How to tire out a dog mentally

11 Ways To Tire Out A Dog In A Small Space

Knowing how to tire out a dog is crucial. And it’s especially important for pet travelers, where you’re working with small spaces like RVs or hotel rooms.


You’ve planned an awesome hike in the mountains that’s sure to tire your dog out. But what if it rains? Or you sprain your ankle? And you’re stuck in a hotel room.

Maybe you live in a small space, like a boat, RV, or New York City apartment. When your square footage is limited, getting creative will help your dog burn some energy.

So, can you exercise your dog indoors—even in a small space? Absolutely!

How To Tire Out A Boat Dog

We lived on a boat that was ten feet across at the widest part. And we had a Golden Retriever. Since we weren’t always hanging out on a cool beach, we had to find ways to tire out a dog in a small space. Even if you’re not a sailor, you can make use of the same skills!

READ MORE ⇒  5 Questions To Ask BEFORE Taking Your Dog On A BoatOur bluewater sailboat was designed so we were never far from a handhold. But that meant it was also too narrow for a golden retriever to turn around in the aisle.

Whether your small space is an apartment, hotel room, adventure van, RV, or vacation rental, you can tire out any dog.

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 still absolutely possible.
  • Dogs get tired faster when you work their brains as well as their bodies.
  • You can buy (or make) many cool accessories that will help you 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

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These are some of the best ways we’ve found 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 show much more interest in playing with toys that are new to her.

You don’t need to spend money on new toys all the time. Just hide the ones she hasn’t paid attention to for a while and then surprise her with them a few weeks later.

If she’s an enthusiastic toy lover (like our Honey was), she’ll do a good job of tiring herself out just by jumping around with her long, lost toy.

Pro tip: Add “Hide dog toys” to your trip planning to-do list a week or so before leaving on vacation. Then pack the toys your dog has been missing for your trip.

Honey’s favorite bear had been hidden away for two weeks. As soon as we put it in reach, she sought out her old friend.


2. Set Up A Mobile Obstacle Course

There are tons of ways to tire your dog out with an obstacle course. You can place tape across a doorway to create jumps for your dog to go over or limbo bars for him to go under.

Pro Tip: Pack a roll of blue painter’s tape in your dog’s travel gear to use in hotels and vacation properties.

You can also rearrange the furniture for them to wind around. Have them jump up on and off the couch and other furniture if it’s allowed. Remember to be respectful – not all lodgings want pets on the furniture.

All of our furniture on the boat is pet friendly. So we used Honey’s favorite stuffed toys to encourage her to jump on and off the settees and climb the first few steps of our ladder.

READ MORE ⇒ DIY Indoor Enrichment Games For DogsWe couldn’t move furniture around on the boat. But there were plenty of obstacles for Honey to jump on and off.


3. Play The Shell Game

To play the shell game you’ll need a few extra-smelly treats and two cups. Show your dog the treat and let her watch you put it under one of the two cups.

Move the cups around once or twice and then ask your pup to find the treat. Most dogs will knock over the cup hiding the treat.

As your dog learns the game, make it more difficult. You can add a third cup, use a milder smelling treat, or spend more time moving the cups around.

C’mon, Honey, make your choice. Which cup is hiding the treats?


4. 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 she’s tired!

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

Find Dog Friendly Bubbles On Amazon

Pro Tip: If you need your pup to be entertained while you’re on a conference call, the automatic bubble blower is a good investment!

Find A Bubble Blower On Amazon

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

This game also comes in handy if you have trouble getting your dog to come back at the dog park!


6. Feed Your Dog Using A Food Toy

If your dog has to work to get her food, the effort will tire her out and keep her from gobbling down her meal at the same time.

We fed Honey out of food toys from the time she was 8-weeks old. Her first was a plastic 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.

Find A KONG Wobbler On Amazon

The result of feeding Honey from food toys? She took a deep nap immediately after eating.

If you’re concerned about the noise your dog might make while playing with the KONG Wobbler, try a snuffle mat instead.

Find A Snuffle Mat On Amazon

And, if your dog is particularly clever, get a food puzzle that makes them solve problems to release their food.

Find a Food Puzzle on amazon

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 romp at the dog park!


