Knowing how to tire out a dog is crucial as dogs need physical and mental stimulation. And it’s especially important for pet travelers, where you’re working with small spaces like RVs or hotel rooms..


You’ve planned an awesome hike in the mountains that’s sure to tire your dog out. But what if it rains? Or you sprain your ankle? And you’re stuck in a hotel room.

Maybe you live in a small space, like a boat, RV, or New York City apartment. When your square footage is limited, getting creative will help your dog burn some excess energy off.

So, can you exercise your dog indoors—even in a small space? Absolutely!

How To Tire Out A Boat Dog

We lived on a boat that was ten feet across at the widest part. And we had a Golden Retriever. Since we weren’t always hanging out on a cool beach, we had to find ways to tire out a dog in a small space. Even if you’re not a sailor, you can make use of the same skills!

READ MORE ⇒  5 Questions To Ask BEFORE Taking Your Dog On A Boat

Honey is unable to turn around in the narrow aisle of the sailboat.
Our bluewater sailboat was designed so we were never far from a handhold. But that meant it was also too narrow for a golden retriever to turn around in the aisle.

Whether your small space is an apartment, hotel room, adventure van, RV, or vacation rental, you can tire out any breed of dog.

Here’s what you need to know:

  • Large dogs are harder to exercise in tight quarters than small dogs. But giving a large dog a good workout is still absolutely possible.
  • Dogs get tired faster when you work their brains as well as their bodies.
  • You can buy (or make) many cool accessories that will help you tire out your pup.

The key to a happy and tired dog is being a creative owner!


11 Ways To Tire Out A Dog In A Small Space

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These are some of the best ways we’ve found to work your high-energy dog’s body and brain indoors:

1. Rotate The Toys

Do you keep your dog’s same old toys hanging around all the time? Stop it! Your dog will show much more interest in playing with toys that are new to her.

You don’t need to spend money on new toys all the time. Just hide the ones she hasn’t paid attention to for a while and then surprise her with them a few weeks later.

If she’s an enthusiastic toy lover (like our Honey was), she’ll do a good job of tiring herself out just by jumping around with her long, lost toy.

Pro tip: Add “Hide dog toys” to your trip planning to-do list a week or so before leaving on vacation. Then pack the toys your dog has been missing for your trip.

Honey finds her stuffed bear in a bag.
Honey’s favorite bear had been hidden away for two weeks. As soon as we put it in reach, she sought out her old friend.

2. Set Up A Mobile Obstacle Course

There are tons of ways to tire your dog out with an obstacle course. You can place tape across a doorway to create jumps for your dog to go over or limbo bars for him to go under.

Pro Tip: Pack a roll of blue painter’s tape in your dog’s travel gear to use in hotels and vacation properties.

You can also rearrange the furniture for them to wind around the house (or boat). Have them jump up on and off the couch and other furniture if it’s allowed. Remember to be respectful – not all lodgings want pets on the furniture.

All of our furniture on the boat is pet friendly. So we used Honey’s favorite stuffed toys to encourage and teach her to jump on and off the settees and climb the first few steps of our ladder.

READ MORE ⇒ DIY Indoor Enrichment Games For Dogs

Honey the golden retriever jumps down in the cockpit.
We couldn’t move furniture around on the boat. But there were plenty of obstacles for Honey to jump on and off.

3. Play The Shell Game

To play the shell game you’ll need a few extra-smelly treats and two cups. Show your dog the treat and let her watch you put it under one of the two cups.

Move the cups around once or twice and then ask your pup to find the treat. Most dogs will knock over the cup hiding the treat.

As your dog learns the game, make it more difficult. You can add a third cup, use a milder smelling treat, or spend more time moving the cups around.

Honey the golden retriever tries to figure out which cup is hiding her treat.
C’mon, Honey, make your choice. Which cup is hiding the treats?

4. Chase Bubbles to Tire Out a Dog

Dogs with a strong prey drive love chasing bubbles. Just whip out your wand and let your dog chase and pop bubbles until she’s tired!

Make sure you use a bubble mixture that won’t hurt your dog’s eyes. You can get bacon-scented or peanut butter-scented bubbles (yes, really!). Or make your own – which is less interesting, but safe – using glycerin and water.

Pro Tip: If you need your pup to be entertained while you’re on a conference call, the automatic bubble blower is a good investment!

5. Play Hide & Seek

Our boat is too small for this game. But it’s a favorite when we get to shore.

Wait until your dog is distracted by a treat, person, or ball. Then slip into a closet or duck behind a piece of large furniture. If your dog doesn’t come looking for you right away, call her name. Make a big fuss and give her a treat when she finds you.

