With the snow falling and the temperatures dropping, many dog owners find themselves spending more and more time indoors with their dogs.
Winter may not be the only time you might be looking for ways to keep your dog busy indoors either.
- You may need to keep your dog occupied while you work from home
- You may not have time in your busy day to take your dog for a walk
- You may be sick or injured, which means you can’t take your dog for a walk or to the dog park
Rest assured, there are options available to entertain your dog indoors!
To help you survive their time stuck inside, I have put together a list of my 10 favorite ways to keep my dogs busy indoors safely and effectively.
Disclosure: I am part of the Amazon Associate program and some the links below are affiliate links. As an affiliate, I earn a small commission from qualifying purchases.
Benefits of Keeping Your Dog Busy
Lack of exercise and boredom can lead to many undesirable bad behavior including:
- Excessive barking
- Constantly pestering you
- Destroying items
- Jumping on counters
Most of us think of going for a walk when we think of keeping our dog entertained, stimulated, and tired out enough to significantly curb or eliminate these behaviors.
However, physical exericse is not the only means to do this.
Mental stimulation is just as important, if not more, and can be done indoors.
That’s what I’m going to focus on in this article.
Easy Ways to Entertain Your Small Dog Indoors
1) Use a commercial food puzzle or interactive toy
One popular category of products to entertain dogs easily at home, that are beloved by trainers, veterinarians, and pet parents alike, are interactive toys.
This includes food puzzle toys, Kong-style treat toys (use this one for puppies), kibble dispensing toys, and anything else that provides some form of reward to entice your dog to keep playing long after they may grow bored of stuffed animals and tennis balls.
Just be sure that you are selecting a safe, BPA-free dog toy for your dog to play with.
Not only are these toys a great source of entertainment, but they also provide mental stimulation, which is needed, especially when your dog is feeling stuck inside during the cold winter months.
Whether you’re searching for options for entertaining your dogs while at work or simply looking to keep them busy so that you can finish your housework list, this is a great option!
For an easy-to-make stuffing recipe for your dog’s KONG or other interactive treat toys, read: Easy & Quick 3 Ingredient Kong Stuffing Recipe.
2) DIY food puzzles and interactive dog toys
There are several ways to create a homemeade puzzle toy for your dog.
The cost of owning a dog can add up quickly and buying a new toy or food puzzle simply may not be in the budget.
Here are some fun DIY food puzzles and games you can enjoy with your dog instead.
The muffin tin interactive dog toy
This one is very simple to create but it also fairly easy for most dogs to figure out.
Take a muffin tin and place treats or pieces of kibble in the bottom of the cups before covering them all with tennis balls, or wads of crumpled paper, then send your dog to sniff out the rewards.
Create a busy bucket
This one is a little more challenging for some dogs but they may learn that they can simply knock the bucket over to get the treats out.
Using a large bucket or laundry basket, layer blankets, towels, or even pieces of your clothing with treats interspersed in between.
Due to the size of the busy bucket, it works best if you pick highly scented rewards that your dog can detect through the many layers to keep them interested.
Tear apart treat ball
This one may be the most challenging of these three options.
Use a HOL-ee Roller Dog Puzzle Ball for this one.
Start with several 1-2 inch square pieces of paper or fabric. Place 1-2 treats in the middle of each one and fold the paper or fabric around it into a little ball.
Then push those little balls through the openings in the HOL-ee Roller until the cavity of the ball is completely filled (it doesn’t have to be stuffed, just mostly full).
Your dog will have to figure out that they must grab and tear out each wad of paper or fabric in order to get to the treat inside.
3) Soothe your dog with a lick mat
Licking is a soothing activity for your dog and will help them to calm down.
A lick mat is a specially designed rubber or plastic mat with cavities on the surface.
You spread canned food, raw food, or peanut butter, etc on the lick mat, the food fills the cavities, and then your dog spends 10-30 minutes, depending on the level of difficulty, licking it clean.
My favorite lick mats are:
- SodaPup bones and jigsaw lick mats (easy and medium difficulty)
- Lickimat Soother with plastic base (easy difficulty level)
4) Give your dog a healthy, all-natural chew
Another option that works great for food-driven dogs is to give them a treat that will take a little longer for them to finish.
There are many great options available that are not only made from all-natural ingredients but also provide great health benefits.
You can also find treats that are geared towards improving your dog’s coat and skin health, cleaning your dog’s teeth, or even improving their digestive system.
For some examples, my small dogs Summit and Gretel enjoy chewing on:
Note: I give my small dogs the large version of bully sticks and collagen chews and just take them away after about 10 minutes. Since I throw them away when there is only 1 inch left so my dogs don’t swallow them and choke, there is less waste that way.
Due to the size of these treats, be sure that you consider the calories of your dog’s treats when mealtime comes to avoid overfeeding and help keep your small dog at a healthy weight.
In other words, subtract the calories of the treat chews from their daily calorie allotment from food.
5) Enjoy an interactive game together
If your dog is currently trying to lose weight, you may prefer to skip the treat-based ways to entertain your dog indoors (and that’s okay).
Instead, you can use this as a great opportunity to improve your bond with one another by playing an interactive game like hide and seek, fetch, or tug of war.
