Indoor Games for Dogs

It is that time of year. Cold winds, rain, and snow may keep us inside and limit the amount of outside exercise we can provide for our dogs. For the first couple of days, our dogs may seem to do fine, and then something snaps and they start driving us crazy! So much energy and there is no outlet to burn it off. Or is there? There are games that we can play with our dogs inside that work our dogs mentally and will provide an outlet for burning energy when going outside is not an option.
Playing interactive games is a lot of fun for both humane and canine, but games also serve a real practical purpose. Structured games give your dog an excellent mental workout, provide boundaries and expectations, teach new skills and strengthen others, and foster a positive bond between dog and owner.


"Where's Mommy?" You can play this game to teach your dog to search for specific people by name! This game strengthens "Sit-Stay" and "Down-Stay" in a fun way and can enhance your dog's problem-solving skills. It also can teach your dog not to feel anxiety when you disappear, teaches your dog to use her nose, and to come to you.
If playing alone, tell your dog to sit (or down) and stay. Go around the corner and just out of sight and call your dog. Praise and reward your dog when she finds you. As you play more and more, the sit-stay will strengthen, and you can have the time to find some tougher places to hide. If playing with multiple people, start easy (everyone spread out in the same room) and ask your dog to find someone by name. If she goes to the wrong person, that person ignores her, when she finds the right person, she gets lavishly rewarded. Once your dog has the idea of the game, people can hide in different places within the house. You can require your dog to find a specific person at a time or just let her search until she finds each person. Remember to give your dog lots of praise and affection and even a treat if you want when she finds you.

Tug (not tug-o-war)

Tug can be a fun game to play, but play with rules! The game of tug can provide a wonderful outlet for natural canine urges to grab and pull on things. This game reinforces "Drop It," "Take It," and listening when excited. Three important rules to remember with the game of tug are 1) your dog can't grab the tug toy until you give permission, 2) your dog needs to let go when you say "Drop it," and 3) at no time should our dog grab clothes or skin, even accidentally or the game is immediately over. Sometimes dogs will "inch their way" up the tug toy, claiming more and more real estate. Stop the game before your dog gets too close to your hands. Either Cue a drop or let go of the toy.  Then start the game again. Practice starting and stopping the game and teach impulse control and maintain the fun, so your dog does not anticipate the end of the game and refuse to let go.

Puppy Ping-Pong

This game not only burns energy but also reinforces the recall. Play it anywhere - anywhere you have room, inside or outside. This game is for two people. If you have additional people who can want to play, see Round Robin Recall below. To begin, stand about 10 feet apart. One person holds the puppy. Another person calls the puppy, and the person holding the pup lets go so the puppy can go to the person who called, just like a recall. Once your puppy has been rewarded for going to the first person, the second person calls the puppy. Continue calling your puppy back and forth. You'll notice when the puppy gets the hang of the game because he will anticipate coming to you and build up speed. Work towards increasing the distance. Eventually, people can be in different rooms of the house. If your puppy has difficulty finding you, be sure to use additional sounds so she can hear you and track you down.

Round Robin Recall

This game is just like Puppy Ping Pong, except it is played with three or more people and can include the entire family. Everyone stands about 20 feet away from each other in a room in the house and takes turns calling the dog. If the dog goes to the wrong person, that person ignores the dog and stands there being "boring" while the person who did call can make sounds, whistles, patting legs, etc. to guide the dog to the right person and reward the dog when he gets there. This game can later extend to different rooms of the house with people out of sight.

Sniff It Out!

Place numerous objects in a room. These can be boxes, chairs, step stools, vacuums, etc. Be creative and lay some flat as well as standing or on its side. Then add treats or kibble in the area and release your dog to go sniff out the food through the obstacle course. This game not only teaches a dog to engage the nose, but also builds confidence optimism and problem-solving skills, depending on how creative you are. Using long narrow boxes or ladders laid on the floor can also allow your dog to learn and practice back-end awareness.

The Box Game

This game also teaches your dog to use her nose and to problem solve. To begin, place 3-4 boxes on the floor in a room of the house. Do not use the kitchen. Place your dog's favorite treat inside one of the boxes (save one particular box for treats and leave the other ones empty). You may need to initially show your pup you are putting the treat in the box and then mix it in with the other boxes on the floor. Let your dog go to sniff out her treat amongst the boxes. Once she finds her treat praise her and place another treat inside the box. Once she has eaten that treat pull the box away from your dog. Do not pull your dog away from the box - you want to encourage your dog to go to the box and not create any confusion by pulling her away. Once your dog understands the concept of the boxes, you can add more boxes, spread them out further, turn one on end, etc. Make sure to gradually make it more challenging but also simple enough for our dog to be successful. Do not point or lead your dog to the box with the treat, allow her to search and problem solve. Subtle hints are okay if needed, but also may indicate that your challenge is a little too difficult. When your dog has the idea of the game you can use more boxes and spread them out. You can also have "multiple hides" and have more than one box with a treat inside.
Don't want to use treats? Put your dog's favorite toy inside the box. When your dog finds the toy, play for a while, and have a blast.

Shaping Games

Playing or teaching involving shaping provides mental stimulation and engages your dog in problem-solving through behavior. The game 101 Things to Do with a Box, where you use shaping to get different interactions between your dog and a box (nudge with the nose, one paw inside, entire dog inside, etc.), is a shaping game. You can teach tricks using shaping, which can occupy excellent quality time with your dog indoors and still provide exercise that will entertain and tire out your dog.

Trick Training

Teaching your dog tricks is not only fun, giving you a great opportunity to "show off" your dog and her wonderful talents. Still, it also strengthens the relationship between you and your dog and provides excellent mental stimulation and mental exercise. It also allows you to hone your training skills and get creative. With patience and practice, you can have your dog jumping through hoops for you!

Dog Puzzles

When a dog has excess energy or is bored, one natural instinct is to chew. Even adult dogs need this outlet. Provide plenty of appropriate chew toys, especially on days where she doesn't get her usual amount of exercise.
Activity toys and dog puzzles are also a great option to keep your dog busy and provide some mental stimulation. Portion out part of breakfast or dinner, put some "extra special" and enticing treats inside or at the bottom and serve with enthusiasm. If your dog has never played with an activity toy before, you may need to do a little coaxing and assisting at first. But once those yummy treats start coming out, your dog will learn quickly that this is a fun toy. The puzzle shown in the photo is by Nina Ottosson.

So don’t worry if the weather outside is frightful. Look at it as an opportunity to strengthen other skills for your dog and enjoy a wonderful day of inside play.