Much like us, dogs need their exercise – both physical and mental. (The brain is a muscle, after all, and needs its own kinda workout.) So did you know a couple of regular old playtime exercises count as brain games for dogs? Meaning they can help keep your buddy both mentally and physically fit – and prevent them from getting bored, stressed out, or anxious when you’re away.

And the best part, these games for dogs are perfect for a rainy day when you’re both cooped up indoors. So let’s dive right into 10 of them you can get started with right away. (And the best way to keep your dog safe, if they end up lost or stuck somewhere inside your house while playing hide and seek – or end up jumping the fence out of boredom!)

Why is it so important to keep your dog active?

Regardless of the weather, your dog still needs their physical and mental stimulation. It’s how they: 

  • Stay mobile and alert in their senior dog years – reducing the risk they’ll develop mobility-affecting conditions like arthritis, or experience cognitive decline
  • Distract themselves from mischief, like chewing up your shoes or making a mess of your indoors
  • Learn to control their impulses (which include chasing down smaller animals or “herding” around other pets or people)
A small dog running through a forest

“Dogs are intelligent creatures that thrive on mental challenges.

Regular exercise provides an outlet for their energy, reducing boredom and destructive behaviors like excessive chewing or digging.”

– Milwaukee Paws Pet Care1

But of course, you’ll have days where the weather is just rubbish outdoors – or you’re both just lazy.

So on these days, here are a couple of fun indoor brain games for dogs to help them stay fit and alert – all from the comfort of your couch.

9 fun brain games for dogs for a rainy day

With a bit of creativity, you can turn your home into a fun and enriching space for your buddy. So here are a couple of brain games for dogs to keep both their mind and body active – while also keeping them safe indoors.

1. Hide some treats around the house

Dogs have an incredible sense of smell – and encouraging it can be highly rewarding for them. Sniffing things out can keep their inner foraging instincts happy and also help them problem solve.

So you could hide treats around the house and get your buddy to sniff them out, one by one.

  • Put your dog in a “sit” or “stay” position – and hide a treat or favorite toy somewhere easy at first.
  • Then give your dog a cue to go find the toy. (Something like a clear instruction like, “Find it!”)
  • Once your dog understands the game, you can make it more difficult by hiding the treat or toy in another room, or in baskets and boxes.
  • Reward your dog with a ton of pets and praise when they find the treat!
A dog sniffing a treat in a woman's hand

⚠️ Got a Beagle, Bloodhound, or another scenthound at home? These dogs are extra-capable of sniffing things out not just indoors – but also in your neighbors’ backyards or the park a few districts over!

(It’s why they make such excellent “detective” dogs, helping out police units track down scents over long distances – much better than dogs of other breeds.)

So watch out for an over-enthusiastic “sniffer” at home. You do want to ensure they don’t end up escaping outdoors to explore the variety of scents and smells from the big world out there.

2. Invest in interactive toys & puzzle feeders

Interactive (food-dispensing) toys and puzzles are invaluable boredom busters. They’re key to challenging your dog’s brain and keeping them occupied – especially if you’re not at home with them. (Also keeping their inner foraging instincts happy.)

In a nutshell, toys like this require your dog to figure out how to get the treats inside. For example:

  • Start by filling a food dispensing toy with some treats your dog loves.
  • Usually, the toy sits upright until your dog pushes it with their paw or nose.
  • Once they do, the toy periodically disposes a treat as it spins and rolls.
A dog eating a treat from a food puzzle toy

These kinds of food puzzles come with a bunch of difficulty levels, so you can adjust the challenge according to your dog’s skill level. They can both help keep your dog busy – and help slow down fast eaters.

  • We’d also recommend rotating different toys to keep your dog interested.
  • Plus, always supervise (at least at first) to ensure they don’t get frustrated – or eat too quickly and end up choking or barfing as a result!

3. Play the Muffin Tin game

This easy game helps your dog problem-solve, use their senses, and get resourceful. With an empty muffin tin, some tennis balls, and few treats, you’re good to go!

  • Place some treats in the muffin tin cups. (Make sure your dog sees you doing this.)
  • Cover the cups with tennis balls, or any object that’s easy for your dog to bat or move away. (But which covers the treats.)
  • Let your dog sniff around and figure out how to remove the balls and get to the treats!

