water bottles, or stools can make a maze to run through.

The inexperienced dog will likely have to encounter one obstacle at a time before stringing them together in a course. Use training treats or pieces of kibble to encourage them. 

8. Take a Field Trip

For dogs who enjoy the social scene, quick trips to the dog park or dog-friendly stores and restaurants can provide them with mental stimulation.

There are also indoor dog parks popping up in many cities. Check reviews before going with your pup.

Make sure your dog is up to date on vaccines and behaves when interacting with new people and dogs. Anxious dogs may just prefer to stay home.

9. Go to a Dog Playgroup

Playgroups and doggy day cares can provide more carefree playtime and important socialization for your dog.

These facilities are usually able to group compatible dogs for safe but less restricted play.

Remember, it’s important that your dog is properly vaccinated—most day cares require core vaccines against rabies, distemper, and kennel cough.

10. Sign Up for an Obedience Class

Obedience classes aren’t just for puppies.

Though the skills you and your dog learn in obedience class can be important for setting up good communication in your family, it’s also a great, structured way to socialize with new dogs and new people.

Obedience classes may be a better opportunity for anxious dogs and puppies to learn social skills than doggy day care.

Ask your vet about local obedience classes that promote positive reinforcement.

Featured Image: Wirestock/iStock / Getty Images Plus via Getty Images

Jamie Lovejoy, DVM


Jamie Lovejoy, DVM


Dr. Jamie Lovejoy graduated from Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine in 2012 after an undergraduate degree in Marine Biology. ...

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