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19 Ways to Get Your Dog Indoor Exercise in the Winter

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Dog Health By Nathan Hinds 17 min read July 19, 2021

Winter Exercise for Dogs
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Let’s face it – we all put on a little weight in the colder months. Our New Years’ resolutions are toast, and there’s no going back.

But while we humans may have given up, there’s still hope for your canine!

Winter activities can be just as satisfying as summer fun – for both you and your dog. From doggy daycare and other public options to physical games within the comfort of your own home, the sky’s the limit when it comes to indoor exercise.

Below, we’ll discuss the importance of exercise all year long, and then we’ll offer some of our favorite out of the box ideas for activities to keep Fido fit during the cold months!

Indoor Exercise for Dogs: Key Takeaways

  • Exercise is not only important for humans, it is important for dogs too! Exercise provides a wealth of health benefits to canines. Not only does it help prevent dogs from becoming overweight, but it also helps provide mental stimulation and promote overall good health.
  • Even though it may be cold outside, you can still get your dog some exercise while trapped indoors. In some cases, you’ll need to purchase or construct some exercise equipment to do so, but there are also ways to help your pooch get some exercise without needing any special equipment.
  • You’ll want to select the best indoor exercises for your specific dog. For example, you’ll want to choose different exercises for small dogs than large dogs, and you’ll also want to keep your pet’s other health issues (if any) in mind when making your choice.

The Importance of Dog Exercise, Regardless of the Season

While we wish we could hibernate during the winter months (at least my dog and I do), we don’t have that luxury. 

In the summer, it’s easy to burn calories with daily walks, trips to the dog park, hiking or swimming. Finding a calorie-burning alternative in the winter is a must to avoid the inevitable weight-gain and joint problems that come with a sedentary lifestyle.  

In fact, insufficient exercise can cause canines to develop a host of poor behaviors and bad habits that are oftentimes destructive. Additionally, excess energy without an outlet can lead to anxiety, causing stress and other health issues. 

Winter is often the breeding ground of cabin fever and bad behavior, so it’s vital that dog owners find a way to mitigate these issues. 

indoor exercise for dogs

19 Great Ways to Get Your Dog Indoor Exercise in the Winter

Now that we’re clear on the importance of exercise in the winter, here are some unique and inspired ways to get your pooch moving around indoors:

1. Treat-Dispensing Balls

Exercising the body and the mind is a great way to keep your pooch both fit and mentally stimulated during the winter months.

Treat dispensing balls and similar puzzle toys make your pooch work for his snacks, which will keep him thinking, scheming, and moving all the while. 

We’ve written about treat-dispensing balls before, but two of our favorites are the Classic KONG for dogs who need a chewable option, and the StarMark Bob-A-Lot for particularly clever canines.

Classic KONG

  • Multi-use toy that’s great for solo play or training
  • One of the most popular dog toys of all time
  • Available in 6 sizes and multiple durability ratings

Starmark Bob-a-Lot

  • Works as a toy or a slow feeder
  • Can hold up to 3 full cups of kibble
  • Adjustable difficulty level

Additionally, treat dispensing devices mean your pooch can’t eat quite as quickly. It’s the perfect way to improve digestion and help avoid bloat, especially if you’re using it for dry food mealtime. 

2. Flirt Pole

A flirt pole isn’t as dirty as it sounds. In fact, it’s not dirty at all! 

A flirt pole has the basic shape of a fishing pole, with a solid rod, a rope, and a toy attached. The human participant controls the speed, range and direction of movement, while the canine participant tries to catch the toy. 

There are a bunch of great dog flirt poles on the market, but the Outward Hound Tail Teaser is likely our favorite.

Outward Hound Tail Teaser

  • Nylon rope is lightweight and durable
  • Comes with a replacement lure
  • Lure rattles and squeaks for extra enticement
  • Best-suited for small to medium breeds
  • Very well-rated by most owners
  • Affordably priced

While the thrill of the chase makes it fun for your pooch, it’s important that you let him win and catch the toy from time to time. Otherwise, he may lose interest and give up. For your pooch, it’s a great outlet for mitigating the natural prey drive in a controlled and risk-free environment. 