7. Play Fetch

Some dogs love to fetch. But it’s not always convenient to take them outside. Don’t worry, fetch is also a great game inside! If you don’t live in a home with museum-quality knick-knacks, that is.

We’ve played fetch on the stairs, using toys that take weird bounces, like a Kong Wubba. Using the stairs for a game of fetch keeps the game contained while forcing your dog to run up and down — using more energy.

Find a Kong Wubba on amazon


Play Tug

Honey loved playing tug, and the Kong Wubba works great for this, too! If your dog gets overexcited with this kind of game, you might want to avoid it. But for some dogs, a good game of tug with their favorite person is loads of fun.


9. Trick Training

Nothing works your dog’s brain better than training. And teaching her to do tricks is fun for you both!

Shaping is a training method in which you reward your dog for getting closer to a behavior, one tiny step at a time. For example, to train your dog to shut the door, say yes and give her a treat if she faces the door.

Once she’s reliably facing the door to receive a reward, wait for her to move closer to the door before giving her a treat. Work your way through the steps until your dog is touching, and then pushing the door with her nose for a reward.

The best part of trick training is, you’ll never run out of things to teach your dog!

READ MORE ⇒  Training Your Dog To TravelOne of Honey’s favorite tricks was “high five. ” And learning it really tired her out.


10. Play Nose Work Games To Tire Out A Dog

We took a class on playing nose work games at our local SPCA and Honey LOVED it. After that, nose work was our go-to whenever we were stuck on board the boat in bad weather.

When Honey heard me say, “Find it,” she knew to start sniffing out the treats I’d hidden around the boat. Using her nose tired her out better than anything else we did!

You’ll have to train your dog to understand what you want her to do when you give the “Find It” command. But it’s worth the effort, because nose work is a fun way to tire out your dog no matter where you are.

Looks like Honey followed her nose right to the box with the treat. Good girl.


11. Give Your Dog A Stimulating Chew Toy

Honey loved soft, stuffed toys with a squeaker. But in a pinch, a crinkly water bottle inside an old sock tied in a knot was a fun substitute. (And it gives you a way to use unpaired socks that come out of the dryer!)

For some reason, most dogs go crazy for the sound of a crinkly water bottle. And the crunch, crunch, crunching is a great way to tire out your dog.

You can also make your own “chews” by mixing up a dehydrated dog food like the The Honest Kitchen, stuffing it in a West Paw Zygoflex Tux toy and freezing it overnight.

Get 20% off your first order of $30 or more (affiliate link) 

Find a Zygoflex Tux Toy on Amazon


Congratulations, you now know how to tire out a dog!

Hopefully, you’ll find at least a few of these ideas work well to tire out your dog out the next time you’re stuck indoors. Here are a few additional tips before you get started:

  • Remember to choose an activity that’s a good fit for your pup.
  • Supervise your dog. Don’t leave him alone in a hotel room or camper with a toy or chew until you know it’s absolutely safe for him.
  • Consider 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 be better suited to trick training than chewing on a stuffed sock.

Most of all, keep it fun! And you might discover that your dog is as happy to hang out inside with you as he is to roam the mountains or head to the beach.

Visit our Amazon store to learn about more products we rely on to make traveling with pets easier, safer, and more fun!

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10 Ways to Give Your Dog More Mental Stimulation

Last updated on By Puppy Leaks 25 Comments

Looking for some ways to help tire out your dog and keep them busy? If so try adding more mentally stimulating activities into their routine. Contrary to popular belief dogs need more than just physical exercise, and a few quick brain games can do wonders.

Instead of just adding more physical exercise to your dog’s routine add in a few brain games to really tire them out. Mental stimulation enriches our dogs lives by giving them something meaningful to do. And because these activities alleviate boredom they decrease the likelihood of our dogs developing behavioral issues such as excessive chewing or barking.

If you’re looking for some easy ways to exercise your dog’s brain here’s 10 ways to give your dog more mental stimulation.

Tip: If you’re looking for even more ways to keep your dog busy be sure to check out 33 ways to keep your dog busy indoors & 26 boredom busters for dogs.

1. Have Your Dog Work For Their Food

Our dogs have it pretty easy when it comes to meal time. Most of us just set their bowl down & let them go at it. Now there’s nothing wrong with that, but it is a far cry from their natural scavenging habits. So if you want to add some more mental stimulation to your dogs routine you can start with changing up their feeding routine. Instead of just handing over their food a few times a day you can make a fun game out of it for your dog.

