With the snow falling and the temperatures dropping, many dog owners find themselves spending more and more time indoors with their dogs.
However, boredom and a lack of exercise can lead to many undesirable bad habits including excessive barking, pestering, hyperactivity, or destructive behavior.
Rest assured, there are options available to entertain your dog indoors throughout the winter months!
To help you survive the season, I have put together a list of my 8 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.
Easy Ways to Entertain Your Small Dog Indoors
1) Pull out the food puzzles and interactive toys
One popular category of things to entertain dogs easily at home, that is beloved by trainers, veterinarians, and pet parents alike, is 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) Build your own food puzzle
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.
Luckily, there are many fun DIY food puzzles and games that 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) 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.
4) 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.
5) 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.
6) 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.
7) Organize a spa day for your dog
Not all dogs enjoy the grooming process, but if your dog does, this is a great way to entertain your dog indoors this winter.
Gather up everything that you are 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.
8) 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.
After reading this, we’re confident that instead of wondering how to entertain your dog this winter, you’ll be spending that time making fun cold-weather plans for the whole family!