Just make sure to supervise your dog to ensure they don’t run into any trouble or chew on the balls. Start with a few and gradually up the difficulty as your buddy’s treat-sniffing skills improve.

4. Teach your dog the names of items

The average dog can learn up to a whopping 165 words!2 (Meaning, yes, they most likely do understand that “slippers”, “Christmas tree”, and “chocolate” are off-limits.)

So if you teach your buddy the names of different objects around the house, you can keep their minds active – and also help teach them what’s a no-no and what’s safe instead.

  • Start with a few, specific, familiar objects (like a ball, their food bowl, and leash.)
  • Repeat the names of these objects while pointing to them.
  • If your dog paws at one of the objects, repeat its name and give them a treat.
  • Now call out “Ball” or “Leash” repeatedly – and give your dog a treat if they pick the correct object.
  • Repeat this periodically and practice until your dog can fetch these items when you call out their name.

With time, you can move to other, more complex items – especially ones that are off-limits. Make sure to emphasize “No” firmly so your dog gradually learns to avoid them.

5. Revisit your dog’s training

No matter how much of a good boy or good girl they are, there’s no substitute for regular training when your buddy’s concerned. A well-trained dog is a happy one – and also less likely to run away from home out of boredom or make a nuisance of themselves outdoors.

Besides, regular training helps refresh the connections they’ve built in their brains. Making it one of the best brain games for dogs, hands down. (Also a perfect way for you both to stay occupied on a rainy day indoors.)

So make sure to revisit your dog’s training on basic commands like:

  • Sit
  • Stay
  • Drop it
  • Come

Read more: How to teach your dog the most important dog commands (in case you need a refresher!)

A woman training a dog indoors

⚠️ Regular training isn’t just a nice to have – it can even save your dog’s life if you’re both outdoors. (Like, for example, if your dog’s bolted the leash and is now off chasing a squirrel or another pet.)

In times like these, having a good recall can be vital to getting your dog to override their prey drive and return to you safely.

Read more:

6. Teach your dog new tricks & commands

Besides refreshing older commands, it’s always fun to keep things challenging and teach your dog some new tricks and commands as well! This helps keep your dog’s brain sharp well into their grand-paw years. Ensuring they’re less vulnerable to age-related conditions like cognitive decline, including dog dementia.

A woman offering treats to three dogs indoors

So if you haven’t already, you can spice up your dog’s regular training sessions with a new trick or command every so often. Starting with simple ones like:

  • Play dead
  • Fetch
  • High five
  • Roll over

And if you want to shake things up a bit, try a fun, practical training method like clicker training. It’s built on positive reinforcement, so it’ll both help your dog’s training stay fresh – and strengthen your bond that much better.

Read more: Clicker Training for Dogs: A Step-by-Step Guide to Positive Reinforcement

⚠️ Just watch out: boredom is also one of the key reasons dogs run away from home. But with consistent training and practice, you can keep them busy, occupied, and engaged – while also building their discipline and impulse control.

7. The Cups game

This classic game is a great way to engage your dog’s problem-solving skills, curiosity, and ability to focus and concentrate. And the best part? All you need are three cups and a treat!

  • Show your dog the treat and let them sniff it, getting familiar with it.
  • Place the treat under one of the cups. (Make sure your dog sees which one.)
  • Next, shuffle the cups around. Go slow at first, allowing your dog to follow the motion.
  • Let your dog sniff and nudge the cups around to find the hidden treat.
A dog sniffing around three cups at a table

Your dog’s senses and memory all get engaged by the challenge of locating the treat under the correct cup.

Just make sure to increase the difficulty gradually so that they don’t get frustrated – and reward them plenty when they find the treat!

8. Giving your dog a “job”

One of the primary reasons your dog might get bored, restless, or antsy throughout the day? If they don’t have a “job” to do. You might find this occurring most commonly if your dog comes from a working breed, like from the Collie, Shepherd, or Retriever families.

