Best Ways to Exercise Your Dog

* All Sniffspot articles are reviewed by certified trainers for quality, please see bottom of article for details *

It’s no secret that every dog needs regular exercise. Physical activity is important for us humans and our pets — moving our bodies improves strength, coordination, cardiovascular health, and even mental focus over time! If you’re looking to change up your dog’s daily exercise routine, we’ve got you covered.

Here are some of the best ways to exercise your dog both in the comfort of your own home and out in the surrounding world. Get out their excess energy and have some fun together!

How to exercise your dog without leaving the house

There are many reasons you might not be able to get out and about with your dog. Maybe you’re working through leash reactivity, so walks at busy times just aren’t possible. Maybe you’re dealing with inclement weather or a particularly cold stretch of winter days. Maybe you’re injured or simply in a crunch for time. Whatever the reason, don’t worry — there are countless ways to make sure your dog gets enough exercise even without leaving your house!

Let’s take a look at some of our favorite at-home or “do anywhere” canine indoor exercise activities.

Flirt pole and tug

One of the best things about fun games like tug-of-war? They can be played in small spaces! Depending on the size of your dog, even most apartments have enough floor space for you to engage in casual indoor games where you compete for possession of a favorite toy.

If you’ve ever heard that tug will cause aggression in your dog, don’t worry. That’s a myth. Letting your pup engage in their natural canine instincts is actually great for both of you in the long run — and it can even deepen your bond. To make sure the game stays safe, keep a few quick tips in mind:

  • Make sure your dog is excited about the game of tug. Don’t try to take a possession from them while they’re chewing on their own, especially if they have any resource guarding tendencies.
  • Create clear signals to start and end the game. This way your dog won’t be confused about when it’s play time and when it isn’t.
  • Teach a “drop” or “out” cue. You’ll be able to ask your dog to let go of the toy without any unnecessary conflict.
  • When in doubt, work with a professional force-free trainer to improve your play skills. They’ll be happy to help you have more fun with your dog!

Hide and seek

Hide and seek is especially great light physical exercise for rainy days. It's many dogs' favorite game. Here’s how to play:

  • Put your dog in a sit or down stay. This is great impulse control practice!
  • Go into another room where they can’t see you. You can hide yourself or tuck a favorite toy out of view, depending on how much room you have to work with and what your dog finds most exciting.
  • Once you’ve hidden, call your dog.
  • Watch as they zoom around your home, using their eyes, ears, and nose to try to find either you or their toy!
  • Once they successfully locate the hide, reward them with a favorite treat or game.
  • Then play again, switching up your hiding spots to keep them on their toes.

Food searches

A food search is essentially the hide and seek brain game we talked about above, but instead of hiding yourself or a toy, you hide part of your dog’s meal or some favorite treats. This is a super simple nose work game. Bonus if the food is smelly, so it’s easier for them to find at first.

Puzzle toys for active dogs

Many pet companies sell puzzle toys specifically designed to provide mental and physical enrichment for your dog. You can take a look at our top enrichment toy picks in this article! These are great for moderate exercise.

You can also create DIY puzzle toys with objects you already have around the house. Consider hiding treats in a series of cardboard boxes, or setting up couch cushions to add an extra challenge to your hide and seek games. (More on indoor obstacle courses next.)

Obstacle courses and indoor agility

You’d be surprised at how many ways you can configure your living room to give your dog some novel exercise. Get creative and set up your own indoor agility course! Use things like coffee tables, couch cushions, and chairs to create a path for your dog to follow. Bonus if you have a hula hoop or other fun exercise equipment on hand. Guide your dog through the course with their favorite treats or toys, and encourage them with lots of praise when they conquer a new obstacle.

Then reconfigure your setup for a new twist!

Stair climbing or conditioning activities

If you have a staircase at home, you can give your dog some quick cardio and strength-building exercise by having them walk up and down it. You can do this in multiple fun ways:

  • Have your dog sit at the bottom of the staircase. Walk to the top yourself, then call them to you. Reward when they reach you!
  • Play a game of fetch up and down the staircase. Make sure you only go for a handful of throws — some dogs will run themselves into the ground for a toy, and you don’t want to cause any injury.
  • Practice your dog’s loose-leash walking or heeling skills as you move up and down the staircase together. It’s good exercise for you as the human, too!