Don’t quite understand how a flirt pole works? Just check out our video below!

3. Laser Pointer Fun

A simple laser pointer can be very helpful for getting your dog some indoor exercise during the cold winter months. Laser pointers often trigger your dog’s prey-chasing instincts, making it easy to get Fido running around.

Best of all, you’ll hardly have to move while doing so! You can simply sit in on the couch and allow your pooch to chase the enticing red dot around the living room.

Just be sure to let your dog “catch” the moving dot from time to time. This will help prevent frustration and keep his tail wagging. Doing so is pretty easy:

  • Start playtime and allow your dog to chase the dot for a few minutes
  • Near the end of the session, slyly toss a treat on the floor (try not to let your dog see you doing so)
  • Then, when you’re ready to end the session and allow your dog to capture his “prey,” simply move the light over to the treat
  • Once your dog gets to the treat, turn the laser pointer off and offer plenty of praise as he enjoys the tasty treat

For the most part, you can use any old laser pointer for pupper playtime. However, we really like the TMMDH Laser Pointer Three-Pack. It comes with three different laser pointers (which is awesome in case you lose one), and they each produce a different colored dot.

Yes, it is technically marketed for cats, but that doesn’t matter — it’ll work just fine for Fido.

Laser Pointer Safety

We hope this goes without saying, but be careful to avoid shining your laser pointer directly into your doggo’s eyes.

4. Treat Scatters

Making a mess is fun for everyone – dogs included! Treat scatters are a fun way to keep your dog’s attention diverted and a unique way to keep feeding time interesting. 

Treat scattering involves spreading some of your dog’s favorite treats or dry food on the floor, which effectively forces your pooch to pick up each piece individually. They’ll eat slower and have to think things through. It’s sort of like a puzzle feeder, minus the puzzling part!

Treat scatters are also a great training tool, which can help distract your dog from upsetting stimuli (such as that cat who won’t stop walking by your window).

One way to make treat-scattering time even more interesting for your pup is by picking up a snuffle mat. Made to mimic tall grass or vegetation, these indoor management aids will help make it harder for your pooch to find the treats, and it’ll keep his brain and nose busy.

We’ve identified some of the best snuffle mats (as well as some DIY plans for building your own) before, but Paw5’s version is probably our favorite.

Details

  • Engage your dog’s sense of smell: puts your dog’s nose and brain to work by mimicking the hunt...
  • Simply challenging: encourages natural foraging skills
  • Easy-to-fill feeding mat: fun-to-use design and durable construction
  • Machine washable: Sustainably handmade from a combination of virgin and upcycled materials

5. Tug-of-War

It’s sometimes hard not to be overly competitive when playing tug-of-war with your dog — but that’s part of the reason the game is fun for humans and canines. 

dog indoor tug of war

Playing tug-of-war with your pooch is a great way to bond, plus it’s fun for all involved! This traditional canine game is known for activating your dog’s prey drive – it harkens some deep-seated instincts that can be lived out in a safe and harmless environment. 

Plus, if you use a rope tug toy, it’ll help keep your dog’s pearly whites a bit cleaner. 

There are approximately five gazillion tug toys on the market, but we’ve identified a handful of the best dog tug toys in another article.

Go give it a read, or just order the Zogoflex Bumi — it’s almost certainly the best one on the market.  

Zogoflex Bumi 

  • Stretches up to twice its length
  • Available in 2 sizes and 3 colors
  • Non-toxic and FDA approved
  • Made in the USA

6. Hide and Seek

Playing hide and seek with your hound is a great way to get the whole family involved. It’s not only a fun way to get your pooch moving, it doesn’t require any equipment, and it rarely takes long to teach your dog how to play. 

