How to Keep Your Dog Entertained Indoors
Written by Small Door's medical experts
Being stuck at home is disappointing for both you and your dog. We all know an active dog is a happy dog, but even if you can’t get out as much as you’d ideally like to, there’s still plenty you can do at home to help keep your dog stimulated and entertained. Check out our tips below for how you can keep your dog entertained indoors.
Dog activity requirements
Dogs need both physical and mental stimulation to stay fit, healthy and happy. Physical exertion comes from walking, running and playing, whilst many different things can provide mental stimulation.
From tracking scents outside, to concentrating hard on obedience training, or attempting to get kibble out of a puzzle toy – tough mental concentration results in a tired, happy dog.
A dog who lacks stimulation (of either the physical or mental type) often ends up letting out their pent-up energy in an undesirable manner, such as chewing their owner’s socks or destroying a piece of furniture. This is why it’s so important to ensure your dog gets plenty of stimulation, both mental and physical.
Ideas to entertain your dog indoors
1. Practice short bursts of obedience training each day
Training your dog provides great mental stimulation. Using positive reinforcement methods, go over all the commands you’ve taught them previously, or introduce a new one.
Whether you’re just starting out with obedience or your dog is a seasoned pro, it’s useful to spend at least 5-10 minutes on training every day, to ensure all commands are well cemented in your dog’s mind, and they can always recall the correct behavior when needed.
2. Teach your dog a new trick
Try teaching your dog a new trick. Whether it’s shaking a paw, learning the name of a favorite toy, or crawling underneath a chair – the possibilities are endless!
A great trick to try is tidying up. First, teach your dog what “put it away” means, by getting them to pick up one of their dog toys, carry it to a box and drop it. Then you can progress to scattering toys around a room, pointing to them one at a time as they pick them up and put them away, until eventually they’re able to do it with just the command.
3. Give your dog a stuffed Kong or a food-dispensing puzzle toy
Stuff a Kong or a similar toy with pieces of kibble, mixed in with a tasty treat like a spoonful of peanut butter, canned pumpkin or mashed banana. Pro tip – you can freeze it to make it last longer for your pup!
Puzzle toys and food dispensing toys are great for mental stimulation (as well as dogs who gobble up their meals too fast!) Your dog needs to “solve” the puzzle, by tilting or shaking the puzzle toy to knock the kibble out before they can eat it. Some of our favorite food puzzle toys are made by Trixie or Nina Ottoson.
4. Let them watch the world go by
Dogs love to sit by the window. If you can, set up a safe spot for your pup where they can see out of the window, and if you feel comfortable doing so, open the window a crack for them to enjoy the smells and sounds of the outdoors.
5. Rotate your dog’s toys
Just like children, dogs like new things. By rotating your dog’s toys, you can make the toys seem much more interesting!
Stash some of your dog’s toys in a cupboard for a couple of days, and then swap them over to give your dog something new to play with.
6. Teach your dog the name of their toys
Teaching your dog the names of their toys is not as hard as it may sound. This can be a great activity, especially if you spoil your pup with lots of toys. Start by playing with one toy and give it a name while you do — tell your dog to fetch the specific toy by name and give lots of praise when they bring back the correct one. You can also use treats or a clicker while playing with the specific toy and reward your dog while saying the toy’s name.
Eventually, see if your dog can pick out the toy by name out of a pile of toys. Once they understand the name, try moving onto another toy and repeating the process.
Dogs love new things. Hide some toys in a cupboard for a few days, then bring them out again for the novelty factor!
7. Play tug of war
Tug of war is a great indoor game that doesn’t require much space but is incredibly physically demanding, and tires dogs (and humans!) out very quickly.
Other games you can adapt for indoor play include throwing a very lightweight ball in a safe area for your dog to catch or fetch, provided there is nothing breakable around.
8. Play hide and seek
Particularly fun if you have kids – get your dog to sit, stay (give them a human helper if they don’t know how to stay yet) and then go and hide. When you’re ready, call them to come and find you.
When they succeed, make sure to react super enthusiastically and reward them so they know they did a good job and enjoy the game as much as you did!
9. Find the treats
Your dog’s sense of smell is incredibly stimulating for them, so let their nose do some work. Hide treats around your home and let them sniff them out throughout the day.
If you repeat this over several days, make sure to vary the placement of the treats to keep it interesting for your dog.
10. Create an indoor obstacle course
If you have enough room, why not set up a homemade obstacle course for your pup? Teach your pup the basics of agility, jumping over some small boxes, weaving through stacks of books, and lying down on a blanket at the end.
Another great one to keep kids entertained too, you could even work up to hosting your own dog show with an agility course and obedience category with your kids as dog handlers!
11. Learn scent work
Our dogs explore and understand their world through scent, so scent work games are a great way to keep Fido occupied by putting their nose to work. For these games, all you need is some dog treats and various household items.
Play the ‘which hand’ game:
For a simple take on scent work, place a treat in one of your hands, close your fists, and hold them out in front of your dog.
Let your dog sniff your hands and choose what hand it’s in.
When they choose correctly, open your hand and give them the treat.
Muffin tin puzzles:
Using a muffin baking tin, tennis balls, and dog treats, place treats in a couple of the tins and cover all the holes with tennis balls.
Give the “puzzle” to your dog and let them explore by moving the balls to find the treats hidden underneath.
Each time you play, change the location of the treats to keep your dog’s mind stimulated.
The shell game:
Using three to four cups, place a treat under one of the cups (for larger dogs, you may want to use plastic cups or even upside down flower pots).
Let your dog sniff around and discover what cup the treat is under.
When your dog paws at the correct cup, lift it up to reveal the treat while praising them.
Using empty cardboard boxes, put several boxes out on the floor.
Place a treat inside one or more of the boxes, while your dog is out of the room.
Bring your dog into the room and let them search for the box which has the treat inside.
When they paw at or nudge the correct box, reveal the treat and give them lots of praise.
Summary of how to keep your dog entertained indoors
Just like humans, dogs need a balance of physical and mental exercise. While it can’t replace their outdoor adventures entirely, there are so many ways to keep your pup entertained indoors — from indoor obstacle courses and toy name training to scent work and food puzzles, we hope this list gives you some inspiration and helps to keep your pup entertained.
If you ever need more ideas for keeping your dog active indoors, your Small Door team is here for you, and available 24/7 via the app if you have any questions or concerns about your pet’s health or wellbeing.