Six Ways to Entertain Your Dog Indoors

Easy ways to tire out your dog when walks are limited.

How to entertain your dog with tug, tricks, and food toys
Photo: Mike Focus/Shutterstock

By Zazie Todd, PhD

Lately my dogs have been getting fewer walks due to unusually hot weather and smoke from forest fires. You can beat the heat by walking in the early morning or late evening, and sometimes there is better air quality just down the road. But there are times when there’s no choice but to limit walks. Then what do you do? These ideas will help you to entertain your dog.

Feed your dog creatively

Your dog’s food does not have to arrive in a bowl, and getting creative with feeding is a lot of fun. Food dispensing toys like KONGs, the Pickle Pocket, or the Nina Ottosson puzzle toys can keep a dog busy. I think everyone has their favourite way of stuffing a Kong (feel free to share yours in the comments). 

The key with many of these toys is to get the difficulty level right for your dog so she doesn’t get frustrated or bored. Make it easy in the beginning, and only increase the difficulty gradually.

Feeding creatively doesn’t even require toys. If you have access to a garden, you can scatter your dog’s kibble on the lawn and let her hunt for it in the grass. Inside, scatter it on a rug or other surface.

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Chew toys

Chew toys like the Nylabone, Goughnuts, Planet Dog Orbee Ball, or antlers will also keep your dog occupied. Be careful not to give your dog anything that might splinter or hurt them.

Easy ways to entertain your dog with tug, tricks and toys

Train your dog

Training with positive reinforcement engages your dog’s brain and can tire her out. This could be a good time to catch up on basic obedience training such as down or stay, or you could teach tricks such as play dead, wave, or say your prayers. If you want ideas for tricks, check out Kyra Sundance.

Don’t expect your dog to work for kibble – find something tasty she will want to work for. Small cubes of chicken work great! See the best dog training treats if you need some ideas.

Reward your dog quickly when she gets things right. Training works best if you follow a plan so you can break the behaviour into stages, starting with something that is easy and slowly building up. If you find your dog is struggling to keep up, make it easier for her and go back to an earlier stage.

Keep training sessions short and let your dog take a break if she gets tired. Dogs like learning and one study even found that dogs prefer to work to earn a reward than just receive the reward (McGowan et al 2014).


Put your dog’s nose to work! I sometimes do basic nose games with the dogs at the shelter where I volunteer. It is loads of fun, and you can do this in your living room. It works best if you have a second person to hide the treats, but if not, just make sure your dog can’t see where you put them.

You need small pieces of really nice food such as chicken, cheese, or meatballs (without onion). You also need several cardboard boxes or egg boxes to spread out around the room. While you distract the dog, your friend hides a piece of food in one of the boxes. Then your dog is free to hunt for it. If she wanders away from the boxes just gently make a noise to attract her back. She will soon get the idea that she is meant to search for the food.

As she gets better at finding the food, you can make it more difficult by turning boxes on their side or using different containers. The same principle applies as for training – keep it easy enough for your dog to stay interested.

Research shows that taking part in canine nosework increases dogs' optimism. People get into dog sports such as nosework for a range of reasons, including personal satisfaction and the experience of working with your dog (Farrell et al 2015). If you get the nosework bug, you can find out more or locate a class at You might also like the posts beating the boredom blues: sniffing out new opportunities for dogs and scent and scentability on nosework for 'naughty' or 'reactive' dogs.

Playing tug with your dog

Is tug the best game ever from your dog’s perspective? It’s a great way to burn off some energy! 

In what must be one of the most enjoyable research studies ever, Nicola Rooney and John Bradshaw (2002) played tug with 14 Golden Retrievers. Each dog played 40 times; half of the time they were allowed to win and the other half they lost. The dogs were more involved in the game when allowed to win, so go on, let your dog win the game from time to time!

