7 Dog Games for Rainy Days

French Bulldog with paw on a toy
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Nothing annoys a dog like being kept inside by the rain. Parents to energetic pups know the struggle of entertaining a restless dog with limited indoor space. However, you can keep the body moving and the mind stimulated — both yours and your companion's — with a number of fun games that combine physical exercise with a mental challenge, and provide ample opportunities for bonding.

From brain-engaging rounds of hide-and-seek and scent training to heart-pumping obstacle courses and staircase races, here are seven things to do with your dog on a rainy day.

1. Scent Work With Hidden Treats

Puppy Sniffing The Rug On The Floor
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Teaching your dog to discover prizes using only its nose is a great workout for both the body and mind. Although all dogs have a strong sense of smell (up to 100,000 times the strength of ours), sometimes they have to be reminded to use it. This game calls on the incentive of toys and treats to get your dog excited about exercising its olfactory system.

Set several boxes or opaque containers (start with at least four or five) upside-down in a row and, without your dog seeing, hide a prize (a favorite toy, a bone, a treat, or something else with a familiar smell) under one of the containers. Next, encourage your dog to smell the boxes — it will likely pause at the one that contains a prize. When your dog gets it right, lift up the box to reveal the treat and praise it for its victory.

After several rounds of this exercise, your dog will become more aware of the objective, and may therefore become more excited to sniff out its prize. For more brain work, keep adding boxes, spacing them out at farther intervals to increase the challenge as your dog's scent work improves.

2. Hide-and-Seek

If your dog knows "find it," or any command that prompts it to go looking for something hidden, then an indoor rendition of hide-and-seek makes great practice. It's essentially a hunting game, which allows the dog to channel its natural instincts. Start by showing your dog what you're going to hide — a favorite toy, or even a person — then shut your dog in a separate room while you hide the object discreetly. Use your preferred version of the "find it" command to encourage your dog to search for the object, giving vocal clues like "good" and "uh oh" to keep it on track. If you're the one hiding, call the dog by its name.

You can also give nonvocal hints, like pointing or walking toward the hiding place, until your dog gets acquainted with the game's objective. When it finds the hidden object, make the praise worth the effort. Eventually, your companion should get faster when searching and start to revisit all the places where you've hidden objects previously. If the game gets too easy, move to more creative hiding places (under a laundry basket, or on a bookshelf above the dog's head). You can even stomp all around the house while hiding it to throw the dog off and make it more challenging.

If your dog doesn't know the "find it" command or anything similar, you can use a word it does know, such as "toy" or "ball." After hiding the object, pretend to look for it with your dog while asking "where's your toy?" or "where's your ball?" After finding the item a few times, your dog should respond to the question on its own.

3. Under, Over, and Through

Teaching a dog any new trick is great mental exercise, but it's extra beneficial if the trick involves physical activity. Under, over, and through is a game that helps puppies understand spacial relationships, stimulates older dogs' brains, and provides a workout, what with all the up, down, and around movement.

Start by placing an apparatus — like a kitchen chair, step stool, or some other sturdy, legged object — in the middle of the room. Then, encourage your dog to crawl under it, perhaps by coaxing it with a treat at first. Use the "sit" or "stay" command to get your dog to stay under the apparatus. If your dog doesn't know those commands, use hand signals. Also practice crawling all the way through the object, walking around it, and jumping over the object, if your dog is big enough and knows the "jump" command. (Teaching your dog to jump over objects is an advanced and time-consuming trick that probably won't happen in a single day.) Every time your dog completes an action correctly, reward it with a treat.

Although it's not entirely necessary, clicker training — a method that marks desirable behavior with an audible click followed by a reward — is especially effective for this game because your dog has to use positive reinforcement to work out which action you're asking of it.

After learning the basics of going under, over, and through an object, you can speed up the process or let your dog choose the action itself. Encourage new tricks, such as putting one paw on the apparatus, both paws, jumping on it, crawling under it, crawling under, then backing out, and so forth, rewarding the dog's creativity with a treat every time.

4. Stairway Dash

High angle view of girl and dog running up stairs
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If you have stairs in your house, create a game out of running up them to get out some energy. To get the most exercise from this game with the least risk to your dog's joints, start at the bottom of the stairs. Put your dog in a sit-stay position and throw the toy up to the top landing. Keeping your dog in a stay will create buildup, then give the go-ahead with a "ready, set, go," perhaps leading by example.

Let your dog come back down the stairs at its own pace. Encourage a slower return, as it's the downhill climb that risks injury. After 10 or so repetitions of this, your dog will probably be yearning for a nap.

Note that this exercise is only for dogs that are more than a year old. You can cause long-term injury playing this game with younger dogs as their joints aren't developed enough to take the impact.

5. Tag

This childhood classic is a great dog game for kids. It encourages both running and practicing a lightning-fast recall, ultimately turning coming when called into a fun game. You'll need a partner for this.

Each person starts with a pocket full of treats and stands on opposite sides of a room. One person calls the dog and rewards it with a treat, then the next person calls and rewards it with another. As the game advances, you and your partner can space out farther, so that you're in different rooms.

The more your dog runs around the house, the more exercise it'll get. To keep food intake to a minimum, you can eventually switch to giving it treats only every other or every third recall, using excited praise or a tug toy as a reward the rest of the time. You can even up the ante by calling the dog, then starting to run away, so that recall becomes a game of chase.

6. Teach It to Clean up Toys

Dog standing over colorful toy
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Clean-up time can be a lot more fun and efficient when your dog knows how to put its own things away. This trick is a process that starts with the command "drop." Have your dog pick up a toy, then, after a few seconds, say "drop" and place a treat in front of its nose to get it to drop the toy. This works best with a toy you know is less valuable than the treat in question. After several repetitions, your dog should drop the toy on command without the incentive of a treat.

Then, introduce the toy box. Position it underneath your dog's head so that when you say "drop," the toy drops directly into the box. Once your dog is used to that action, you can spread the toys all over and begin saying "clean up" or "put it away" as it picks its toys up and takes them to the box.

As your dog gets better at it, you can increase the difficulty by scattering the toys farther around the room, or throughout multiple rooms, or even hiding them.

7. Obstacle Course

Setting up an indoor obstacle course for your dog is a lot of work, but also a lot of fun. If you're stuck inside on a rainy day, then why not? Here are some household items that can be turned into obstacles.

  • A sturdy milk crate, stool, or other item to balance on
  • A kitchen chair to jump up on or run underneath
  • A box with two open ends that can be crawled through
  • A pole balancing on two stools or boxes that can be leaped over
  • A hula hoop to jump through
  • A frisbee or ball to catch

First, you'll want to train your dog to sit or stand beside you, as agility training is all about proximity. To do this, put your dog in a sitting position and, after a few seconds, reward it with a treat. Once your dog knows to stick by you, you can slowly guide it through a DIY course made up of a few of these obstacles. First, you'll probably have to lead the dog with a treat, rewarding and praising it enthusiastically every time it completes an obstacle correctly.

Eventually, your dog will follow your hand gestures — or you alone, without hand gestures — and you can pick up the speed, if you wish. You can make it more challenging by encouraging the dog to complete the course while carrying a toy. Tailor the game to your dog's physical ability and the types of tricks it enjoys.