You’ll hide in a room, treats in hand, and your pooch gets to do the seeking. The more humans involved, the merrier! Hide and seek is a wonderful way to strengthen the bond between Fido and the family. 

Additionally, your pup’s nose, mind, and body will be working in unison to find those treats! 

7. Scavenger Hunt

If your dog likes the treat dispensing toys, then he’ll love the full room version! 

Scavenger hunts give your pup a chance to seriously exercise his nose while indoors, which he’ll no doubt miss when snow covers his favorite sniffing spots.

You’ll keep him busy for hours searching for the treats you’ve skillfully hidden around the house. It’s like a fun Easter Egg hunt for your pooch!

Just be sure to start off hiding the treats in relatively easy-to-find places. This will help your dog feel confident before you start ramping up the difficulty level. 

8. Indoor Obstacle Course

Sort of the canine version of a pillow fort, an indoor obstacle course is fun for both human and dog! 

Indoor Winter Exercise for Dogs

Utilize chairs, pillows, blankets, and other household items to create a few jumps and maybe a tunnel. Feel free to use your creativity when designing different doggo obstacles, but just be sure to keep safety in mind and try to use soft items when constructing interesting impediments.

Guiding your dog through your homemade course will get the blood flowing and break up the boring winter days. Indoor obstacle courses can easily be changed up, so you’ll never lose your dog’s interest! 

Need some help building a few obstacles? Check out our article on making your own DIY agility course.

Agility courses and obstacle courses aren’t exactly the same thing, but there’s a lot of crossover, and with a little creativity, you should have no trouble adapting some of these plans.

9. Ricochet Dog Toy 

Hi-tech and loads of fun, the Ricochet Dog Toy from PetSafe is an excellent way to stimulate (and possibly confuse) your dog’s brain.

Details

  • HIDE AND SQUEAK: The PetSafe Ricochet Electronic Dog Toy features 2 paired toys that will have your...
  • SURPRISE SOUND: The PetSafe Ricochet is perfect for single-dog households; when your dog interacts...
  • LONG-LASTING PLAY: Playtime with the Ricochet lasts up to a month of daily use; both toys turns off...
  • MENTAL STIMULATION: The moving squeak provides a fun puzzle for your dog, as the sound is never...

This game is made up of two separate ball toys, both of which are capable of making a loud squeaking sound.

The noise “ricochets” from one to the other – once your dog checks out the noisy one, the sound switches to the other, and so on. Your dog will love spending hours trying to get to the bottom of this noisy mystery!

Once your dog gets the hang of it, you can even add a little variation and hide one of the toys, adding a little extra challenge. These toys are battery powered and made from tough material, so they can stand up to slobber and continuous use! 

Want to hear more? Check out our full review of the Ricochet Dog Toy!

10. Petcube Bites 2

If your dog spends long hours at home without you, a Petcube Bites 2 might be the answer to keep him connected and mentally stimulated while you’re away. 

Details

  • 🎥 Ultimate pet monitoring – With Petcube Bites Wi-Fi pet camera, watch your pet with 1080p full...
  • 🚀Quick 2-minute setup – Petcube Bites 2 is the only pet camera to support 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz Wi-Fi...
  • 🍖Treat your pet remotely – Toss treats short, medium, or long distance or schedule automatic...
  • 🔔 Smart sound & motion alerts – Real-time notifications tell you when your pet is active and...

The Petcube is essentially a video monitor that allows you to communicate with your pet during the day, no matter where you are. This device gives you the comfort of watching your furbaby on your phone all day long, plus, with the touch of a button, you can dispense a treat to make things a little more interesting. 

For winter months when using a dog walker is off the table, the Petcube Bites 2 might make your mutt a little less lonely.

11. Tennis Ball Launcher

Clear the room and find some fresh batteries — the tennis ball launcher isn’t just for the outdoors anymore! 

The many varieties of this time-honored toy make for excellent indoor playtime. You can adjust both the pitch and the distance to suit your space.

Just be sure all the breakable items are out of the way! Your dog will enjoy the same satisfying chase indoors with one of these fun devices. 