This game also comes in handy if you have trouble getting your dog to come back at the dog park!

Happy dog running down a path at a dog park in St. Augustine, FL

6. Feed Your Dog Using A Food Toy

If your dog has to work to get her food, the effort will tire her out and keep her from gobbling down her meal at the same time.

We fed Honey out of food toys from the time she was 8-weeks old. Her first was a plastic bottle balanced on its opening. We’d put her kibble inside, balance the bottle on its neck, and encourage her to knock it over with her nose. While she was eating what fell out, we’d set the bottle up again.

From there she graduated to more advanced toys, including the Kong Wobbler which required her to work the toy all over the room to get her full meal.

The result of feeding Honey from food toys? She took a deep nap immediately after eating.

If you’re concerned about the noise your dog might make while playing with the KONG Wobbler, try a snuffle mat instead.

And, if your dog is particularly clever, get a food puzzle that makes them solve problems to release their food.

The mental energy required by food toys paired with the arousing scent of food stimulating the brain will tire your dog out faster than a long romp at the dog park!


7. Play Fetch

Some dogs love to fetch. But it’s not always convenient to take them outside. Don’t worry, fetch is also a great game inside! If you don’t live in a home with museum-quality knick-knacks, that is.

Honey the golden retriever running with a toy in her mouth.

We’ve played fetch on the stairs, using toys that take weird bounces, like a Kong Wubba. Using the stairs for a game of fetch keeps the game contained while forcing your dog to run up and down — using more energy.

8. Play Tug

Honey loved playing tug, and the Kong Wubba works great for this, too! If your dog gets overexcited with this kind of game, you might want to avoid it. But for some other dogs, a good game of tug with their favorite person is loads of fun.


9. Trick Training

Nothing works your dog or puppy’s brain better than training. And teaching her to do tricks is fun for you both!

Shaping is a training method in which you reward your dog for getting closer to a behavior, one tiny step at a time. For example, to train your dog to shut the door, say yes and give her a treat if she faces the door.

Once she’s reliably facing the door to receive a reward, wait for her to move closer to the door before giving her a treat. Work your way through the steps until your dog is touching, and then pushing the door with her nose for a reward.

The best part of trick training is, you’ll never run out of things to teach your dog!

READ MORE  Training Your Dog To Travel

Honey the golden retriever gives a high five.
One of Honey’s favorite new tricks, was “high five.” And learning it really tired her out.

10. Play Nose Work Games To Tire Out A Dog

We took a class on playing nose work games at our local SPCA and Honey LOVED it. After that, nose work was our go-to whenever we were stuck on board the boat in bad weather.

When Honey heard me say, “Find it,” she knew to start sniffing out the treats I’d hidden around the boat. Using her nose tired her out better than anything else we did!

You’ll have to train your dog to understand what you want her to do when you give the “Find It” command. But it’s worth the effort because nose work is a fun way to tire out your dog no matter where you are.

Honey the golden retriever plays nose work games.
Looks like Honey followed her nose right to the box with the treat. Good girl.

11. Give Your Dog A Stimulating Chew Toy

Honey loved soft, stuffed toys with a squeaker. But in a pinch, a crinkly water bottle inside an old sock tied in a knot was a fun substitute. (And it gives you a way to use unpaired socks that come out of the dryer!)

For some reason, most dogs go crazy for the sound of a crinkly water bottle. And the crunch, crunch, crunching is a great way to tire out your dog.

You can also make your own “chews” by mixing up a dehydrated dog food like The Honest Kitchen, stuffing it in a West Paw Zygoflex Tux toy and freezing it overnight.

Get 20% off your first order of $30 or more (affiliate link) 

Three West Paw Zygoflex dog toys stuffed with Honest Kitchen dog food and ready for the freezer

Congratulations, you now know how to tire out a dog!

Hopefully, you’ll find at least a few of these ideas work well to tire out your dog out the next time you’re stuck indoors. Here are a few additional tips before you get started:

  • Remember to choose an activity that’s a good fit for your pup.
  • Supervise your dog. Don’t leave him alone in a hotel room or camper with a toy or chew until you know it’s absolutely safe for him.
  • Consider your dog’s limits. A senior pup with joint issues is not the best candidate for playing fetch on the stairs. And a dog who destroys toys might be better suited to trick training than chewing on a stuffed sock.

Most of all, keep it fun! And you might discover that your dog is as happy to hang out inside with you as he is to roam the mountains, the dog parks, or head to the beach.

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