12 Fun Games to Play with Dogs Inside (Great for Winter)

The Ruly Bully participates in affiliate programs for brands we believe in, like Amazon & Chewy.  Through these programs, we may earn commissions on qualifying purchases you make on their website. This is at no additional cost to you and helps us! We only recommend items and services that we have personally used for extended periods, so you can be sure our opinions are our own. Thanks for your support! Please refer to our Privacy Policy for more information.

It’s that time of the year again, winter! Between the shorter days, low temperatures, and varying types of precipitation, your pup’s time outside will likely go down dramatically. Typically, this will result in becoming one with the couch, one of Prim’s favorite activities. Not too fear though! There are plenty of options for games to play with dogs inside that are easy to do and fun for your pup!

Welcome to canine enrichment! The basic definition of enrichment for dogs is any activity your dog enjoys or gets physical or mental stimulation from (preferably, both at the same time!). Enrichment will help keep your dog from being bored and help keep them active during the less fun months of the year. Our goal here is to provide a list of enrichment activities to make it easy for you and fun for your pup.

Note: most of these games will also be great options to help reinforce harness training or muzzle training, if that is a skill you and your dog are working on! Just remember to take it slow initially and make it as fun as possible. Dog voices are strongly encouraged during enrichment!

Our favorite games to play with dogs inside

Here are our favorite options for games to play with dogs inside, all personally tested (and enjoyed) by our dogs, Goomba & Prim!

“Find it” & other nose work

Sniff work is a great way to entertain your dog inside

We’re proponents of nose work for all dogs and not just the formal & sometimes stuffy activities for competition & working dogs. For most dogs, it can be something as simple as using a snuffle mat to hide kibble or using a command like “find it” to cue your dog to search for treats or their favorite kibble. We have a used pile of mostly destroyed toys that we use as a large scale snuffle mat and Prim absolutely loves it! She runs to it when she comes back inside from walks & periodically checks it when she’s wandering around.

This is great for pups who tend toward weight issues, like our girl Primmie. Give your pup less than their normal food & use the difference for your activity. If your pup isn’t as motivated for regular kibble, something like Full Moon savory bites (Chewy, Amazon) are fantastic and relatively low calorie. Full Moon treats are always a hit with our pups.

A few of our favorite methods to do some nose work are DIY snuffle mats, a pile of used toys for a “find it” pile, or scattering treats around our living room for our pups to sniff out. There are an endless amount of variations for sniff work games to play with dogs inside and we have a whole list of them in our DIY dog puzzles guide!

Flirt poles

Another of Prim’s favorite games to play with dogs inside is using a flirt pole! It’s essentially a stick with a desirable toy or lure at the end of a rope, that’s it! The best part of this is that there is very little technique involved for you and no real training for your dog before using it. If your pup isn’t excited about toys at all, we’ve seen a similar setup with a toy that’s hollow, such as Kong Extremes (Chewy, Amazon. It makes a bit of a mess if you use a toy with food, but it works if your pup needs some motivation to play.

As a word of caution, make sure you don’t accidentally hit your pup with the stick. That’s a quick ticket to ending the fun, even if it’s light. We hold the pole halfway up, to make it safer, which tends to make it much easier to flail around for you. The toy doesn’t have to be super durable for power chewers, like Goomba and Prim. Anything that makes fun noises and can move erratically is perfect! We’ve had a lot of luck with the “realistic” animal ones with fluffy tails.

We have a guide on how to make your own DIY flirt pole, which is only 3 supplies! It’s easy, even if you’re not handy around the house. If that isn’t your style, our first flirt pole was the one from Squishy Face Studio (Chewy, Amazon) and it’s high quality and still in use!