So if you train them to complete a specific task (or tasks) throughout the day, you can prevent them from chewing up your slippers into a pulp to stay occupied. Like, for example:

  • Putting back their toys into their boxes or buckets
  • Fetching specific items for you (like an object from another room)
  • Closing and opening doors, drawers, or kitchen cabinets
A woman and dog inspecting a fridge full of flower pots
  • Preventing your kids from venturing outside (if you’ve instructed them to stay indoors)
  • Getting rid of any junk mail or delivery boxes (including chewing or shredding it up, if it’s paper or cardboard)
  • Waking up your kids in the morning before school
  • Handing back dropped items
  • Herding your kids back in place if they wander off while you’re all outdoors

⚠️ Just remember: if you’ve got a herding dog breed (like a Collie or a Bernese mountain dog), they might be a bit…nippy, since that’s what they’re used to herding cattle around. Make sure to reinforce commands like “Gentle”, especially if you trust your dog to be around your kids.

Read more: 10 Herding Dog Breeds That Just Can’t Sit Still!

9. Hide & seek

Hide and seek isn’t just for your kids – dogs love it too! Much like sniffing out treats, you can help keep your dog’s brain active and get them to use both their sense of hearing and smell to “track” you down.

So start by:

  • Getting your dog to stay in one place – or get someone else to hold them. (See why teaching them “Stay” is such an important command?)
  • Hide somewhere relatively easy in your house. (Like an easily accessible room.)
  • Call out your dog’s name to find you.
  • Give your dog a ton of pets and praise once they do find you!

This way, you can both tap into your dog’s natural hunting instincts and give them an excellent mental exercise – plus, help improve their recall, all in one. Here’s a little inspiration to get you excited!

⚠️ Got a big house or one with a crawlspace, attic, basement, or other hard-to-escape areas? Watch out for these spots! A small dog (or just a particularly motivated one) could easily get stuck in, say, a wardrobe full of your coats or even the inside of an open washing machine.

So it makes sense to plan ahead for an emergency – with a little extra help.

With its Bluetooth-powered Radar Mode, a pet GPS tracker like Tractive can help you track down your buddy at close range – even while indoors. (Up to Bluetooth range – so around 30-40 feet or 9-12 meters.)

Your tracker connects to your phone or tablet’s Bluetooth proximity feature. So you can check whether you’re moving closer or further away from your dog’s tracker.

As you get closer to where your dog is hiding, the rings will turn blue. (And white as you move further away.) Working best when:

  • Your dog is mostly hiding in the same location
  • You’re within Bluetooth range with your dog’s tracker
  • You’re indoors where GPS signal might be weak

💡Even better, Radar Mode doesn’t need any network or internet connection to work.

So you can find your hiding dog no matter which spot they’ve managed to squeeze themselves into.

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Read more: 3 quick & easy ways to find your hiding dog indoors – with Tractive

4 easy indoor games for dogs

Now we’ve covered brain games for dogs – but how about regular physical games? Here are a couple you can do easily at home and with zero stress.

1. Tug of War

A good game of tug-of-war can help your buddy burn off some excess energy indoors – while also getting their chewing fix. All you need is some kind of sturdy rope, frisbee, or a chew toy long enough to hold on both sides.

  • Just make sure to pick an object that isn’t harmful if your dog chews on it.
  • Make sure to reinforce commands like “Stop” in case things get a bit too excited.
  • We’d also recommend you let your dog win occasionally to keep it fun!
A woman playing tug of war with her dog indoors

2. Going up & down the stairs

Got stairs in your house, your fire exit, or even just outside your apartment? Going up and down can help both you and your buddy stay in shape, as well as helping your dog get some activity throughout the day.

  • Besides, if you’ve got a puppy, it helps build their mobility and independence as they grow.
  • If you’re both well-coordinated enough, you can even play a game of fetch on the stairs! Just throw a ball up or down to encourage your dog to run up or down to retrieve it.
A Corgi sitting on top of a staircase indoors

3. A DIY obstacle course

There’s nothing more creative than using your own home environment to create a playground for you and your buddy. And as it turns out, you can easily create an obstacle or agility course with some household objects – and help your dog get the exercise and mental stimulation they need as they navigate through them.

Two dogs playing in an indoor obstacle course

Just make sure to set it up in a slightly bigger room in your home – maybe your living room. Where you can use:

  • Chairs for your dog to weave around
  • Broomsticks as jumps
  • Towels or blankets to create tunnels for them to run through

Also, make sure to guide your dog through the course first, so they get familiar with it – and improve their coordination and agility with time. Reward them plenty for completing each section and you’ll both be engaged for hours on end!

