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Indoor Recess: 5 Ways to Get Exercise Indoors when the Weather is Crummy


When the weather is great, it's easy to rely on walks and hikes and trips to the dog park for exercise; we like the tired-dog-is-a-good-dog results and we enjoy being out in the nice weather, as well. However, with some of the recent, gross, snowy, windy, wet, icy, and downright dangerous weather conditions we've had over the past few weeks in Wisconsin, those walks, hikes, and trips to the dog park have been nearly impossible. A lot of my friends, family, clients, and acquaintances on Facebook have been scratching their heads and wondering just what they can do with their dogs to prevent everyone from going stir-crazy!


My answer, when I'm asked how my Ruby gets exercise in these weather conditions, may be a bit of a shock to some folks (and is, possibly, something I shouldn't put in writing, being a dog trainer and all). Walking outside is not the main mode of exercise in our house and, if I'm being honest, Ruby is lucky to get a walk once every couple of weeks; our hikes are confined to the Summer months and are even less frequent than walks around the neighborhood; AND we don't frequent the dog park (despite living not far from one).

How is it possible, then, that our high-energy, cattle dog mix isn't bouncing off the walls or destroying our house, looking for ways to burn off excess energy and boredom...? The short answer: Indoor Recess!

The long answer is that there is SO much you can do with or for your SideKick to ensure they're getting exercise when you can't get outside! Below is a list of 5 indoor recess ideas for you and your SideKick!


1) Tug of war

Playing tug is a great way to work out some of the sillies and burn some energy indoors! If that isn't a good enough reason to play tug all on its own, playing a good 'ole game of tug-o-war has even more benefits:

  • You can practice or teach your SideKick cues (such as Drop It, Sit, or Wait) and the two of you opportunity to work on impulse control.

  • As an interactive game that you and your SideKick can play together, tug-o-war is also a relationship-building game!

  • A tug toy has the added benefit of giving you a foot or so of extra toy to work with; your hands can get a break from sharp puppy teeth if your young SideKick is teething and/or still learning how to play well with fragile human skin!

  • And you can use the tug toy to distract, redirect, or grab your SideKick's attention when it's needed (such as when the cat walks in the room)!

Can't use a rope tug toy because your SideKick likes to eat bits of the rope (...and weird things happen when they're going to the bathroom later on)? Don't fret; my SideKick is one of those, too! That's why Ruby has a rubber tug toy instead of rope or fleece tug toy (Kong makes an excellent one that has lasted us several years so far)!

2) Playing ball

This one is pretty self-explanatory - we're all familiar with playing Fetch. BUT, if your SideKick doesn't already know how to fetch, you don't have to try teaching that overnight to reap the indoor exercise benefits of playing ball! If your SideKick shows any interest in chasing things, a ball is really easy to chase and burn some of your SideKick's energy. Roll it away from you; chuck it far across the room; or bounce it down the hallway! There are also plenty of toy balls on the market that are odd-shaped and that bounce in unpredictable manners, adding a little extra fun and thought into a game of playing ball!


Does your SideKick like to nibble at the tennis ball and pull at the fibers they're able to dislodge? Again, I've got one of those, too (we call it "troll-dolling the tennis ball" in our house); and you can easily find solid or textured rubber, nylon, or even canvas balls at any pet store or online!

3) Buy or make a flirt pole for your SideKick to chase (and catch!)

A flirt pole is, essentially, a stick (or tube) with a length of string, yarn, or rope attached to one end; attached to the other end of the string, yarn, or rope is an attractive item to chase ("prey"). You can spin the "prey" around in circles, flick it around in unpredictable patterns, and let your SideKick pounce after, chase, and catch the prey. This is a fun, exciting game - especially for those dogs who enjoy running after squirrels, rabbits, and other critters! A flirt pole can be a great way to tap into your SideKick's natural prey drive while burning off extra energy!

You can find flirt poles of a variety of different sizes at pet stores or online; or you can make your own! "DIY flirt pole" on Pinterest provides lots of ideas and you can customize the size of the pole for the size of your SideKick, as well as the "prey" at the end of the string based on what your SideKick loves - a ball, stuffed toy, squeaky toy, fleece tug toy, etc.!

4) Chase-or-Be-Chased

A game of Chase-or-Be-Chased, as we call it in our house, gives you and your SideKick a chance to switch off being "prey" and "predator" - as opposed to the prey being a toy like in the case of playing ball and using a flirt pole. Some of them want to chase you; some of them want to be chased by you (anyone else just get the Eurythmics stuck in their head...?)!

This is a game we all enjoy in our house for indoor recess. Ruby will often bring her tennis ball, which she loves, to us - only to turn it into a game of Keep-Away, encouraging us to chase her (the age-old "I can touch you with my tennis ball, but don't you try to touch it"). While playing along with that, when we turn to run away, she skitters after us, tapping into her genes as a herding dog, perhaps? Rinse and repeat and we're all worn out after a little while!

5) Mental exercise!

When crummy weather keeps us inside or we just don't have time to get out for an extended exercise session, plan snow day activities for your SideKick!


  • Teach and learn new tricks together! Learning and practicing new tricks is fun, gives your SideKick great mental exercise, and is fun to show off at your next party! Also, if you find yourself thinking that the two of you are past all that or your SideKick is too old...think again! "Old" dogs most definitely can learn new tricks - and should!

  • Work on other training exercises or work on training new behaviors. Brush up on previously learned skills or teach new ones! What gets the gears moving in your SideKick's head better than learning, right? And who isn't tired after going back to school?

  • A stuffed (possibly frozen) Kong gets your SideKick works some of those problem solving skills to get at the goodies stashed inside! Folks commonly use peanut butter to stuff a Kong, but you can stuff them with a huge variety of other foods, as well!

  • Treat- and meal-dispensing toys are what I call the slow cooker of mental enrichment toys - set it and forget it! Your SideKick is practicing problem solving skills and analytical thinking while playing with these toys - all good skills to keep fresh and well-oiled. It can be tricky getting started with food toys (with all the options on the market), but I've got you covered with an explanation the different types of food toys!

  • Learn and practice scent games! Getting that nose working and teaching your SideKick to search for their food or treats with their nose around the house or in a room is a fun game for them, as well as a natural skill! Suzanne Clothier wrote an article about some scent games you can practice to get started with this fun activity!

With all of these indoor recess suggestions, if you find or know that your SideKick will chew up or destroy any particular toy (a ball, a tug toy, or a food toy), I recommend putting those toys away until it's time to use them and so that you can be sure to supervise them when they're playing with those toys.

All in all, use gross, snowy, windy, wet, icy, and downright dangerous weather conditions outside as opportunities to experiment - find out what your SideKick likes and dislikes - and get creative! Most of all....HAVE FUN!!

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