As a busy dog mom, I know firsthand how challenging it can be to meet your pup’s exercise needs every single day. Some days, getting in a long walk or trip to the dog park just isn’t feasible. But even when life gets in the way, it’s important to make sure your furry friend gets adequate physical and mental stimulation. If pent-up energy isn’t released, dogs can develop destructive behaviors or anxiety issues.
That’s why I’ve become an expert at tiring out my high-energy dog at home on days when our schedule prevents lengthy outdoor activities. After much trial and error, I’ve discovered plenty of effective ways to exercise her body AND mind without ever having to leave the house. Best of all, most of these strategies require little time commitment from pet parents.
In this blog post, I’ll share my 8 favorite tips and tricks for getting your pooch moving and using their brain through indoor games and activities. Consider it your guide to a tired, happy dog when walking just isn’t in the cards. You’ll also learn the many benefits of regular exercise for your canine companion.
Let’s dig in!
1. Provide Mentally Stimulating Food Puzzle Toys
Food puzzle toys are an easy but effective way to make your dog burn mental and physical energy at mealtimes. If your pup has to solve puzzles and maneuver toys to access their kibble, they’ll be pleasantly worn out by the time their toy is empty.
I’ve been feeding my dog using interactive food toys since she was a puppy. It started with a simple twirling ball that dispenses kibble as it rolls unpredictably – this was a great beginner-level puzzle toy for her. From there, she graduated to more complex puzzle toys that require maneuvers like sliding lids, lifting flaps, and manipulating discs or blocks to release the food.
The physical and mental effort of getting the food out of these toys provided great stimulation and slowed down her eating. With practice, she has worked up to solving even the most challenging food puzzle toys! Starting with an easier toy and gradually increasing the difficulty is the best way to tap into your dog’s natural food drive while tiring out their body and mind.
2. Play Fetch on the Stairs
If you have a set of stairs in your home, use them to your exercise advantage! Playing Fetch up and down the stairs is a great way to tire out even the most energetic pups.
Here’s how I like to play this game – I stand at the top of the staircase with my dog sitting nicely next to me. When they pay attention, I toss their favorite fetch toy down the stairs. My dog gleefully bounds down after the toy, snatches it up, and brings it back up the stairs to me. I offer lots of praise and even a small treat when they drop the toy at my feet. Then we repeat the process again and again!
The combination of running down to fetch the toy and then back up the stairs provides great physical exercise. The mental stimulation of this “job” also helps wear them out. A few rounds of Fetch on the stairs leave my dog happily pooped.
Just be sure to provide plenty of fresh water and some snuggle time on the couch afterward! Adjust the number of repetitions based on your individual dog’s age, health, and energy levels. With this tiring game, you’ll have a pleasantly passed-out pooch in no time.
3. Provide Safe Chewing Outlets
Dogs love to chew – it’s relaxing and entertaining for them. Providing safe, durable chews and treats is another great way to occupy your pup and burn energy without much effort on your part.
My high-energy dog doesn’t always get as much direct attention as she wants. When I give him a long-lasting edible chew, she happily settles in to lick and gnaw away at it for a good amount of time. This gives me the freedom to focus on household tasks, hobbies, or work without constant distractions from my attention-seeking pooch.
One of my dog’s favorite games that we play at home is a rousing round of hide-and-seek. This indoor activity provides great mental stimulation as your dog has to search for you using their nose and memory.
To play, I first get my dog distracted with a tasty treat or one of his favorite toys. Once she’s focused on that, I quickly and quietly duck behind a piece of furniture or slip into a closet. After a moment, I call out my dog’s name to send her looking for me. She runs from room to room, sniffing eagerly to locate where I’m hiding. When she finally discovers me, I shower her with praise and rewards.
This game taps into your dog’s natural scenthound abilities and provides fun bonding time. The mental effort of searching and finding you helps expend pent-up energy. We often play when my high-energy guy needs an outlet for her restless spirit. A few short rounds of hide-and-seek leave him happily worn out! Just be sure to supervise your pup closely so they don’t get into mischief while searching.
5. Prepare some Training Sessions
Engaging your dog in short, positive training sessions is a fantastic way to provide mental stimulation and tire them out without much physical activity.
When you work on teaching new tricks and commands, your dog has to focus their full attention on you for an extended period. This level of concentration and problem-solving is very fatiguing for their brain.
I like to spend 5-10 minutes 1-2 times daily practicing new skills with my dog. We run through their existing trick repertoire to keep them sharp. Then, I introduce new cues for spins, crawls, peek-a-boos, and other fun tricks. Offering high-value treats for success keeps my dog engaged and motivated to learn.
Regular training is so beneficial beyond just exercise. It reinforces manners, strengthens our bond, and teaches your dog to retain focus on you when out in distracting environments. The mental effort of training leaves my dogs happily exhausted and ready for a nap! Starting a positive training regimen is easy and doesn’t require much space or equipment. The mental workout will stimulate your pup both physically and mentally.
6. DIY Dog Enrichment Toys
Another fantastic dog game that I highly recommend for boosting their cognitive abilities is the Muffin Tin game. It’s a great way to occupy your pup and sharpen their sense of smell.
All you need is a standard 6 or 12-cup muffin tin and enough tennis balls to fill each hole. Then, take some of your dog’s favorite stinky treats and hide 1-3 of them underneath different tennis balls.
To teach your dog how to play, lift a tennis ball, revealing the hidden treat underneath. Let your dog sniff out and eat the treat, then replace the tennis ball over the empty cup. Now it’s your pup’s turn to lift tennis balls with their nose or paw until they find another tasty reward!
I like to use strong-smelling treats like bits of hot dog, cheese, or liver for this game. Your dog will have to use their powerful nose to sniff out the treats hidden beneath the tennis balls. You can make it more challenging by using more cups or hiding fewer treats.
This game provides great mental stimulation as your dog has to problem-solve to find the treats. The sniffing workout also tires out their mind and body. When you need your pup to settle down for a nap, a quick game of Muffin Tin is sure to tucker them out! You can also hide treats around the house and ask your dog to hunt them down using their nose.
7. Chase Bubbles
For dogs who have an innate love for chasing, this activity is not just fun but an excellent way to expend their energy.
Start by finding a safe area, either indoors or outdoors, where your dog can freely chase and pop bubbles without any potential hazards. All you need is some dog-friendly bubble solution and a bubble wand to get started.
Gently blow a few bubbles in front of your dog and watch as their curiosity and excitement kick in. As the bubbles float through the air, encourage your pup to chase after them. The unpredictable movements of the bubbles will keep them engaged and stimulated, giving them a great physical workout.
8. Feed Your Dog Using a Snuffle Mat
The last alternative way to tire out your dog without going for a walk is by using a snuffle mat. Snuffle mats are a simple yet effective game that engages your dog’s sense of smell and mimics the mental stimulation of foraging in nature.
With a snuffle mat, you can encourage your dog to use their powerful sense of smell to hunt for hidden treats. This not only provides them with a fun and interactive activity but also gives their nose a great workout.
As your pup becomes more skilled at the game, you can add an extra challenge by hiding treats under cups or boxes around the room. Trust me, their nose will get a great workout!
Remember, every dog is unique. What tires one dog out might not work for another. The key is to try different activities and see what your furry friend enjoys the most. Mixing up these activities will not only keep your dog physically fit but also mentally sharp and happy.
So, go ahead, try these activities, and enjoy the tail wags and happy barks!