4. Keep away

Got some company at home with your dog and don’t want to spend all day watching Netflix? Try a game of “keep away” instead – it’s like a variation of doggy volleyball that’ll keep you all on your toes all day!

So along with your housemate, kids, or partner:

  • Use one of your dog’s favorite balls or toys to get their attention first (without giving it to them)
  • Pass it between you and your partner without dropping it
  • Let your dog do their best to try and grab it!

This game works great for families with two or more dogs, who can play it even without any humans around. (Just make sure to use an object that’s safe for chewing and grabbing.)

Plus, even if you don’t have any company, you can play against yourself by throwing the ball against a wall or some other flat surface – and letting your dog try and intercept it.

Two girls and a dog playing a game of Keep Away with a ball

Another variant of this game is like a doggy “Hot Potato” – where you can’t let the object fall on the ground! You can do this easily with a safe item like a balloon, keeping it afloat with your dog as much as possible.

How to ensure your dog’s gotten enough indoor exercise

When the weather cooperates, it’s easy enough to help your dog get their daily activity. But how about when you’re both stuck indoors?

Because depending on your dog’s age, breed, and other factors, the amount of exercise they’ll need per day can vary quite significantly. Though most experts agree that 30 minutes to two hours of daily exercise is just right for most adult dogs.

Read more: How Much Exercise Does A Dog Need?

A puppy playing with an older couple indoors

💡 And a great way to stay motivated to your dog’s daily workout when you’re both stuck indoors?

  • Setting them activity goals, and
  • Comparing how they’re doing with other, similar dogs around you.

Both of which you can do if you’ve invested in a Tractive device.

Because with its built-in motion detector, your trusty Tractive tracker picks up on your dog’s active minutes throughout the day.

Dog running with tennis ball in mouth in the grass, Tractive GPS app in foreground

Which, with time, can help you figure out:

  • Whether you’ve gotten your dog enough exercise
  • What’s a normal level of activity for your dog
  • How active your dog is compared to other, similar dogs on your leaderboard

All of which can motivate you to stay accountable, get moving, and keep your dog happy and healthy for the long run.

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Ready to make the most of your next rainy day indoors?

With these activities, you’ll be keeping your buddy fit, happy, healthy, and more likely to age well in the long run – and live a longer life by your side.

So try out these brain games to keep your dog mentally active:

  • Scent games, where your dog has to “track down” a hidden item around your house. (Or in a muffin tin or under cups.)
  • Problem-solving games, like food puzzles.
  • Learning the names of different items around your house.
  • Refreshing your dog’s training by revisiting any commands you’ve taught them in the past.
  • Teaching your dog new tricks and commands to keep their brains active.
  • Giving your dog a “job” like cleaning up after themselves or opening and closing doors.
  • Playing a game like “hide and seek”
A girl playing tug of war with her dog indoors

Once you’re done with these, here are a couple of easy indoor games for dogs to keep you both occupied:

  • Tug of war, with a sturdy rope, chew toy, or any object that’s safe to bite and grab on
  • Going up and down a staircase
  • A DIY obstacle course, using pillows, cushions, chairs, or other household objects
  • A game like keep away, which you can play with a partner – tossing a ball between you both and letting your dog try and intercept it
  • Hot potato, or where you both try and keep an object in the air as long as possible. (Like with a balloon.)

And if you want to stay motivated to your dog’s daily exercise, you could always set them activity goals – and compare how they’re doing to other dogs just like them.

Which, if you’ve invested in a Tractive device, is as simple as setting them on your phone – and maintaining it like a Duolingo streak.

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packaging of the Tractive GPS DOG tracker

Stay on top of your dog’s wellness

Follow every step in real-time with unlimited range. Get alerts if they wander too far. Keep them happy & healthy with Wellness Monitoring. And let others – like walkers or sitters – keep an eye on your dog too.

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For a little more inspiration on indoor games for dogs, check out this short (and very sweet) video:

And if you’ve liked this post, share it with a friend or a loved one – and let’s help build a safer, kinder world for our furry friends together.