A guide to navigating the challenge and adventure of life with your dogs.

9 Ways To Exercise Your Dog Without Walking Him

Sometimes you just can’t walk your dog.

Like if she pulls on leash too hard, or freaks out at every animal, jogger, or wind-blown plastic bag that crosses her path. Outside of training-session walks designed to rid your pup of these issues, you might want to forget about walks for now.

And sometimes the weather just sucks (wassup, Northeastern US!). And sometimes you have one of those weeks where you hate everybody and vow never to leave your house ever again (wassup, holiday season!).

Fortunately there are other ways to provide your dog with the exercise and mental stimulation she needs.

How to wear your dog out without leaving the house

Walks are so useful because they provide a lot of things: exercise, brain work (from all the new sights and smells), and bonding time with her human.

Here are some ideas that provide those same benefits.

Flirt Pole

A weird name for a cool toy. It’s basically a dog toy on a rope. You drag it around and get your dog to chase it, letting him catch the toy occasionally. This is a great way to exercise a dog without a lot of space, and dogs go crazy for it. Even some dogs who turn their noses up at fetch can’t resist this game. There’s something about the way a toy on a string moves that satisfies a dog’s chase-kill-destroy instincts.

Get a stick (a wooden dowel, narrow PVC pipe, whatever) and tie a string to it. The string should be two to five feet long, depending on how much space you have. On the other end of the string, attach a dog toy. Stuffed animals and rope tug toys work well.

Then clear the play area of things the dog could crash into, and let the games begin.

Blow Bubbles

A quick and easy game for dogs who like to chase. Get a bottle of kids’ bubble solution and blow some bubbles for Fido to attack. You can also find bubble solution for dogs; it comes in delicious flavors like chicken or peanut butter. Yummy.

Pass the Puppy

Enlist a few volunteers. Give everybody a small handful of treats. Have them sit on the floor in a circle, with at least a few feet between each person (don’t crowd into a tiny circle, as this might intimidate the dog)

If Fido is a big dog, then everyone can stand instead of sit.

One at a time, each person calls the dog. Use his name or just make interesting noises (kissy sounds, for some reason, are the universal canine attention-attractor).

When Fido arrives at each lap, the person should praise, treat and pet him. Then someone else calls him. When the next person calls Fido, that’s the cue for the first person to stop interacting with the dog.

If you’re not currently buried under three feet of snow, take this outdoors to a fenced area and have the players spread out further.

Hide and Seek

Have someone hold on to Lola while you run off to hide. Call the dog’s name. When she finds you, praise her and give her treats or play with a toy.

When you first play this, don’t hide yourself too well or she might give up. As she gets better at the game you can go farther away and make it harder for her to find you.

Turn this into a variation on Pass the Puppy: get a bunch of volunteers to hide. Make a big fuss over your heroic search-and-rescue dog as she recovers everyone from their hiding places.

Puzzle Toys

Treat-dispensing toys are God’s gift to caninekind. These toys are the easiest, fastest, most effective way to tire a dog out. Have you started your collection of Kongs, Barnacles, and Atomic Treat Balls yet?

(An additional benefit is getting to casually mention to your friends how much your dog loves Magic Mushrooms)

Find the Toy/Treat

Put that dog’s nose to work. Get a toy or treat that Lola really likes. Show it to her and get her excited. Have someone restrain her. Tell her to “get reeaaady!” While she watches, hide the object a few feet away, behind a wall or a sofa. Tell her to “find it!” and let her go. Praise her big when she gets to it.

Once she’s figured out what “get ready” and “find it” mean, and had a few successes at this easy level, you can increase the difficulty.

Forage for Food

Let Lola channel her inner wild beast by scavenging for dinner instead of eating another boring meal out of a bowl. Measure out a meal’s worth of kibble. Mix in some shredded cheese or bits of chicken to make things interesting, then scatter it around the yard or living room. Make it even more of a challenge by putting the food into puzzle toys, and then hiding the puzzle toys. This is a great way to keep Lola occupied when you have to leave her home alone, too.

Indoor Agility

Channel your inner MacGyver and construct an obstacle course in your living room. Make jumps out of broomsticks or pool noodles. Make a tunnel by draping blankets over a line of chairs. If Fido’s a little guy, buy a cheap kid’s play tunnel from Target. Make a tire jump by duct-taping a hula hoop between a pair of chairs. Make a weave obstacle by setting up buckets in a line.

Before testing Fido on the whole course, teach him how to perform each obstacle individually using lure/reward training. Stick a treat in front of his nose, lure him through/over the obstacle a few times. Then fade the lure out by getting the treat out of your hand, but making the same hand motion. Have him follow your treat-less hand through the obstacle, then reward him with a treat out of your other hand.

Got small children? Indoor agility courses are also great for wearing out stir-crazy human puppies.

Test Your Dog’s Adaptive Intelligence

Channel your inner research scientist and experiment on your best friend. Er, yeah.

The perfect activity for a rainy day or snow-pocalypse, “intelligence tests” are a fun way to hang out with your dog and put her brain to work. Here’s one set of dog IQ tests to try.