You can also teach your dog to walk on a treadmill if you have one. Make sure to take the process slowly and ensure they're completely comfortable with it. A professional trainer will be able to guide you!

Note: Before starting any canine conditioning, it’s important to get in touch with your vet. A full physical exam will make sure your dog is ready for more intense exercise. Remember that stair work can use up a lot of your pup's energy.

Obedience and trick training

Many obedience and “for fun” trick behaviors work your dog’s body along with their brain. Here are a few favorites to get some gentle exercise in!

  • Puppy push ups (have your dog quickly switch between their down and sit cue)
  • Jumping, perching, or balancing on objects
  • Bow or curtsy
  • Pivoting on a touchpad
  • Sit pretty and similar variations
  • Rally signs
A panting dog sits on the ground and eagerly looks up at his handler, who holds a training clicker in hand

Ways to exercise your dog while out and about

If you are able to get out of the house, here are some go-to ways to exercise your dog in the great big world around us.

Running, walking, or hiking

There’s a reason “taking the dog for a walk” is a classic daily activity! Neighborhood or park excursions give your pup the opportunity to stretch their legs, explore new scents, and be exposed to common stimuli. For the best exercise, go at your dog’s own pace and let them choose the path if it’s safe. This way they can sniff to their heart’s content!

You can also consider upping the ante by going for a hike on rougher terrain. Make sure your dog is prepared ahead of time — work up to more intense activity slowly so that you don’t cause injury or excess muscle fatigue.

And if you’re a runner yourself, most dogs will be happy to tag along! Keep in mind that your dog’s legs are shorter than yours and adjust your pace accordingly. Like all exercise, it’s important to keep tabs on your dog’s physical condition. Never force them to keep running if they want to slow down or stop (and remember that you’ll want to refine their loose-leash walk training ahead of time so you don’t get tripped).

Classic games like fetch

Fetch might be the most quintessential dog game. It’s a great cooperative activity for you and your pup to enjoy together! You can switch up the repetitive “bring the toy immediately back” routine in a few fun ways:

  • Have your dog perform a few obedience or trick cues before your next throw.
  • Ask your dog to wait in a sit or down stay as you throw the toy, then release them to chase after it.
  • Run away from your dog after they chase the toy, increasing their excitement to get back to you (it’s a double chase game).

Swimming

Many dogs also love to swim. It’s a particularly great form of exercise for pets who are overweight, aging, or have medical conditions that make high-impact activities difficult.

Before taking your dog into the water:

  • Make sure the beach or pool allows dogs. Double check any leash law requirements.
  • Consider investing in a canine life jacket. Some dogs are comfortable swimming in shallow water without one, while others really benefit from the added sense of security.
  • Check for harmful algae or bacteria. You can usually find a water report on your local county’s website.

Organized dog sports

Want to take your dog’s exercise regimen even further? Consider participating in organized dog sports! Activities like agility, rally, and even obedience competitions can provide great physical and mental stimulation for your pup.

You can look for a local training facility to try out a few classes or reach out to a professional who offers virtual sessions to get started.

Some canine exercise considerations

Before embarking on a new physical activity with your dog, there are a few things you should think about ahead of time. You can read more specifics in our dog exercise calculator (how much exercise your individual pup needs) and our comprehensive guide to canine exercise (an overview of everything you need to know).

Here’s the high level:

  • Working dogs require more exercise than smaller toy or non-sporting breeds do. These active dogs especially benefit when you change up your activities to keep their brains thinking! (Don’t be afraid to experiment with the above list to work in mental exercise, too.)
  • Your dog will need the most exercise when they’re between about two and eight years old. Young puppies should participate in gentler activities to reduce risk of long-term bone and joint problems. Senior dogs should take things more slowly, too, since they no longer recover as quickly.
  • If your dog has any medical concerns, make sure to work directly with your veterinarian to create a safe exercise plan.

Trainer Review of this Article

There is so much misinformation out there, we want to make sure we only provide the highest quality information to our community. We have all of our articles reviewed by qualified, positive-only trainers.  

This is the trainer that reviewed this article:

Kelly Hayden, CBCC-KA
Owner & Lead Trainer - Ardent Dog - Certified Separation Anxiety Professional Trainer