My favorite method is using a food dispensing toy such as the Kong Wobbler or Bob-A-Lot. You place your dogs meals in the toy and they have to roll it around in order to get the food to come out of the hole. And yes – it can be a bit noisy, but it’s well worth it when you see how satisfying it is for your dog.


Let Your Dog Sniff & Explore on Walks

Getting to go for a walk is one of the most exciting parts of your dogs day. You can give them some more mental stimulation by letting them stop & sniff around some more. It’s true that walking is great physical exercise, but for dogs it’s also about exploration. Sure you may have walked down your road a million times now, but that certainly doesn’t mean there’s not new & exciting smells for your dog to check out everyday.

And if you’re not comfortable with letting your dog lead you around on walks you can designate certain areas or times for free sniffing. Just teach your dog a cue such as “go sniff” and let them explore for awhile. You’d be surprised at how much more tired dogs are after a walk that includes exploration & sensory enrichment (sniffing) rather than just walking a straight line.

Next time you’re out walking with your dog remember that they analyze things in with their nose, not just visually. Give them a few moments to explore & take in all those exciting smells.

3. Get Your Dog a Puzzle Toy

Puzzle toys are a nice and easy way to keep your dog busy & entertained. Interactive toys like puzzles help keep your dog focused on a task, and that added extra mental stimulation goes a long way. One extra 15 minute game a day can such a huge difference to your dog. It gives them something to focus on, and that extra meaning in their day helps when it comes to alleviating problem behaviors.

Puzzle toys are great because they give your dog a chance to use some of their natural problem solving abilities. And by keeping your dog engaged with interactive toys you can help boost their confidence & tire them out mentally.

Now keep in mind not all puzzle toys are loved equally by all dogs. My dog prefers a frozen Kong stuffed with treats over puzzle toys that lay flat on the ground. A frozen Kong will keep her busy for 30+ minutes, while a puzzle toy usually lasts 2. So if you’re not sure if your dog is into puzzles I suggest making one out of a muffin tin & tennis balls to gauge their interest.

4. Teach Your Dog Some New Tricks

How many tricks does your dog know? Do they have a good stay, come here & lay down? Well the good news is there’s a lot more you can teach them that goes beyond the basics. With trick training there’s always more to add.

Teaching your dog a new trick or command is great for mental stimulation, and it can be especially helpful with shy or fearful dogs. All that training will help boost your dogs confidence, and it strengthens the bond between dog & owner. Learning new commands can also help increase your dogs focus and impulse control (manners).

Not sure what to teach your dog next? Here’s a great list of 52 tricks to get you started. One of my favorite tricks is weaving between legs. It looks really cool & impressive, but it was surprisingly one of the easiest tricks to teach.

Teaching your dog a new trick is a great way to prove your dog with some more mental stimulation.

5. Play Some Nose Work Games

One of my dogs favorite activities is some basic nose work games. Having your dog use their nose to find things is a really simple way to help them hone in one their natural skills. And all that searching will provide your dog with a lot more mental stimulation in their daily routine.

Our favorite game is ‘go find it.’ I’ll chop up a carrot or two into small bits and hide them throughout the house. You can use any treat you like, but when you’re first starting out I recommend sticking to something smelly since it might take them a few tries to really get the hang of it.

As you have your dog in a stay position go hide some of those treats around the house. If you’ve never done any nose work games before start with some easy spots & be sure to encourage your dog when he finds them. Keep it fun & exciting for them by praising them every time they find a treat. After they get the hang of it you can start hiding them in harder to find spots, encouraging them to use their nose more and rely less on visuals.

6. Teach Your Dog the Names of Their Toys

Does your dog know the names of their toys? My dog loves the ‘go find it’ game, and we play it toys as well as treats. I mean don’t get me wrong – I love using treats, but if we used them all the time my dog would probably end up overweight. So we started using toys as well. I started using this game after I saw those amazing videos of Chaser the Border Collie who knows the names of over 1000 toys. To say she’s an inspiration is a bit of an understatement.

