How to Exercise Your Dog Inside

It’s possible to exercise your dog inside—even in an apartment—if you remember you can work his body, brain, and nose.

All three types of exercise are useful: A good bout of physical exercise tires muscles and fires endorphins. Exercise the body whenever possible, and your dog will thank you. But if your dog is recovering from surgery, suffering from arthritis, or otherwise can’t get in his workout, don’t despair. Working his brain will also wear him out, and you can have plenty of fun doing it. Finally, nose work is often right in a dog’s area of expertise. If your dog’s hobbies include sniffing, let him stay busy doing what he loves.

A tired dog can be more relaxed and content—hence the folk wisdom, a tired dog is a good dog. Pick your favorites from the list of ideas below and get to the good without going outside or going stir-crazy.

To Exercise Your Dog at Home, Take the Stairs

Actually, have your dog take the stairs. You don’t have to join him on his stair sprints unless you want to.

This is perfect for carpeted stairs and healthy adult dogs. Station yourself at the top and toss a toy or a kibble down them. Let the chase or the hunt begin! Call him back up if he doesn’t come on his own, and repeat, repeat, repeat. You will soon have a tired doggy.

For Energetic Dogs, Try a Treadmill

If your dog is a quivering, intense bundle of energy, he might need a reliable way to get that heart pumping and those muscles tired, every single day. (Looking at you, Aussies. And you, Russell Terriers. And you, Dalmatians and Huskies and Cattle Dogs and Weims. If you think your dog belongs on this list, he probably does.) Like stair runs, treadmills are good for adult dogs whose growth plates have closed. This timing varies by breed and size, so check with your vet.

Size is key when it comes to treadmills. A human treadmill can work for small or medium-size dogs, but isn’t optimal for large or medium-size dogs who move with a long stride. Human treadmills are designed for our shorter gait, narrower stance, lack of footpads and claws—and we don’t shed copiously into the motor. So for a larger dog, you’ll want to look specifically at dog treadmills.

Before introducing your dog to the treadmill, let him get used to its noise. A dog who is afraid of the treadmill should not be forced to use it. When he does get on, start it at the lowest speed. Most dogs need a few minutes to get coordinated and to adjust to the experience, but by the second session the majority have it down. Those go-go-go types will adore the chance to go-go-go. Their treadmill exercise can help them maintain a good physical and mental balance (and ultimately to go-go-go to sleep peacefully).

Other treadmill tips:

  • Face the treadmill toward something interesting—nobody likes walking on a treadmill staring directly at a wall.
  • Go ahead and use treats at first to make the experience positive if you like, but wean your dog off them quickly.
  • “Listen” to your dog: If he’s starting to lag toward the back, or if his nails scrape more than a couple of times, the session should end.
  • On the treadmill, a dog doesn’t have the same stop-and-go rhythm he’d use on an off-leash hike or on a leash walk with sniffing. That means he’ll get tired faster on the treadmill. A good rule of thumb is that a treadmill minute is worth about twice an outdoor, stop-and-go minute. So a 10-minute treadmill session is about equivalent to 20 minutes off-leash outdoors.
  • NEVER leave a dog unattended on a treadmill—period.

Exercising an Apartment Dog? Do Puppy Push-Ups

In even the smallest of spaces, you can give your dog’s muscles a workout with “push-ups:” the commands sit, down, and stand, in any order you like. (“Stand” is useful in the mix because it keeps “down” from always following “sit,” and vice versa, forever and ever and ever.)

If your dog doesn’t know “stand,” teach him first. Let him smell a treat in your closed fist and lure him into position from a sit or a down: Bring your fist a few inches away, to just about where his nose will be when he stands. (Or, if he knows “touch,” just present your target.) Say “stand” as he stands, and praise. Then move to saying “stand” just before you present the lure.

To start, reward every correct response to every cue for every position. Once he has mastered all three positions reliably, reward combos of two in a row. Got that? Move on to three. Then four. Don’t make such a big jump in expectations that he gets confused or frustrated.

Play Indoor Hide-and-Seek With Your Dog

“Hide-and-seek” is a favorite that crosses species boundaries. To play it with just the two of you, mano-a-doggo, put your dog on a stay and step into another room. Release him from his stay and call him to you. When he finds you, have a huge, exciting party. Really do it up; celebrate enthusiastically and get him excited. Use treats or toys, pets or praise, whatever he likes. Then put him on another stay and repeat.

At first, don’t let him go so long without encouragement that he will lose interest. As he gets better and more interested in the game—and those great parties you throw—you can make the spots “harder” and help him less.