There are some rules to ensure safety. In Train Your Dog Like a Pro, Jean Donaldson lists four rules:

1. The dog should only take the rope when you invite them to. This means no one will get jumped on by an over-enthusiastic dog if they pick up the tug toy by accident. 

2. The dog should drop the rope when asked (some people prefer the cue “out” to “drop”). Let’s face it, “drop” is a really useful thing for your dog to know and this is a great opportunity to practise it often. 

3. This is an important one: no teeth! If you feel your dog’s teeth on you or your clothes, stop play immediately. Your dog will learn that this is not allowed.

4. Stop and re-start the game from time to time to keep practising the rules.

The cup game

All you need is three paper or plastic cups and some tasty treats. Turn the cups upside down, hide a treat under one of them, shuffle if you wish, and then let your dog choose a cup. Lift the one she chose (unless she already knocked it over). If the treat is there, she’s allowed to eat it! If not she gets another choice.

Need more ideas?

To read more about enrichment and how best to care for your dog, check out my book, Wag: The Science of Making Your Dog Happy.

If your dog can't walk for veterinary reasons, some of these ideas work, but others don’t. Use common sense and consult your veterinarian. The book, No walks? No worries!: Maintaining wellbeing in dogs on restricted exercise by Si├ón Ryan and Helen Zulch has lots of tips for dogs on restricted exercise.

How do you keep your dog entertained when walks aren’t possible?

Zazie Todd, PhD, is the author of Wag: The Science of Making Your Dog Happy. She is the founder of the popular blog Companion Animal Psychology, where she writes about everything from training methods to the human-canine relationship. She also writes a column for Psychology Today and has received the prestigious Captain Haggerty Award for Best Training Article in 2017. Todd lives in Maple Ridge, BC, with her husband and two cats.

Useful links:

Donaldson, Jean (2010) Train Your Dog Like a Pro. Howell Book House.
Farrell, J., Hope, A., Hulstein, R., & Spaulding, S. (2015). Dog-Sport Competitors: What Motivates People to Participate with Their Dogs in Sporting Events? Anthrozoos: A Multidisciplinary Journal of The Interactions of People & Animals, 28 (1), 61-71 DOI: 10.2752/089279315X1412935072201
McGowan, R., Rehn, T., Norling, Y., & Keeling, L. (2013). Positive affect and learning: exploring the “Eureka Effect” in dogs Animal Cognition, 17 (3), 577-587 DOI: 10.1007/s10071-013-0688-x
Rooney, N., & Bradshaw, J. (2002). An experimental study of the effects of play upon the dog–human relationship Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 75 (2), 161-176 DOI: 10.1016/S0168-1591(01)00192-7
Ryan, S., and Zulch, H.  with photographs by Baumber, P. (2014) No walks? No worries!: Maintaining wellbeing in dogs on restricted exercise Dorchester: Hubble & Hattie.
Vertical photo: Dora Zett ( /Zazie Todd

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  1. I have done the cup game a lot, but I have a Shetland Sheepdog (which translates to, he is brilliant!) and he figures it out in seconds!
    I try to do the training thing, might have to try nose work.....
    He isn't into tug toys at all!
    Thanks for the tips!

  2. My dogs love a nose game we have created. I put them in SIT STAY in one room then move to another room. I hide several small treats and say FIND. They both come running to find the goodies. I always have 1 spare treat in case one dog gets them all. No losers :)

  3. Our 13 year old daughter sets up obstacle courses with chairs and couch pillows that the dogs have to climb and weave through to find the treats after a sit/stay. They love this game!

  4. I used to put a treat in one hand (behind my back) and then present both hands & make my dog choose the correct hand. Make them work for it by using their nose. Roscoe would bump his nose for the hand he wanted. After awhile he got VERY good at it!

  5. Hide and seek! Works as great practice for "stay" and "come." I put my dog in a sit stay and go out of the room, going behind a door or into a cupboard. Then I call "come" and treat when he finds me.


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