Busy treats (Kongs & stuffed bones)

Stuffed Kongs or similar toys are great ways to entertain your dog when youre busy

One of our favorite indoor games to play with our dogs in the winter is stuffing hollow items with dog-safe food. We (and our pups) love using various types of hollow toys and bones and stuffing them with their favorite treats. We love these for the customizable options for filling. For example, if your dog is on a lower calorie diet, you can use meat, broths, and vegetables to help keep them leaner. If you’re pup has an allergy, that’s easy to tailor your enrichment around, too! These options can be extremely cheap, easy to make, and have much cleaner ingredients than typical treats.

Kong Extremes (Chewy, Amazon) are the overall favorite, currently. We typically blend up a combination of dog-safe foods, pour it into a kong, and freezing it. These typically entertain our pups for a half hour or so, which is really good! Their current favorite mixture is pumpkin, beef broth, soaked kibble, with a small amount of peanut butter. You can put almost anything that’s safe for your pups in these, especially if you have a blender.

For the stuffed bones, we typically start with Redbarn Naturals (Chewy, Amazon) since they have a much cleaner filling than most. With these, you’ll want to make sure the bone you get is sized appropriately for your pup. After the initial use, which tends to be pretty high calorie, we’ll stuff them with various foods safe for your pup. We typically don’t freeze these, but our pups favorite is diced chicken with peanut butter or Kong spray (Chewy, Amazon) (not very much is required).

We’ve also done carrots instead of chicken with Prim before. This works great if your pup likes vegetables or needs less calories. Check out our guide on stuffed dog bones for more ideas and a more thorough explanation!

‘Other side’ / ‘Go to’

The other side or go to command is a great energy burn for winter days

One of our favorite commands that we’ve taught out dogs is the “other side” command. We routinely use this command to have our pups go in the way they went outside or otherwise move around the house. Alternatively, you can use the “go to” command with a room name and accomplish the same thing. For example, “go to the living room” or “go to your place” helps us shuffle around our dogs if we need them out of the kitchen or away from the door.

We’ve turned this in to a game though, specifically with other side. We’ll block off a room that has 2 ways to get to and then send our pups back and forth to burn some energy, especially in the winter. It’s surprisingly effective and this is one of our favorite fun games to play with dogs inside. We simply stand there and our dogs run back and forth around our house.

Alternatively, another option for a command that’s easier to teach is to accomplish the same behavior using a stay & recall command. Have your dog wait somewhere with the stay command, call them to you, and repeat. Mix in some where you walk back to your pup and you get some bonus work with duration commands/impulse control. It’s a little more moving for you, but generally easier to train your dog. If you need help with your stay & recall commands, check out Puppr! We’ve used their processes for teaching all kinds of behaviors to our pups. Wave is particularly cute!

We coached our dogs to learn this behavior by using heavy lures initially and we always use their favorite treats like chicken, cheese, or liver to make sure they’re super motivated. Check out our guide on the “other side” command if you want some additional tips!

Licking mats

Licking mats helped us get through CCL surgery recovery with Goomba

A great option for fun games to play with dogs inside is using lick mats! Both of our pups love lick mats and they are perfect for pups of any age! Personally, we used these regularly during Goomba’s recovery from CCL surgery, which is similar to an ACL surgery in humans. He was on restricted mobility for months while he was waiting for surgery and then recovering, which was rough on him as he is a very active dog. Prim..isn’t always as active, but was immediately interested in lick mats because she loves food.

One of the reasons we like lick mats so much is that you have a near infinite amount of options for recipes. Whether you just want to toss some dog safe food together or your pup has a restricted diet from allergies or calories, we can easily tailor them to any situation. We wrote a guide on how to use with lick mats and have a different guide for frozen lick mat recipes. They are the same amount of prep, but last much longer. Prim loves the berry blast & Goomba’s favorite is pumpkin pie. Give them a shot and see what your dog likes best!

Our favorite lick mats are the Frisco lick mats if you shop at Chewy or the LickiMat Buddy Tough if you shop at Amazon.

