9 Fun Ways to Exercise Dogs When Owners Can’t Be Active

guest post by Amy Adams 

Amy Adams is an animal lover and community outreach person for the National Service Animal Registry. She has an 8-year old yellow lab named Girl and they love to canoe together. When Amy isn’t working with animals or Girl, she likes to read classical literature and write.

When it comes to our dogs, we want to give them everything they need, starting with the basics – food, water, shelter, love. Exercise is also an important basic, as it can help keep them healthy and keep their weight under control.

Exercise is particularly helpful for the more energetic breeds. For most people, a simple walk around the neighborhood does the trick; it also helps your dog acclimate to being around other pets, people, and cars. But what if this isn’t quite possible because of the owner’s health condition or other reasons? (Think service animals and Emotional Support Animals). Not everyone can leave the house every day; fortunately, there are plenty of exercise alternatives for dogs of every size and temperament.

1. Play “hide and seek” with your dog

This works best if there’s someone else around to hold the dog in place while you conceal yourself. Once you’ve found your hiding spot, call the dog and let him search for you; when he finds you, make sure to reward him with a treat or more play. This not only gives your dog some mental and physical exercise but also trains him to respond to the sound of your voice.

2. Create “treasure hunts” for your dog with his favorite toys or treats

You can do this indoors or outdoors; simply gather a few chew toys, treats, or other special items and hide them where the dog can find them. At first, you’ll probably need to hide them as he watches; once he figures out how the game works, hide them in secret and let him find the toys or food by scent.

3. Invite a canine friend over

Dogs can make friends too! If you know other dog owners, have them come over once in a while so your dog can have a playmate with just as much energy. This is the perfect opportunity for your dog to socialize, as well as play games that might be a little too much for a human playmate. Make sure you introduce the dogs properly and supervise them to make sure play doesn’t turn to aggression.

4. Build an epic digging pit

The best part is, you don’t even have to do that much to make it epic – just having a dedicated space to dig in, roll around in, and generally destroy is enough to make most dogs happier than, well, a dog in mud! To make the digging pit, just remove the first foot or so of grass and topsoil and fill it back up with sand. You might also want to line it with rocks, or something else that’ll mark the edges, to make sure the pit doesn’t expand to include the rest of the yard. When choosing the location, pick a spot with at least partial shade; this way the sandpit can be a spot for both playing and relaxation.

Once your dog knows that he has a designated area to dig in, you’ll probably have a lot fewer holes in the rest of the yard. You could even dig your own holes and bury some of his favorite toys – imagine how excited he’ll be as he digs them back up!

5. Have your dog work to get at his food

How could this be fun for the dog? Dogs are natural hunters, and it’s rewarding for them to “hunt” their food. You could simply scatter the kibble over the yard and have him search for it, or get a toy that releases food when it’s played with. Several different versions of this toy exist, including the Squirrel Dude, the Kong, and the Kibble Nibble.

The basic idea is that the toy is filled with kibble or treats, which will only leave the toy through one or two small holes. The dog can smell the food inside and has to chew and lick until it can get the food out. This is another way to gratify a dog’s instincts and alleviate boredom; in the wild, dogs don’t eat out of bowls. Interestingly, some dog owners have reported that these types of toys reduce bad habits like chewing on shoes or furniture, or generally hyperactive behavior.

6. Get a small pool for the summer months

Kiddie pools are the perfect size for most dogs, and just $10 can give your dog countless hours of playtime. If you live in an area with hot summers, this could be a perfect way for your dog to cool down and have some summer fun.

7. Use a Tail Teaser for low-effort fun

There will be times when your dog is full of energy and ready to go, but you definitely aren’t. If you want a way to wear your dog out without wearing yourself out as well, consider trying a Tail Teaser. Similar to those cat toys that look like an animal tail on a string, Tail Teasers are pretty much the same idea but attached to a lightweight stick for better range and easier use.

8. Install a Tether Tug in your backyard

A Tether Tug is a toy that lets your dog play tug-of-war without needing someone on the other end. The rope that the dog chews and pulls on is attached to a flexible pole that’s anchored into the ground; no matter what size he is, he can get in some pretty intense exercise with the Tether Tug.

NOTE: Do not use this if your dog is recovering from an injury or already has arthritis or other issues. Make sure your dog is warmed up before playing.

9. Go to a different part of the house or yard for a change of scenery

A lot of dogs will get excited simply because they’re leaving the house – it doesn’t even matter where they’re going. You could visit a different room in the house, a friend’s house, even a tennis or basketball court. If you time it right, these places could be completely empty and available for your dog to explore and play in.

A dog’s requirements for exercise aren’t too complicated; fortunately, they’re pretty good at self-directing as long as they have the right materials to work with. It doesn’t have to be about getting the nicest toys or having the biggest yard; thinking outside the box can give both you and your dog much more rewarding playtime. The best part is, the more you play/exercise with your dog, the more you’ll be bonding with each other. As you brainstorm the next fun activity you can do with your dog without having to physically walk around the block or hike down a trail, just remember – a little creativity goes a long way.


Interested in getting your pet certified as a therapy pet? Check out everything you need to know, from types of animals that can be therapy pets to the best breeds and a step-by-step certification process here.

Read more about the breeds that make good therapy, service, or emotional support dogs here.

CARE is an Amazon affiliate and can earn a small percentage of sales from purchases, at no extra cost to you. This helps keep CARE a free educational resource for dog owners and veterinary professionals!