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How do I exercise my dog in a small space?

We want our best friends to thrive, and exercising is an important part of that. It keeps our pups stimulated, at a healthy weight, and in a better mood. However, many of us live in apartments, small houses with little yards, or maybe in an area without protective fencing. So, we’ve come up with tips and products that will help meet those movement needs.

A Few (Simple and Free) Ideas for Exercising Your Dog with Limited Space

  • Use the stairs. If you have carpeted stairs that aren’t prone to cause slipping, they can be a useful tool. Have one person sit at the top, and someone else at the bottom. Toss a ball up and down to encourage your dog to hop like a bunny. They’ll sleep like a baby.
  • Go old fashioned. Grab a toy and get interactive. Run the object in circles around yourself, play a little tug-o-war, and don’t forget to let them succeed in catching their prize for a victory chew here and there.
  • Turn the tub into a waterpark. Small-to medium-sized dogs can benefit from some tub time. While providing constant supervision, add a good bit of water, so that pups can really move those legs and arms. However, you could just make a splash zone by tossing lots of toys and adding a few inches of water. If your dog is scared of water, encourage the experience by tossing in some floatable treats.
  • Make an obstacle course. It doesn’t take much space to make a course full of intriguing obstacles. Use boxes, clothes bins and furniture to craft a weaving path filled with not so easy to get treats. Dogs will love jumping over the various items to eventually sniff out something tasty.
  • Hide and seek. Sometimes it takes a bit of practice to get this game down, but soon your dog will grow to love the exciting hunting game, looking for the one they love most. Keep hiding spots simple at first, so they don’t become discouraged.
  • Location, location, location. Look for a dog park in your area or schedule a playdate with a friend’s dog at their house (if they have a great yard). Maybe you don’t have a fenced in yard, but maybe you have great neighborhood streets. So invest in a solid leash, and start walking!
  • Bubbles! Our absolute favorite idea came from the Go Pet Friendly blog—it was just too good not to list. Dogs typically love leaping into the air to catch things, like bubbles! Always be sure to use natural, non-toxic solutions to make your bubbles. Be sure to encourage just popping, not eating them.

Product Ideas for Exercising Your Dog in a Small Space

  • Chew toys. Chew toys do burn some energy, while unfortunately not working as many muscles. It’s still a great activity that promotes healthy teeth as well. Yak milk chews and antlers don’t break off into dangerous, stringy pieces like rawhide. Always supervise your pet when allowing them to indulge in a chew.
  • Kong balls. These nearly indestructible, versatile toys are the best for dogs of all sizes. Ones that can be filled with treats (the Stuff a Ball is also great with peanut butter) can provide at least 20 minutes of curious play time. Pups will relentlessly work to free the niblets by pawing, pushing and nudging, which can be exhaustive work.
  • Doggy treadmill. Doggy treadmills aren’t cheap but could be a great investment to keep your baby healthy—especially indoors with limited space.
  • Play/exercise pen. An exercise pen is a versatile staple for all dog owners. They are great for containing temporarily, especially if trying to keep their nighttime crate a “happy place”. But a large pin can open up, offering a huge place to play. Put it outside and hop in, too. You and your dog will have hours of fun.
  • Interactive toys. From puzzle mats to ball launchers, there are a lot of great dog toys requiring thought and energy. A variety of textures and sounds are to be discovered, and some even allow you to hide treats.

No worries if you are minimalist and love living in smaller spaces. You can still make it hospitable for your dog. Sometimes getting creative makes for even more exciting adventures. You may come up with your own savvy ideas for exercise time.  

Editor's Note: The exercises and products mentioned in the article may be safe for most pets and may not be recommended for senior pets and pets with limited mobility or preexisting injuries and conditions. We recommend consulting with a veterinarian beforehand. Also, everything in moderation.


Karyn Wofford is a “Mom” to her fluffy, sweet dog Halli. She spends much of her time traveling and advocating for Type 1 diabetes—and Halli sometimes accompanies her on her adventures. You’ll find Karyn’s work on sites like Mother Earth Living, and in magazines such as Diabetes Forecast.

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