Puzzles & food dispensing equipment

Using puzzles is a great way to help your dog use their brain

Similar to licking mats, puzzles will force your pup to use their brain to figure out how to get the food/treat. This is a great option for those bundles of energy since it combines physical movement, sniffing, and problem solving. There are an endless amount of puzzles to use as games to play with dogs inside with different difficulty levels. We tend to prefer the ones that move, but even the stationary puzzles are fun. We love watching our pups problem solve and you’ll get to see some amusing behavior while your pup is trying to solve it.

We are heavily biased toward puzzles that are easy to clean, so our recommendations mostly include that feature. We like this treat dispensing ball (Chewy) as a first puzzle for your pup. It’s easy to modify the difficulty, extremely easy to clean, and it rolls around our house very well. If you’re looking for something more stationary, this Outward Hound puzzle (Chewy, Amazon) is a great place to start. This style makes a perfect slow feeder for your dog if you want to draw out meal time and provide some additional entertainment for your pup.

If you’re looking to DIY something, we have a guide on how to make a PVC dog feeder. It does take a few tools, but the supplies are cheap and it’s easy to do. Our pups love it!

Indoor fetch & tug

Fetch and tug can be modified to be played inside

Most of the games you play with your dog outside can be played inside, with some minor modifications. This is great news if you have a high play drive pup, like our Goomba. It’s even easier if you have hallways in your house!

For example, the gold standard of fetch can easily be played inside. Hallways are ideal, but if you don’t have one we can modify a different room to work just as well. If your dog is particularly crazy about playtime, we recommend moving some of the breakable items away. One of the rooms has worked surprisingly well for us was our main bedroom. It’s carpeted, which is perfect for some additional traction for Goomba. Ours is basically just some dressers and a bed, and Goomba loves sprinting around the bed in a U-shape to get to his favorite toys.

If your rooms are crowded or a pain to move furniture around in, you can always roll or lightly bounce the ball instead of throwing it. This (generally) tones down the intensity a bit, which means furniture is less likely to get bumped into. Our pups still like it a lot and we’ve played a ton like this over the years. Goomba gets real fired up when the ball changes direction, which is a lot easier to do inside due to the walls and furniture. The large Chuck It balls (Chewy, Amazon) bounce really good and are big enough that we’re not worried about any choking hazards.

If you don’t already, tug is another fantastic option for games to play with dogs inside and all you will need is a few square feet of empty space. Your pup(s) can have fun playing with you while burning a lot of energy! Goomba and Prim both enjoy tugging and even enjoy tugging against each other, which is fun for everyone involved. We’ve had a lot of luck with the Mammoth tug toys (Chewy, Amazon) and they last a long time, even with vigorous players.

Obedience work

Obedience work is a great way to mentally tire out your dog

Another great option for games to play with your dog inside is obedience training, specifically teaching your dog new commands. New behaviors are easier to shape inside due to there being less distractions. Any behavior will work, but we’re partial to commands that involve your pup moving around. Some of our favorites are spin, leg weave, and middle.

We want to shoutout to the Puppr app here. They’re great to interact with and the free version has quite a large amount of behaviors with step by step walkthroughs. They break it down in to bite size steps and offer support if you are having issue with a specific behavior. We highly recommend them and it’s the only dog training app we use for teaching behaviors.

Try to teach your dog a new command. He or she will expend a lot more mental energy while they are trying to figure out what you want than you would think. Even though it doesn’t involve moving, we love the wave command and think it’s adorable.

Playing catch

One of Goomba’s favorite games to play with dogs inside is playing catch inside. It sounds much less exciting than playing fetch outside, but he still loves it! This is a better alternative if you have a mobility restricted dog, like Goomba was for a while or if you only have a smaller space inside.

The idea is the reverse of fetch. Instead of throwing it away from your dog, you’ll lob or roll whatever object toward your dog. We find this works better than fetch for pups who are less play driven as the toy moving toward them is much more enticing (and less effort for them). You can usually play this with foam or softer toys, which contains the craziness a bit better than some solid rubber ones.

