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11 Ways To Tire Out A Dog In A Small Space

That awesome hike you have planned in the mountains is sure to tire your dog out! But what if it rains? Or if you sprain your ankle?

Can you exercise your dog indoors—even in a small space?

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

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Tiring Out A Boat Dog

When you live on a boat that is ten feet wide at the broadest part, you get good at tiring out a dog in a small space. After all, we’re not always walking 6-miles round trip to buy groceries or hanging out on a cool beach. But you don’t have to be a sailor to need the same skill.

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 a hotel room, adventure van, RV, or even a highway rest stop, it is possible to tire any dog out. 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 absolutely possible.
  • You can tire out a dog as much (or more) by working her brain than working her body.
  • You can buy (or make) many cool accessories you need to 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 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 express much more interest in playing with toys that are new to him.

You don’t need to spend money on new toys all the time. Just hide his favorites for a few weeks and surprise him with them every so often.

If he’s an enthusiastic toy lover (like our Honey), he’ll go a long way to tiring himself out just by jumping around with his long, lost toy.

So add hiding your dog’s favorite toys to your to-do list before going on vacation.

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 your right away, call to her. Make a big fuss and give her a treat when she finds you.

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3. Set Up An Obstacle Course

There are tons of ways to tire your dog out with an obstacle course.

Use tape in the doorway to create jumps for your dog to go over or limbo bars to go under. If you can, rearrange the furniture for them to wind around. Have them jump up on and off beds and other furniture (if it’s allowed; not all lodgings want pets on the furniture).

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 her to jump on and off.

All our furniture on the boat is bolted down. But we use Honey’s favorite stuffy toys to encourage her to jump on and off the settees and climb the first few steps of our companionway ladder.

4. Play The Shell Game

Gather a few stinky treats and two cups. Show your dog the treat and let him 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 will knock over the cup hiding the treat.

As your dog gets used to the game, make it more difficult. Add a third cup. Use a treat that doesn’t smell as strong. 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 they’re tired!

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


6. Feed Your Dog Using A Food Toy

If your dog has to find her own food, the effort will tire her out while slowing her down at the same time.

We’ve been feeding Honey out of food toys since she was an 8-week old puppy. Her first was a soda 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 all these years? She takes a deep nap immediately after eating.

You can also hide treats in a snuffle mat. Or, if your dog is particularly clever, 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 run through a field.

7. Wrestle Or Play Tug

Honey loves playing tug. We trained her to inhibit her bite so we can play rowdy games of tug without getting hurt. My husband also gets down on the ground to wrestle around with Honey.

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.

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8. Play Fetch

Yep, fetch is a great game inside. That is, if you don’t live in a museum.

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 go running up and down.

9. Trick Training

Nothing works your dog’s brain more than training him to do tricks. Shaping is a training method in which you reward your dog for getting closer to a behavior, one step at a time.

For example, to train your dog to shut the door, say yes and give them a treat if they face the door. Once they are reliably facing the door to receive a reward, wait for them to move closer to the door before giving them a treat. 

Work your way through the steps until your dog is touching, and then pushing, the open door with their nose for a reward.

And the best part is, there are tons of tricks to teach your dog!

Honey the golden retriever gives a high five.

One of Honey’s favorite tricks is “high five.” Learning it really tired her out, though.

10. Give Your Dog A Stimulating Chew Toy

Honey loves a soft, stuffed toy with a squeaker. But in a pinch, a crinkly water bottle in a sweat sock (yes, there is a use for unpaired socks that come out of the dryer) is a fun substitute.

 For some reason, most dogs go crazy for the sound of a crinkly water bottle.


11. 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. 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’ve ever tried.

You have to train your dog to understand what you want them to do when you give them the command, “Find it.” But it’s worth the effort because nose work is a fun way to tire your dog out 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.

You Should Now Have A Tired Dog!

Hopefully, you’ll find at least a few of these ideas a good way to tire out a dog out the next time you’re stuck indoors.

  • Remember to make the activity you choose a good fit for your pup.
  • Supervise your dog. Don’t leave them alone in a hotel room or camper with a toy until you know it’s absolutely safe for them.
  • 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 do better with trick training than with chewing on a stuffed sock.

Most of all, keep it fun. Who knows? You may find your dog is as happy to hang out inside with you as he is to roam the mountains or go swimming on a beach.



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  • Harvey Green says:

    Great post, thankyou. I’ve played number 4 (Shell Game) with our beagle before using both my hands and one small dried liver treat. He always knows which one its under though – likely because beagles have excellent noses.

  • blogster says:

    About number 8, I always thought that stairs are very bad for dogs…

    • Amy at says:

      Hi there! I think it depends on the dog. If you have a pup with knee or elbow issues, I’d probably avoid playing on the stairs. But for most dogs, I think stairs are fine.

  • Lucy Lore says:

    Great article and useful too!

  • Thank you for sharing your ideas, Arianna! With a Border Collie puppy in the house, there’s no question you have some experience tiring out a dog. =) Waggin’ trails to you both.

  • These are all great ideas! Most of them I already utilize on a daily basis even when space isn’t tight. Nosework and scent games go a long way and will mentally tireout and stimulate your dog. Nosework engages them to use their natural instincts and can be done almost anywhere. I use nosework on days when the weather does not permit us (myself and my dog) to go outside for enrichment and exercise. I have a 9 month old Border Collie that is a tornado of energy. Without nose games, I don’t think I would be able to mentally tire him out on a daily basis as exercise only provides him with the physical stimulation he needs and not the mental stimulation he craves. For training nosework, I started out with a few cardboard boxes with a treat in one or two of the boxes. Once he found the hidden treat, I would reward him. After a while he started to associate card board boxes with nosework/”find it” and eventaully I was able to move away from the boxes and place the hides in other locations. A tired dog is a good dog, and having a tired dog especially while traveling in small spaces benefits both you and your dog. Thanks for the great post!

  • We’re happy to help Phyllida! Thanks for your note and waggin’ trails to you.

  • Brilliant advice. I use them of the tips but will introduce a awoke lot more. Thank you

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