Indoor activities for dogs with cabin fever

Exercise and entertainment are important for dogs, just as they are important for humans. Exercise reduces stress, burns excess energy, and improves physical health. Many dog owners commit to daily walks or visits to the dog park, but what is one to do when the weather is severe (either too cold or too hot) or daily schedules get packed? What if injury prevents you or your dog from enjoying vigorous exercise? Here are some factors to consider, along with fun activities to enjoy no matter what conditions arise.

  1. Indoor workouts. There are many fun activities you can enjoy indoors – and out of the cold! Here are some ways to work out inside:
    • If you have a carpeted stairwell, practice calling your dog to “come” from different levels of the house.
    • If your dog is highly food motivated, play “fast food.” Roll or toss each piece of kibble across the floor. Send each piece to a new location so your dog has to work to get it. Or, hide a few pieces of kibble all over the house so your dog has to work to find his whole meal.
    • Play fetch.
    • Roll a ball along the floor or down a hallway, if available.
    • Play tug of war with a favorite rope toy.
    • Set up a doggie play date with one of your dog’s pals. If your dog doesn’t already have a good play relationship with another dog, consult with a dog professional first to ensure everyone’s safety.
    • Have your dog to doggie push-ups: sit-down-sit-down. Repeat.
    • Visit dog-friendly stores or restaurants. Just getting out of the house can be helpful!
    • Positive experiences through touch can also be helpful – get out your dog’s brush or comb and give them a relaxing grooming.
  2. Interactive toys. Interactive toys are a great way to provide indoor entertainment for dogs of any age.
    • Food-dispensing toys like the Kong and Buster Cube require your dog to manipulate them in order to remove food hidden inside. If your dog is already a pro at Kongs, make it harder by soaking his dry kibble in water, stuffing the soft kibble into the Kong, and freezing it.
    • Make your own food-dispensing toys by cutting holes in toilet paper tubes or plastic bottles and placing treats inside.
    • Fill a box with shredded newspaper or toilet paper tubes. Mix in a few treats and let your dog do the rest!
    • Play the cup game. Take three overturned plastic cups. While your dog is watching, hide a treat under one of them, then move the cups around so he has to find the treat.
    • Cut holes in a plastic cup and suspend it in the air by threading a piece of sting through it. Place treats in the cup and watch as your dog finds creative ways to overturn the cup.
    • Create your own frozen dog treat. Use a container appropriate for the size of your dog (cup, bread pan, etc.), add water and a few treats, and freeze it! Some dogs will also work at frozen treats if part of a toy (rope toy or ball) is slightly exposed.
    • Place a tennis ball in each part of a muffin tin. Place a few treats underneath 2-3 of the balls and let your dog find the treats. If you have a smaller dog who needs smaller tennis balls, try using an empty egg carton.
    • Make your own PVC feeder toy. Drill holes in a PVC pipe, large enough for your dog’s treats to fit through. Place caps on both ends. PVC pipes can be made easier by increasing the size or number of holes, and can be made harder by drilling fewer holes and using PVC connection pieces to change the shape of the toy.
    • Layer three or four boxes together, with kibble or treats sprinkled in each layer. Cereal boxes (without the plastic liner) work great for this activity.
  3. Mental exercise. Exercise doesn’t have to be physically strenuous to be beneficial. Obedience skills, tricks, and games can all tire dogs out by working their minds.
    • Brush up on your basic obedience skills. Try labeling a dice with different skills your dog knows, then roll the dice to determine what your dog will do.
    • Try scent games. Place several boxes on the floor, place treats in some of the boxes, and let your dog find the treats. If your dog loves using his nose, check out scent work classes like our Nose Knows course.
    • Teach your dog a new trick. Need a hand getting started? Check out our Tricks 101 class.
      • Shake:
        Hold a treat in your hand and close it in a fist. Hold your fist just below your dog’s nose, in line with his sternum (mid-chest). Watch his forefeet, and as soon as one comes off the floor, give a treat. Next, wait until the paw comes higher, toward your hand (the goal is for him to touch your fist with his paw). When he has touched your hand with his paw, treat. You can then keep your hand in the same position, but without a treat inside. After he touches your hand, feed from the other hand.
      • Spin:
        Hold a treat close to your dog’s nose and draw a wide circle so your dog walks around following the treat (you will stay in position). Let your dog have the treat when he returns to the start position. After 3-4 successful repetitions, repeat the process without a treat in your hand. Once a wide circle is reliable, try to draw a smaller circle.
      • Bow:
        Starting from a stand, lure a treat downward and curve it toward your dog’s shoulder so his front legs “bow” but the rear legs remain standing. Feed when the position is complete. If the dog lies down or sits, simply start over.

Exercise is so much more than leash walks and off-leash play. Once you learn what activities your dog enjoys, you can integrate them into your daily routine, or save them for indoor days as needed.

The AHS Training School offers basic obedience training courses as well as specialty classes like Nose Knows, Rocket Recalls, or Tricks 101. Learn more at animalhumanesociety.org/training.

For caring, compassionate advice and resources to address all your animal concerns.

Contact the Pet Helpline