Indoor workouts for dogs
Dogs need daily exercise regardless of the weather – in a heatwave, a cold spell or a downpour, they still need physical and mental stimulation. However, sometimes the conditions might be too unpleasant for your usual outdoor walk or visit to the dog park. On these days, you might notice that your dog becomes bored and restless, for example, she may pace up and down, bark, whine or even tear up the furniture if she hasn’t had her usual play or walk time.
For days when you just cannot drag yourself outdoors, there are a variety of workouts that can provide your dog with the physical and mental exercise – and boredom relief – that she needs, in the comfort of your own home. Drawing inspiration from simple children’s games to dog sports like scent work and agility, there are many great options for exercising and stimulating your dog indoors.
Please note that not all of these activities may be suitable for your dog. Choose those you think your dog will enjoy the most and provide the right amount of challenge for her, based on her level of athleticism and mental acuity. An understanding of basic obedience commands is necessary for most of these activities.
Hide and Seek
Hide and seek is an easy indoor game that doesn’t require any special equipment. Practice your dog’s “sit” and “stay” commands, go hide, then call your dog. This is an especially good indoor activity if you have kids at home that you need to wear out as well! Have all participants hide around your home and encourage your dog to come and find them one by one. The first person rewards her with a treat when she finds them, then says “all done!” or a similar cue that lets the next person know to call her. If she can’t find them, they should encourage her with a whistle or noise to help her out. If your dog has difficulty in getting the hang of it, have one person accompany her, giving clues, encouragement and lots of praise when she succeeds.
You can also play hide-and-seek with a toy or ball. Have your dog sit or stay while you show her a favourite toy, let her sniff it and get excited about it, and then place it a few metres away from her where she can see it. Release her from the sit/stay position and tell her to “go find it”, will encouraging her to get the toy. Once she has it, cheer and praise her like mad! Gradually place the toy a bit further away each time until you are able to hide it in various places around your house. Initially, when hiding the toy in another room, you may have to help her find it by going closer to its hiding place.
If you have a hallway or other stretch of empty floor, and your dog enjoys playing fetch, invest in a soft, light ball that you can roll or gently toss down the hallway for her to retrieve. You can also play a modified version of “Piggy in the Middle” in which you and another person sit on the floor on either side of her and try to roll the ball past her. Every time she stops the ball, encourage her to give it back and return to her place in the middle.
A simple game indoor ball game can incorporate multiple obedience commands to practice. As your dog returns to you, say “come.” Upon her arrival, say “drop it” to get the ball. You can ask her to “sit”, “stay” or “down” before you throw the ball. Mix up the commands and have fun together!
Musical Statues / Freeze dance
Doggy dancing is a great way to exercise your dog indoors. Take it to another level with a game of musical statues. Put on some fun music, dance around the room and encourage your dog – and the rest of the family – to keep moving and even get a bit silly. Have one person be in charge of the music, and after a few minutes, to stop the music. At this point, everyone has to freeze. Have your dog go into a quick sit, down, or stand position and then go back to moving around once the music starts up again.
Tug-of-war can be a great way to burn off extra energy indoors. Just make sure you have the right amount of space between your tugging dog and anything breakable or valuable! It is important that your dog have a firm grasp of a release command before taking a firm grasp of the tug toy. When played properly, games of tug can build muscle and increase the human-animal bond. Most dogs enjoy tug, but make sure that you stop the game if she becomes too competitive and aggressive. Also, to minimise any damage to her teeth, avoid any sudden pulling on the rope.
Walking or running up and down the stairs a few times when you can’t get outside is great for improving stamina and building muscle. Build up gradually and don’t push your dog too hard, as this exercise is just as strenuous for dogs as it is for people. Avoid stair climbing with Dachshunds, Pembroke Welsh Corgis, other dogs with longer backs and shorter legs, puppies, and dogs with joint and mobility issues.
Choose a skill your dog doesn’t have (or needs to polish) and set up a daily training time. Teaching her a new command or trick, or perfecting one she has previously learned, will keep her mentally stimulated and reinforce the bond between you. You can work on sit, down, come, stay and heel in a small space. Or you could move furniture such as small tables or chairs so that you have obstacles that can be used to refine your dog’s heeling skills. To increase the physical exercise factor, do a combination of obedience exercises as speed drills, for example, “sit, down, come, run with me (in a small area), stop, heel, let’s go…”
Agility involves both the dog and the handler navigating a series of obstacle courses, so it’s a fun way for both of you to get some exercise. Obstacles typically include items such as tunnels, jumps, an A-frame, weave poles, and a seesaw. However, you can make your own agility course with household items, such as tables, chairs, broom handles, boxes and Hula-Hoops. For example, you could place a broom across two piles of books or turn a large cardboard box into a tunnel.
Nose-based games are a great way to keep your dog mentally stimulated indoors. Dogs experience much of the world around them through their sense of smell and scent games allow them to channel their love of sniffing while also enriching their minds. An easy way to introduce your dog to scent games is to set up a search for something immediately motivating for most dogs — food (at more advanced and competitive levels, essential oils are used).
Begin by offering your dog two boxes, one with a treat inside and one without a treat. You may initially leave the boxes open at the top, and gradually make the activity more challenging by closing the boxes and then flipping the boxes over. Progress to more boxes and more difficult routes to find the boxes. This is a great indoor activity because the dog has an immediate reward when she locates the treat.
Bad-weather days do not need to be boring and lazy days for dogs and their owners! Once your dog has mastered an activity, increase the complexity by making small adaptations or come up with some new ways to challenge her and keep her interested.