There are a bunch of dog ball launchers on the market, but our favorite is likely the IDogMate Ball Launcher.

Details

  • Launches a ball Up to10, 20, 30, 40 feet It's easy to switch between these 4 distances or select the...
  • iDogmate Big dog launcher balls are 2.5 inches in diameter. They are felted like tennis balls, but...
  • Runs on AC Adapter (included) or rechargeable Li-ion batteries (included) which supports up to 250...
  • Large hopper, 240mm*230mm( 9.5*9”). This large hopper makes it easy for your pet to recharge the...

Unlike some other launchers, this model uses specially made balls, which feature non-abrasive fabric. This is important because tennis balls can wear down your doggo’s teeth over time. 

12. Game of Chase

Simple, classic and effective, spontaneously chasing your dog around the house strengthens your bond with him and wears him out at the same time! 

There are a few rules you’ll want to set down before engaging in a raucous chasing game:

  • Make sure things don’t get out of hand and that your dog doesn’t get aggressive — keep it light and make sure he knows it’s just a game! 
  • Be sure your dog is mature enough to handle a game of chase – don’t accidentally promote puppy-like behavior through playtime.
  • Always play chase in a safe space that doesn’t feature any potentially dangerous items you or your pooch could trip on.

A well-controlled game of chase will no doubt get the blood pumping and bring your and your pup closer together!

13. Pet Qwerks Babble Ball

The Babble Ball does just what the name suggests – it babbles to your dog! 

Pet Qwerks Babble Ball

  • Triggered by touch
  • Lights up and makes 18 different sounds
  • Durable enough for moderate chewers
  • Available in 3 sizes
  • Automatic shut off

Rolling the traditional squeaky toy into the 21st century, the Babble Ball expresses a variety of different fun phrases to your pooch when he plays with it. Depending on how rough your pup plays, the Babble Ball should last for quite a while — it’s battery powered and only active when he plays with it. 

The Babble Ball is a great alternative to a video monitor to keep your dog stimulated – the vocal reassurance will be music to his ears!

14. Indoor Dog Parks 

Next to avocado toast, the indoor dog parks may be the best idea that millennials have thrust into the spotlight. 

Just as the name implies, indoor dog parks offer all the benefits outdoor versions do, but in a safe and warm environment to protect you from the elements.

Indoor dog parks fulfill an important role in the winter months – they help your dog get the socialization he’ll miss when he’s cooped up indoors 

Don’t have an indoor dog park in your area? Consider inviting some canine friends over for a fun play date! Any social activity will help your pup keep his sanity during the cold months.

15. Pet Treadmills

Nobody loves the treadmill, but with a little bit of treat motivation, your dog just might learn like it. Specifically designed and built with canines in mind, dog treadmills will get the muscles working in the wintertime.

dog treadmill for indoor exercise

The benefits of treadmills for dogs are pretty much in line with the benefits that they offer for humans. They provide an opportunity for a healthy cardio workout in a safe and convenient setting to burn those calories. The canine versions of treadmills are tailored specifically for our four-legged friends. 

With a little motivation from treats, your pup might event enjoy his workout!

Because dog exercise equipment tends to involve a pretty hefty investment, and they vary in a number of ways, we’d encourage interested readers to check out our in-depth review of dog treadmills, before making a choice.

That said, if you just want a quick recommendation so you can get your canine’s treadmill on the way, it is hard to go wrong with the dogPACER LF 3.1 Dog Pacer Treadmill. It comes with a ton of great features and is durable enough for dogs weighing up to 180 pounds.

Details

  • SPECIFICATIONS - Dimensions folded: L-42.28" W-22" H-8.5" | Dimensions open: L-76.77" W-27.16"...
  • HEALTHY WEIGHT – A consistent regiment of exercise and diet will lead to a healthier, happier and...
  • TIME – Because of busy and hectic schedules, we often find it a challenge to walk our dogs after a...
  • SAFETY – No worries about walking your dog at dawn or late at night or on a busy street....