The first step is making sure your dog knows the name of the item you’re going to be hiding. If you’re starting with a certain toy I recommend sitting down with them & that toy (and in this case let’s say you’re using ‘pink bear’). With pink bear on the ground in front of you tell your dog ‘pink bear.’ As soon as they touch it or grab it praise them like crazy.

Now once you’ve done this a few times you can add in a different toy in addition to pink bear. Just be sure to go slowly to ensure that your dog knows exactly what ‘pink bear’ is before you move on to another. So once your dog knows the name of a few items you have them ‘go find pink bear’ or ‘go find yellow bird.

Teaching your dog the names of their toys can make games like ‘go find it’ about more than just treats.

7. Play Some Free Shaping Games

If you haven’t heard of 101 things to do with a box you’ve been missing out on some fun training opportunities. The basic principle of shaping games is to encourage our dogs to try something new. By giving our dogs the chance to make their own decisions we can increase their mental and physical flexibility.

You start out with a box on the ground and without any cues let your dog investigate and decide what to do. Shaping can be used with any item, not just a box. Here’s a great video of shape training a dog to crawl under an object.

8. Make an Obstacle Course For Your Dog

Teaching your dog how to go through an obstacle course is a nice mental workout for them. And if you don’t have any agility jumps or poles at home don’t worry; you can make your own, or just use some stuff in your house as alternatives.

I’m not quite crafty enough to make my own agility course, so I opted for using alternatives at home. We use a blanket, some toys and a few orange hazard cones I picked up at the local thrift store. Now my little course doesn’t look anything like a professional one, but it’s really useful in teaching my dog new tricks.

You can teach your dog to ‘go to your blanket,’ ‘jump over this broomstick’ or ‘weave’ through cones. Whatever commands work with what you’ve got set up. And the benefit of putting these obstacles together like this is that it’s a really big mental workout for your dog. You’re not just asking them to do one thing, you’re asking them to do one thing after another.

Making your own obstacle course at home (even if it’s just jumping over a broomstick) is a simple way to teach your dog new tricks.

9. Engage in More Interactive Play With Your Dog

Our dogs love playing with us, and engaging in interactive play is one of the easiest ways to keep them mentally stimulated. And I know play seems awfully basic, but it’s easy to underestimate just how important play is for our dogs. Recent studies have found that the more play a dog engages in the less likely they are to suffer from behavioral issues.

Interactive play is when you actively engage with your dog. Playing a game of tug or fetch is interactive play, and those sorts of games help tremendously when it comes to giving your dog more mental stimulation. And any of those fun games will help strengthen your bond. Tug is my favorite game to play because it’s great physical exercise, it’s a lot of fun, and it helps our dogs work on their impulse control.

10. Play the Shell Game With Your Dog

Do you know what the shell game is? It’s a game where you hide a treat under one of 3 identical containers, and then you shuffle them around letting the participant choose the correct container.

To play the shell game with your dog you let them watch as you place a treat under one of the cups. Shuffle them around and then encourage them to ‘find the treat.’ The shell game will give your dog more mental stimulation, and it’s an easy way to help them work on their problem solving skills.

How Do You Give Your Dog More Mental Stimulation?

How do you give your dog mental exercise? Do you let your dog sniff & explore on walks? Do you play a lot of tug? Does your dog eat their meals out of a puzzle toy? Did I miss any of your favorite brain games for dogs?

Please share with your friends 🙂

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Recommended Reading:

How to tire an overly active dog?

I wave my “paw” to those who look through Facebook after a working day with the thought “uuuuhhh, I still have to go for a walk with the dog.” And the dog, sitting at home, gushes with energy and its mischievous look promises you a fun walk. ..

So. An intellectual load tires a dog much faster than a physical one. You can create it by training ... but then you - tired - will have to participate. Suppose this: training twice a week, and at other times intellectual games. The simplest game is to fold an old towel in half, and put pieces of food between the layers. The dog will crumple the towel almost immediately and then will fiddle with it for about 20 minutes (see below). Or this: do not put the bowl in the same place, but (having removed the dog for a while) hide it in different places (accessible to the dog).

A slightly more difficult but very nice video game.

You will not feel the effect immediately. Excitation is such a constantly dripping faucet. Cap-cap - the “glass” of the dog is filled. Having taken up intellectual games, you will start pouring a little from this "glass" every day - but more than you manage to "drip" in a day. And after a few days or a week, you will feel that the dog has become calmer.

