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 off energy.

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

11 Ways To Tire Out Your Dog In A Small Space |

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How We Tire Out A Boat Dog

We live on a boat that is ten feet wide at the broadest part. And we have a Golden Retriever. Since we’re not always hanging out on a cool beach, we’ve found 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!

Honey is unable to turn around in the narrow aisle of the sailboat.
Our bluewater sailboat is narrow so you’re never far from a handhold. But it’s 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’ll have enough space to tire out any 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 more tired 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

These are some of the best ways we’ve found to work your 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), 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.

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

2. 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!


3. Set Up An 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. 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 use Honey’s favorite stuffed toys to encourage her to jump on and off the settees and climb the first few steps of our ladder.

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

4. 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.

Switch the cups once or twice and 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?

5. 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 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!

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’ve been feeding Honey out of food toys since 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 requires her to work the toy all over the room to get her full meal.

The result of feeding Honey from food toys? She takes 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 museum, that is.

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

We’ve played fetch on the stairs, using toys that make 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. Wrestle Or Play Tug

Honey loves playing tug, and the Kong Wubba works great for this, too! My husband also gets down on the ground and wrestles with Honey. They both enjoy a little roughhousing, as long as it’s under control.

If your dog gets overexcited with this kind of game, you might want to avoid it. But for some dogs, rolling around on the floor with their favorite person is loads of fun.


9. Trick Training

Nothing works your dog’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 him a treat if he faces the door. Once he’s reliably facing the door to receive a reward, wait for him to move closer to the door before giving him a treat. Work your way through the steps until your dog is touching, and then pushing the door with his nose for a reward.

The best part 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 tricks is “high five.” And learning it really tired her out.

10. Play Nose Work Games to Tire Out a Dog

We took a great class on playing nose work games at our local SPCA and Honey LOVED it. Now we use nose work games to tire her out when we’re stuck on board the boat in bad weather.

When she hears me say, “Find it,” Honey knows to start sniffing out the treats I’ve hidden around the boat. Using her nose tires her out better than anything else we do.

You have to train your dog to understand what you want him to do when you give the command, “Find it.” 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 has followed her nose right to the box with the treat. Good girl.

11. Give Your Dog A Stimulating Chew Toy

Honey loves soft, stuffed toys with a squeaker. But in a pinch, a crinkly water bottle inside a sweat sock tied in a knot is 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 The Honest Kitchen, stuffing it in a West Paw Zygoflex Tux toy and freezing it overnight.

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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.

  • 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.
  • Know 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! You might find that your dog is as happy to hang out inside with you as he is to roam the mountains or go swimming on a beach.

Visit our Amazon store to learn about more products we rely on to make traveling with pets easier, safer, and more fun!

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