How to Exercise Your Dog Without Leaving the House

With the unusually rainy couple of months we’ve had in Chicago, I’ve gotten a lot of questions from friends about how to “wear out” their dog if they can’t go for a walk. Yes, the truth is, streaks of bad weather can be tough on dog owners, especially if you have a dog that craves time outside. However, physical exercise is not the only type of activity that burns energy in dogs. Dogs need to work their minds, too. And, most often, working a dog’s mind will exhaust them more than working their body.

This type of stimulation work is known as canine enrichment. This is a very broad term that covers numerous types of activities, but you can view it as anything that makes your dog think. Enrichment activities are perfect for bad weather days, days when you’re sick or injured and can’t leave the house or any day you want to offer your pet something fun to do. Below are a few of my favorites!

1. The Find It Game

If your dog has a reliable down command, put them in a down in a part of your home that is separate from the rest so they can’t see you. If your dog does not have a reliable down, put them in the bathroom behind a gate or with the door closed. Hide small bits of treats around the house – make it easy at first so they have many opportunities to win, which makes the game fun. When all the treats are placed, release your dog and say “find it!”. Increase the difficulty as your dog gets better at using his or her nose to find the treats.

Tip: If your dog is kibble fed, you can use their meal for this game. Hide their kibble throughout your home for them to find. This will avoid loading him up with too many treats and will make mealtime much more exciting than eating out of a bowl.

2. Enrichment Feeding Toys

There are a ton of enrichment toys on the market, and many are quite inexpensive. What I like about enrichment feeding is that it taps into the dog’s natural drive to work for its food. My two go-to enrichment feeders are the Kong Wobbler and a snuffle mat I got off Esty. I also always keep frozen Kongs stuffed with wet dog food in my freezer, which keeps my dog busy for 45 minutes. If bad weather strikes and you haven’t bought an enrichment toy in advance, there are plenty of DIY options! You can put food in an empty water bottle with the cap off and let your dog work it out. Another favorite of mine is to put food at the bottom of a box and fill the box with tissue paper and empty toilet paper rolls. This is especially fun for Terrier breeds or any dog who likes to dig and work in the ground. Even something simple like rolling treats up in a big towel and letting your dog get them out can be loads of fun. For more ideas like this, check out the Canine Enrichment group on Facebook.

3. Teach Your Dog Something New

Dogs love to learn, and it can be a very mentally exhausting process for them. A day stuck inside is the perfect excuse to teach your dog a silly trick or work on their obedience. YouTube is a great resource for finding step-by-step tutorials for teaching all sorts of behaviors. Even if your pupper doesn’t master the trick, it’s the process of learning something new that matters.

4. Keep a Sniff Box on Hand

If your dog can’t go outside, bring the outside to your dog by keeping a sniff box on hand. A sniff box is a big box where you store items you collect from outside. Essentially, take a box outside and load it up with leaves, sticks, rocks and whatever else you can find. Keep it sealed to retain the scent. On a rainy day, pull out the items for your dog to smell. You’ll be amazed by how much fun they have with this. You can lay the items out on a towel or take them out one by one for your dog to explore.

5. Enjoy Bad Weather!

It may sound counterintuitive, but the rain and snow itself can be extremely enriching to a dog. Moisture on the ground retains scent, which makes the environment a wonderfully smelly playground to your dog. If the conditions aren’t hazardous and your dog doesn’t mind getting wet, suit yourself up and head out to the park and let your dog have a “sniffari” – AKA, put them on a long leash and let him or her smell anything and everything without you cutting them off. If your dog isn’t a fan of being wet, you can take him or her out right after the rain stops for the same effect. Scent is a dog’s primary sense, and they will love you for letting them go wherever their nose pleases without interruption. This is also worth doing in the dry weather. Let your dog have 1 walk per day where you don’t dictate the path. Let them sniff and smell as much as he or she wants, even if that means you only make it down the block in 30 minutes time.


– Maddie Guy & Rudder