A small note. Now first walk the dog, and after the walk - play. In order to avoid small excesses - after all, the dog is waiting for a walk not only for the sake of entertainment 😉

PS The repost of this post has generated a lot of great comments with great ideas. I post them here:

Antonina: Tokyo was sick all my childhood, so all sorts of such puzzles are my favorite topic. Champagne cork puzzle. I am constantly asked where we got so many corks))) No, we did not master so much champagne. Collected in the registry office, after the wedding there are a lot scattered.

and this one is quite easy to make. The box is well sealed (I wrap it with scotch tape because I know they won't eat it) and given to be torn to pieces.

Sergey: Very nice toys can be made from socks. You take one sock and tuck it into the other, properly tamping your hand into the very end. Then, without taking your hand out of the sock, with the other hand you twist the rammed in a plane perpendicular to the sock - you get such a ball with a jumper at the end of the sock. It must be grabbed with the hand that is in the sock and turned inside out - the twisted ball is inside the sock. Then twist again, twist again ... If you ram it well, you get a fairly even ball. Well, at the end, tie the rest of the sock in a knot. It turns out a ball that can be slowly gnawed.

Or you can put something edible inside or your favorite ball.

At the same time, he does not chew on clothes, he perfectly distinguishes his toys from clothes. Perhaps because when I sit and knit knots on some sweatpants, he already knows what it is for him. By the way, you knit as many knots as you like on old sweatpants, the dog gnaws them, you knit them again... The thing acquires the properties of an art object 🙂

Here is an unfinished one - for pullers:

Finished. At the intermediate stages, knots do not need to be tied, just twisting across is enough. View from the butt side.

View from the opposite side. I cut the end of the sock and tied the resulting ends. It's not the best ball I've made, just for taking pictures. It is necessary to do it as tightly as possible, knit the knot carefully - then it will be rounder and take longer to gnaw. Here the ends of the ties are long, should be shorter.

And updates from me and from readers of the site:

The apotheosis of the master's laziness:

A game for puppies (only under supervision! A puppy can swallow small toys, chew through an elastic band, and break a cabinet door))):

"Basic game" in a towel that is good for all dogs - from beginner "players" to puppies to very old ones. As you can see, a dog can play it even lying down:

How do you mentally tire a puppy?

Seriously. Mental fatigue makes dogs (and humans) feel more tired physically than physical exertion alone. You can use this science to help your dog achieve what he wants most - a good long sleep.

If you're looking for body language that your puppy knows you're upset about, look for:

Avoid excessive exercise for your puppy. Excessive exercise in puppies can adversely affect their musculoskeletal development and is of particular concern in large and giant breed puppies. Some of the large and giant dog breeds can continue to grow up to 18–24 months.

Exhaust the puppy a couple of hours before bedtime, many active games, games or walks. Avoiding too much excitement in the last hour before the scheduled bedtime will help the puppy gradually calm down before bed.

Here are some of the best ways we've found to work your dog's body and brain indoors:

Younger dogs and puppies can benefit more from frequent short workouts rather than longer, longer sessions. Most dogs need at least 20 minutes of active stimulation and 1-2 walks daily. Higher energy breeds/dogs will require more activity but this should be determined on an individual basis.

Yelling can also make your dog less likely to respond to your commands, making you more frustrated and prone to yelling. New research and most dog training experts recommend that you stop yelling at your dog and instead talk to your dog in a soft, quiet voice. This does not mean that you need to use baby talk.

Dogs apologize because they have sagging years, wide eyes, they stop breathing heavily and wagging their tails. This is one sign. If a person still does not forgive them, they begin to caress and rub their faces against their legs. … Instead of just apologizing like humans do, dogs admit they made a mistake.

You must completely ignore your dog (do not look at it, do not talk to it or touch it) until it is completely quiet within 2-3 seconds. After he is silent, you praise him and pay attention to him. If he barks again, you again ignore.

It is generally not recommended to take your dog for a walk until he is fully vaccinated. … Puppies are particularly vulnerable to serious diseases such as parvovirus and canine distemper. Puppies are vaccinated at about 8 weeks of age and will need two sets of injections before they are fully protected.

One thing to remember about puppies is that they need to sleep - a lot, just like babies.

Learn more