Pssst, human-to-human tip: A dog’s eye level is significantly lower than ours. I once stumped a small, busy Border Collie mix by standing stock-still on top of a toilet for several minutes. He stuck his head in the room a few times to check quickly for the Telltale Shins, but it wasn’t until about the fourth time that he took a more careful look. His start of genuine surprise when he found me was hugely rewarding. (By the way, I am happy to share the secret of my hiding spot, but I can’t help you explain to anyone why you are standing quietly on top of a toilet.)

If your game includes more than one person, hide-and-seek can get even more fun. Use the cue “Find…” or “Go see…” and fill in the hider’s name. Having your dog hunt for your kids is fun for everyone involved. Bonus: You’re also training your dog how to hunt for your kids.

Exercise Your Dog’s Nose Indoors: Teach Him to “Find it”

This game is like hide-and-seek, but with food. Show your dog a great-smelling treat. Put him on a stay, let him see you “hide” it, then encourage him to “find it!”

When he has the hang of this game, don’t let him see where you hide it—make him work that sniffer. He might look to you for help, and you can be encouraging and near the treat, but do your best to let him find it himself.

Some good hiding spots are behind a door, behind furniture, under a bed, or behind a garbage can. Avoid putting the treat anyplace you don’t want him rooting around on his own time: not in between the sofa cushions, not inside your shoes, and definitely not IN the garbage can.

Exercise Your Dog’s Brain Indoors: Train Tricks

Young or old, dogs can have fun learning new tricks. Just make sure the tricks are physically suitable for your dog’s age and abilities.

  • “Touch” is a good one, either to your open palm or a special target that you buy or make. A solid “touch” can be used when you’re out and about to redirect your dog from distraction at a distance. It can also be a useful tool for teaching more complex behaviors, like ringing a bell to go outside.
  • “Belly up” and “roll over” are classics that put that belly right there in prime petting position.
  • Obstacle Course Racer: Build a little dog obstacle course with household items. Maybe a jump made of a broom over chair seats or lower rungs, a sofa cushion tunnel, and a blanket to sit or lie down on. Have fun showing him how to do all the obstacles, then race against the clock. Vary the obstacles or the order next time to keep things fresh.
  • Living Room Dance Party: If your dog has a good “sit” and “down,” make them better! Have fun with him—have a little dance party—and when he’s slightly revved up, clearly give a command and instantly become super boring. Don’t interact with or even look at your dog. The party is on pause. The first few times, if he seems confused about what is even going on, give the command again. As soon as he complies, the party is on again! This is a fabulous way for him to practice listening while a little revved up, and encourages him toward lightning-fast response times…all while having fun.

Use Your Dog’s Meals as Indoor Exercise

If you’re looking for ways to engage and tire your dog, don’t just dump his entire meal in his bowl. Dispense his kibble a bit at a time as rewards for tricks, “push-ups” or hide-and-seek games.

Consider toys that make him work for his food as well. Fill up a puzzle toy, soak and freeze a meal inside a hollow toy, or put his kibble in a snuffle mat. Words to the wise: Don’t leave him unattended with the snuffle mat, and if you’ll be giving toys with dog food or a good swipe of peanut butter inside, confine him someplace easy to clean (gated in the kitchen or closed in his crate, for example).

Other Ways to Exercise Your Dog Inside

Depending on why you’re stuck inside, your home may not be your only option.

If the weather outside is frightful, but you and your dog can drive somewhere, load him up. Visit a friend’s house, the pet store, or any other pet-friendly businesses. Practice your tricks in this new environment, or just see the sights while he smells the smells. Consider making a standing date of it by signing up for an indoor training class or a doggy daycare.

If you are snowed in, you can play “find it” in snowdrifts. (Yes, technically this is exercising your dog outside, but you don’t have to go far—you might even be able to stay in your slippers.) Poke a hole with a broom handle and drop the treat inside it. He’ll have a great time digging out the treasure. Just stay away from roadside drifts full of salt and chemicals from the road.

No matter why you’re stuck inside—and no matter how firmly you’re stuck there—you and your dog don’t need to fall victim to cabin fever. Use these tips and your sense of fun to have a doggone good time getting “dog tired.”

3 thoughts on “How to Exercise Your Dog Inside”

  1. We play “soccer” with our lab. We kick a ball from one room into another, and he runs after it as goalie to keep it from getting past him. Or we play keep away with one of his toys. Hide and seek is also fun. For a few minutes, I just bundle up and play fetch outside. Doing this 2 or 3 times a day for even just a few minutes does him some good.

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