14th August 2021

Top 3 games to play with your dog when you can’t go outside!

Meeting your dog’s needs when big hikes, off-leash play at the park or even your regular leash walks are off the table can be hard. In British Columbia, we are currently experiencing both a heatwave and poor air quality due to forest fires. It’s just not safe for our dog’s health (or ours) to carry on as per usual.

This means finding different ways to meet our dog’s needs to balance out the lack of physical activity.

Here’s my top 3:


Yes, you read that right, tug! I’m often met with nervousness or concern when I suggest to a training client that we should teach their dog to tug. Worries of creating bad habits, dominance and aggression are the most common concerns I’ve encountered. This is such a common myth! The good news is dominance should never be a concern, ever. Why? Because dogs don’t think in terms of dominance with us. If they are doing something it is because it’s a behaviour that works or simply because it feels good. So if your dog is jumping up it’s not because they are trying to get a higher rank in the family, it’s simply because they are seeking facial proximity to say hi. If they’re laying on your couch it’s because your couch is comfy. That’s it. Promise.

Now back to tug! I love teaching tug for several reasons.

  • It gives dogs an outlet to do normal species-appropriate behaviour. Tugging lets dogs catch, pull and shake. All part of the sequence of food acquisition that is still innate to dogs as a species. Even though today’s dogs have food presented to them daily, doing these behaviours feels good to a dog. We’re meeting their needs.
  • It also teaches a bomb-proof drop-it cue! When I say “drop it” my goal is for the dog to let go of whatever they have in their mouth. Teaching this behaviour in the context of a game like tug is easy and fun.
  • It is an energy burner. Your dog is being active but also problem-solving and practicing skills like waiting, sit and drop it.

Here’s how to teach it:

  • Move your tug toy away from your dog so they want to chase it 
  • Tug for 30 seconds or so 
  • Stop moving the toy and offer your dog a treat right in front of their nose 
  • Put the toy behind your back while your dog eats the treat 
  • Cue a sit (or lure and reward if your dog is still learning a sit like a puppy in this video) 
  • Reward the sit by making the tug toy appear and come to life again 
  • And repeat! 
  • You’ll soon notice your dog automatically releases the toy when you stop moving it in anticipation of the treat- now you’re ready to cue “drop it” when you stop moving the toy
  • See my video demo of tug

Hide & Seek

This is a great way to practice your dog’s recall! The game is pretty self-explanatory but here are a few tips:

Make sure you have a recall sequence already with your dog! Not sure if you do? See my blog post all about teaching a bombproof recall.

Reminders for the game:

  • Have high-value food rewards on hand to ensure you can reward your dog when they find you!
  • Start easy and slowly build up to harder finds.
  • Make it fun! Be silly and play with your dog when they find you.

Scent Games

This is something I am learning more about, and the more I learn the more I love scent games! Dogs LOVE to sniff, and having a game that gives dogs an outlet to do something they love is a win-win.

Here’s an easy one you can play at home.

You’ll need:

  • some treats and/or your dog’s kibble
  • some boxes of varying sizes (cereal boxes, tissue boxes, cardboard boxes will all work)

Here’s how to play:

  1. Start by putting a treat down on the floor, and cue “find it” to your dog, and let them eat the treat.
  2. Repeat this several times, and slowly increase the difficulty by placing the treat when they are not looking so they have to sniff for it a bit
  3. Then add the boxes! Start with just 1 box, set the treat in it, cue “find it” and put it down for your dog to eat. Remember to keep it simple at this stage. Repeat several times!
  4. Then you can add several boxes and have treats placed where your dog will easily find them. Have the boxes all placed in the same area, fairly close together with the treats placed and then call your dog into the room and cue “find it!”.
  5. If your dog is hesitant, help them by pointing out the treats and give lots of verbal praise and encouragement.
  6. You can slowly increase the difficulty with each search for your dog.

Reminder: Sniffing is hard work for dogs and it’s important to give them lots of breaks and access to water when playing scent games.

With a bit of creativity, there are lots of things we can do with our dogs when indoors. Be sure to tag us on social media (@alpinedogs) if you try any of these games with your dogs!