16. Doggie Daycare

For highly social pups and those who’re used to daily dog walker visits, doggie daycare may be a warm and cozy alternative in the winter

A regular visit from the friendly neighborhood dog walker may not be practical or safe in colder environments. Utilizing a reputable doggie daycare is an excellent alternative for some working folks because it provides both human and canine interaction. 

Your pup will get loads of playtime during the day, so when you pick him up he’ll be all ready for cuddles, crashing, and some serious bonding time!  

Just remember, not all dogs will be good candidates for doggie daycare, and that’s OK!

17. Stair Routine

Making the most of your home’s layout is a must when you’re stuck inside, so put those stairs to good use! Using treats to motivate your pooch to go up and down the steps will burn up energy fast. 

Stair routines are also a great way to work on some treat-motivated obedience training as well.

dog stair running routine

Just keep your canine’s safety in mind and make sure your pooch doesn’t tire too quickly. Be sure to give him a chance to catch his breath periodically – it’s easy to overdo it when treats are involved! You’ll also need to use caution if your dog has a history of joint problems or arthritis.

If you’re looking to burn a few calories yourself, you and your pooch might consider taking a few trips up and down the stairs together!

18. Doggie Dancing

You and your dog need not be Sara and Hero from America’s Got Talent to reap the benefits of canine dancing — so, bust a move and get your canine off the couch! Don’t worry if you can’t even pull off “The Robot.” Your dog won’t judge you. 

Doggie dancing involves human and canine choreography, combining artistry and difficult moves — think of it as agility competitions or obedience trials set to music.

Canine dancing is a growing trend in the United States and beyond. Organized competitions and clubs have promoted this new sport and made it a global movement.

Not only is it a great means for exercise and engagement, it’s an excellent practice in obedience as well! 

19. Doga

Downward dog has gone to the dogs – it’s not just for yogis anymore!

“Doga,” or yoga for dogs, is a relatively new trend in dog exercise and wellness. When done properly, doga can really strengthen the bond between you and your pooch, offering a relaxing wake up or wind down to the day. 

Doga won’t check the cardio box, but your pup will definitely benefit from the mental and muscular stimulation it provides. Additionally, older dogs with joint problems may particularly benefit from the stretching that comes with it!

You Can Still Go Outside in the Winter – Just Be Safe!

Cold temperatures and icy weather may limit your pup’s time outdoors, but it doesn’t mean he’ll be stuck inside until Spring. Most dogs love the occasional romp in the snow, as long as it’s done safely and for short periods of time. 

dog outdoor winter activity

Here are some of our top tips for maximizing your outdoor time during the winter months:

  • Utilize canine booties to avoid freezing feet, and to protect your pup from harmful treatments on the roads from snow plows or salt trucks.
  • Avoid walking your dog outside when there is a threat of icy patches on streets and sidewalks – slipping can cause pulled muscles and joint damage.
  • Find a stylish – but functional – dog coat that can stave off the cold temperatures long enough for some winter fun. 
  • Check the weather forecast and plan ahead for sunny and unseasonably warm days. Maybe leave work a few minutes early to take advantage of the warm weather and let your pup spend as much time outside as possible.
  • Use a pet-safe ice melt product to keep your sidewalks, driveway, and other smooth surfaces safe and non-slip.
  • Wash your pet’s paws after walking over areas that’ve been treated with salt or other types of deicing products. These types of things can be abrasive and potentially corrosive to your pet’s tootsies. 

***

How does your dog stay fit of mind and body during the winter? Does your dog have a tried and true workout routine for the winter months? Let us know in the comments!

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Nathan Hinds

Nathan Hinds is a professional pilot, writer, and an avid animal lover. He is passionate about animal rescue and is involved in both fundraising and fostering. Nathan is a lifelong resident of St. Louis, MO and is the proud parent of a senior beagle mix named Gilmore, as well as a whole bunch of cats.

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