Not only will these games entertain your dog, but they will encourage both you and your dog to engage in physical activity when you may not be going outside to run around as often.
It also gives you an opportunity to build trust and a deeper connection, which will carry over into your training sessions and other areas of your lives together.
6) Create an indoor obstacle course
Unlike the other options up to this point, this one is going to take a little advance work and preparation.
If you have kids, get them involved in the planning too!
Create an obstacle course in your home for your dog using items that you have lying around such as a hula hoop, a cardboard box tunnel, or chairs that he must zig-zag around.
Be careful to consider the ability of your dog, putting together obstacles that are attainable given his small size and current fitness level without risking injury.
As you work through the course with your dog, it’s not only keeping him occupied and encouraging activity, but it’s challenging his mind as he focuses on what you’re asking and how to meet your expectations.
This is a fun activity for the whole family as many young children will also want to do the course while older children can use this as a training opportunity.
7) Dedicate some time to training
Speaking of training, one of the most productive ways to entertain your dog is to plan a training session.
This could include working on basic obedience, if that’s where you are currently at, or moving onto something fun or more advanced.
Active dogs can benefit from taking this time to do balance training to help keep them in shape for the busier season of hiking and exploring ahead.
Is there a trick that you’ve always wanted to teach your dog?
Now is the time to pull out some of your dog’s favorite treats, clear a spot in the living room and get to work together.
8) Let your dog watch television
Not all dogs like watching TV, and it can cause barking issues with some dogs, but others will love it.
I find that my dogs love to watch anything with fast-moving objects that look like prey.
My Dachshund will sit and watch a mountain bike video, ski film, or nature show for up to 30 minutes.
I can literally watch her start to get sleepy doing it.
Another really great option is TV shows specifically made for dogs like DogTV.
9) Organize a spa day for your dog
If yoour dog enjoys being brushed, or the whole grooming process, this is a great way to entertain your dog indoors.
Gather everything you’re going to need in advance and have it all close at hand to keep the day running smoothly including:
- Your dog’s brush or comb
- Toothbrush and toothpaste (if you brush your dog’s teeth)
- Nail clippers or nail grinder
- Paw balm to refresh and protect their feet
- Anything else you may use to keep your dog looking their finest
This is also a great opportunity to do a body scan of your dog to make sure that there are no new lumps, bumps, or marks that you should be concerned about.
10) Plan a puppy play date
If you’re searching for ways to entertain your dog, there’s a good chance that your other dog parent friends are also looking for ideas.
Why not give them a call and plan a time for you all to get together and have fun.
This is a great way to make sure that your dog is getting enough exercise to stay fit and healthy while also enjoying some quality time with the people (and dogs) that you both love.
You can even incorporate some of the ideas we already mentioned, such as organizing an obstacle course, into your group play session.
Do I Have to Enetertain My Dog All Of the Time?
Just because your dog is not busy, doesn’t mean you will always have entertainin them.
Dogs sleep an average of 10 – 18 hours a day.
Small dogs generally sleep 14-16 hours a day and most medium to large sized dogs sleep 10-14 hours (note: giant dog breeds and senior dogs may need closer to 18 hours a day).
If you have a small dog like I do, and your dog get 8 hours of sleep a night, that leaves roughly 6-8 hours of sleep that occurs during the daytime.
In other words, your small dog might be awake 10-12 hours of the day.
In my personal experience though, my small dogs are not awake and active for that many hours.
But that might be precisely because I give them mentally stimulating things to do 2-3 times a day.
Obviously, you don’t need to entertain your dog while they are sleeping.
But you don’t necessary need to entertain them every moment they are awake either.
While dogs are awake, they are using this time to eat, go potty, get belly rubs and survey the house for interesting things or intruders.
There are different figures floating around out there but it’s understood in the dog training and veterinary world that mental stimulation can tire a dog out better than physical exercise.
For example, some say that 10-15 minutes of stimulating your dog’s mind with games, puzzles, and toys can take the place of an hour of walking.
Therefore, giving your dog something they need to use their brain to solve 20-30 minutes a day can tire them out as much as two walks.
And we all know that dogs relax and like to sleep after walks and they may sleep for a couple hours.
So the final verdict is, no, you do not need to entertain your dog all day.
The most common times I give my dogs something to do is:
- after breakfast when they are feeling energetic
- while I am working from home and need to focus
- before bed so they will sleep through the night (usually only needed for puppies),
If we’ve had a stretch of being cooped up inside, I give them something to do more often.
If we have been out for walks and hikes frequently, they need indoor mental stimulation less (because they are sleeping more).
While physical exercise and mental stimulation are different, both are important to your pet’s daily routine.
But if you can’t get out for a walk or run on some days, giving your dog something to think about and solve will still help keep them from getting bored and tire them out.
After reading this, we’re confident that instead of wondering how to entertain your dog indoors, you’ll be on your way to creating a healthier, happier pup.
About the Author
Hi, I’m Jessica. I’ve been studying the Dachshund breed since 2007, owned 3 of my own, and shared in the lives of thousands of others through their owner’s stories. When I’m not sharing what I know on this blog, you can find me hiking, camping, and traveling with my adventurous wiener dogs.