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5 Indoor Dog Activities – Canine Exercise and Brain Training

A bored human can occupy themselves with something entertaining, like the latest Netflix series. Bored dogs will occupy their time by digging holes, barking, or getting into some kind of mischief.

In my experience, a dog that is tired from work and play is the most content (and one that doesn’t get into trouble).

But what if you’re stuck indoors?

Don’t worry, there’s plenty of fun things you can do within your home that will keep your canine entertained.

Related: 26 Low Maintenance Dog Breeds

Mental Stimulation Can Be Just As Exhausting As a Long Walk

While physical exertion is great for calming an overly excited dog, mental stimulation can also be quite exhausting. If you’ve ever studied for a tough exam you’ll know the feeling.

However, dogs enjoy using their mind to solve problems. Presenting them with new challenges (training, puzzles, agility, playtime, etc…) will employ their entire body to meet their goal.

Which is great news – because you don’t always have to run a marathon with your pup. Instead, have some 1-on-1 bonding time while keeping them entertained (and out of trouble).

Make Them Work For Dinner

Many dogs are food motivated – more so when dinnertime arrives.

Don’t just serve them their entire meal at once, make them work for it. They’ll be highly motivated to perform in this state.

Make use of their highly focused state to keep them occupied and interested in various fun challenges.

Here’s a few ideas on how to make the most of your indoor time:

1. Kong Toys

You can never go wrong when you reach for a Kong.

It’s the classic tried-and-true method of keeping your canine occupied. Simply fill the hole up with tasty treats and they’ll keep themselves busy for hours. We’ll talk more about Chew toys and treats in this article.

See Also: 9 Frozen Kong Treat Recipes

But we’re also big fans of the Kong Wobbler. It’s similar to a regular Kong, except it’s cleverly weighted so it always stands upright. This forces your dog to use their brain muscles to get the treats out.

It’s a great for making your dog work for the dinner, by placing all their kibbles in the Wobbler.

It typically takes our dog about 15 minutes to retrieve all the kibbles hidden inside, and he’s ready for a nap afterwards.

2. Nose Work

The percentage of the dog’s brain that is devoted to analyzing smells is actually 40 times larger than that of a human!

Let them flex their nose muscles with some smelling games.

The Great Kibble Scavenger Hunt

Have your dog stay in a separate room for a few minutes while you hide kibbles or treats around your home. Then let the hunt begin. Make it easy at first to build motivation.

Slightly increase the difficulty over time. Hide kibbles under pillows or around corners. Use boxes or plastic cups to hide or obscure kibbles, forcing them to use their nose and paws to find them.

Nose Work with Cardboard Boxes

Cut holes out of three cardboard boxes just big enough for your dogs nose to poke through. In one of the boxes hide some treats (while your dog isn’t looking). When they discover the box with treats reward them with their prize.

This fun and challenging game removes visual cues and let’s their nose do the work.

Fun fact: A version of this training technique is often used by police and military to train their dogs for search and rescue, or finding dangerous goods.

Learn more nosework training games.

3 Cups Games

The classic game of follow the kibble.

Place 3 plastic cups in front of your dog. Place a treat underneath one, and then rotate the cups slowly. Allow your dog to use their nose or paw to find the treat. Give them lots of praise when they find it.

Some dogs need a little assistance with this. If that’s the case; try keeping your hand on the cup concealing the treat (to clearly indicate the winning cup), then allow them to knock the cup over with their nose or paw.

3. Trick Dog Training

Tricks are a very effective physical and mental workout.

The first tricks that may come to mind are: sit, stay, come, shake, etc…  Those are all great commands, but let’s do something a little more fun and exciting for both of you.

Spin and Twist

An easy trick that’s fun and will quickly tire out your dog. You’ll simply be asking your dog to spin clockwise, and then counter clockwise (‘Spin’ for clockwise, ‘Twist’ for counter).

  1. Close a yummy treat in your fist and let the dog sniff to become aware of the treat.
  2. Reach out with your closed hand, and guide your dog in a clockwise motion until they have completed a full spin.
  3. While doing this repeatedly use the phrase “Spin!”
  4. When the full circle is completed, reward them with the treat and lots of praise.
Eventually they’ll learn to complete the spin themselves. Once they have mastered Spin, follow up with the Twist command. 

Hoolahoop Jump

Got a Hoolahoop kicking around? Live out your lifelong dream of becoming a circus performer and teach your dog to jump through it. (If you don’t have a hoop, try placing something on the ground your dog can jump over).

  1. Hold the hoop upright, while resting the bottom edge on the ground.
  2. Lure your dog through hoop with a treat (while the hoop is still touching the ground).
  3. Encourage them to move quickly with treats.
  4. After 5-10 successful attempts, raise hoop 1-2 inches off the ground (you may need to use a treat to lure again).


Another simple yet effective brain game is “touch”. Simply put: you’ll point to an object or body part, and have your dog touch it with their paw or nose.

We’ll start with having your dog touch the palm of your hand with their nose.

  1. Place a treat in your hand like Spock (wedged in between your middle finger and ring finger)
  2. Say the command “Touch!”
  3. When their nose touches your hand give the treat.
  4. Encourage longer and longer touches each time they remove treat.

Eventually they will press their nose into your hand when you say Touch!

4. Chewing

The simple act of chewing is both stimulating and calming for a dog. It’s casually entertaining much in the same way we relax and watch TV.

Chewing also creates a healthy side effect of cleaning teeth and gums. Make chew-time a regular part of their routine for a healthier, happier dog.

Every pet store (or Amazon) will have a huge selection of chews to be pick from.  We also recommend taking a look at rubber chews which can hide treats.

Be wary of your dog’s chewing behavior. Some dogs chew a little too hard, and will chip their teeth on hard surfaces, in which case give them something softer. Some edible chews could be a choking hazard, especially if your dog tends to swallow things whole.

5. Indoor Playtime

tug war

Play Hide and Seek

Hide and seek is great for dogs to learn visual cues and nose work. Not to mention it’s great fun for us humans too.

You might need multiple people to play this game, so once can hold your dog in place while the other hides.

Tug of War

Tons of fun and will drain some energy. Great if you’re stuck in a small space with little room to run around. Use a sturdy toy that won’t rip, you might be surprised how hard even little dogs can tug!

If you don’t have any tug toys around, try making your own. Tear old fabric (or tshirts) into strips and them braid them together. Make a secure knot at each end. You’re now ready for a tug war!

Obstacle Course

Remember building forts as a kid in the living room? We can have just as much fun with our dogs. Create your own mini-obstacle course using pillows, sheets, and boxes.

Have your pup hunt down treats, find toys, or simply explore their new domain.

Photo of author

Liam J. Barnes

Liam is a dog trainer, owner, and lover with over 20 years experience. You can find him working with vet clinics, grooming facilities, training centres, and food/toy brands in order to grow their business. His passion for dogs and business make him uniquely suited to help move the world forward with canines and humans.

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