The two different types we use are both Chuck It brand for inside as they make a pretty great soft but durable inside toy. We use the ChuckIt! indoor ball (Chewy, Amazon) as well as the ChuckIt! fumbler (Chewy, Amazon). The fumbler is much more erratic due to the football shape. Goomba likes the fumbler better, but Prim likes the regular indoor ball better.

Snuffle mats

Snuffle mats are a great way to help tire out your pups mind

Admittedly, snuffle mats are part of the nose work section, but we thought they deserved their own section. As far as games to play with dogs inside go, this is one of the easiest, cheapest, and rewarding ones for your dog. Snuffle mats can help calm down your dog, which is great if you have a pup who gets worked up easily, like our Goomba.

The idea is simple: hide some kibble in a fabric mat that makes the pup sniff out where they are. These are great for mobility restricted dogs, whether age or illness is the culprit. We used these daily when Goomba was recovering from CCL surgery. Recently, we’ve been working on reducing barking at the delivery drivers by using snuffle mats, as well. It’s been extremely easy and Prim already quit caring about the deliveries after less than a dozen attempts.

We wrote an article on how to make your own DIY snuffle mat which only requires 2 supplies and a pair of scissors. It’s about as easy as it gets for DIY, but does take a little bit of time. If you just want to buy one, our favorite is this snuffle mat by Pet Parents (Chewy, Amazon)

Indoor agility

Agility can be modified for indoor use easily and our dogs love it

One of our favorite options for fun games to play with dogs inside or outside is agility. With a very minor amount of effort, we can transfer most of the obstacles inside, which is perfect for winter. It’s easy to rig up an agility circuit for your pup inside, and even more so if you have hallways in your house! We can even DIY a setup if you don’t have any equipment!

Before you get started, we recommend beginning with the lower impact obstacles, such as agility tunnels, weave poles, or cavaletti for dogs. It’s much safer for your pup to start with and you can always work your way up to the higher impact equipment later.

One of our favorites is using cavaletti for dogs. It’s easy to rig up, low-impact, cheap, and has a very minimal learning curve! Ours even stores nicely and fits perfectly in our hallway!

We wrote a entire series for getting started with agility and beginner equipment. We have options for indoor, outdoor, DIY, and even if you want to build your own. 

Indestructible toys (Nylabones, etc)

Indestructible bones are a fantastic option for your dog if they are willing

Some of our dog’s preferred toys are “indestructible” bones such as antlers, bamboo bones, nylon bones.  These are fantastic options if you’re on a budget and if your pup is willing to participate. Our pups current favorites are the antlers, but they go through phases of which they prefer.

There are other similar material bones, but all of them do eventually wear down. From a cost perspective, these types of toys are one of the best values you can get due to how long they last. Ours generally last months and get at least a few sessions of chewing per day. We don’t recommend leaving your pup unattended with any toys unless you are 100% confident in their behavior and interaction with them.

The general sizing rule for bones is to make sure they are bigger than your dog’s mouth is wide so that they are hard to accidentally swallow.

Here’s a list of our dog’s current favorites as of the time we are writing this:

Conclusion

When winter comes, it’s natural to spend less time outside, but that doesn’t mean your pup’s enrichment has to decrease, too! Most outdoor activities can be modified to become viable inside with very little effort! For us, Goomba loves indoor fetch and Prim’s favorite is definitely the frozen Kongs.

We’d love to see your success with pup enrichment in the winter! Share your photos of your dog trying out your favorite activities with us on Instagram by tagging @therulybully.

Have fun!

    Lincoln Schaefer

    Hi, I’m Lincoln!  I’m the owner & primary writer here at The Ruly Bully!  My wife and I have two dogs, Goomba & Prim, and a host of other critters in our home.  Feel free to send a message!  We love to hear your stories, too.

    Recent Posts