The Good Dog and Apartment Life - The Apartment Lifestyle
There is no denying the fact that living in an apartment can be cramped. Renters certainly have less square footage than the average home these days. We also don't have a yard like most homes have. When we are looking at what makes a good home for a dog there are going to be good and bad qualities about any place. Often the factors that we might think are important are not. Factors that we think might be minor details, could in fact be major game changers. In this section of the Good Dog and Apartment life I'm going to discuss some of the good and bad qualities of living in an apartment. I'm going to talk about the issue of actual square footage (space). I will also be addressing the issues of barking, noise, and neighbors, It is important when bringing a dog into your home that you understand your living area's strengths and weaknesses so that you can be prepared when problems arise.
People tend to associate large living spaces, big homes, and large yards with a dog having a good home and a healthy life. I think one of the reasons we think this is true is because we as people, especially Americans, equate all these things to success and "the good life". The major factor that people cringe at when thinking of dogs and apartments is the limited amount of space available to the dog in the living area (the square footage). The fact of the matter is that space isn't that important to a dog. Dogs love small living areas. Their instinctual homes are small underground dens or in caves. As long as their exercise requirements are being met (which I discuss in The Good Dog and Apartment life - Exercise) they can be quite comfortable in apartments. Many dogs, even large ones, may actually prefer them to a large spacious house. This same principle is why crate training works so effectively. (The Good Dog and Apartment Life - Crate Training)
It is quite possible that dogs living in an apartment with owners who walk and exercise with their dogs every day, adequately, have happier healthier dogs than people with big houses and lots of yard. If the owners of big houses don't have the time or desire to exercise their dogs and they just let the dog out in the yard on its own. Then it is entirely possible that those dogs are less comfortable, happy, and healthy than the apartment dwelling dogs. The dog left alone in the large yard isn't getting the same love, mental stimulation, and physical workout as the apartment dog when this scenario occurs. A strength of apartment living is that the apartment owners must invest time and energy into living with their dog or else they don't get one. They must take the dog out to parks, dog parks, and pet-friendly stores to give it the socialization and exercise it needs. There is no easy out for sharing an apartment with a dog.
The deciding factor of whether or not a dog is able to live in an apartment is the owner, not the size of the apartment. The majority of dogs can be trained properly to live in an apartment which honestly is a testament to how smart dogs are. Again though, it falls to the owner to do this training and to have the knowledge of their dog and the breed to do it effectively.
One of the major obstacles to owning a dog in an apartment is the close proximity you live in relation to other people. In a home you have a huge amount of space between the yard, the large house, and possibly a road separating you from your nearest neighbor. In an apartment, the only buffer you have from 4 or more neighbors is often just a single wall. This can drastically change what is acceptable and unacceptable in dog and owner behavior. In a home, a dog has to please 1-5 people generally depending on the family. They also have a large margin of forgiveness. In an apartment the dog must please and conform to the people standard of living of the entire apartment building! They generally get a very LOW margin of forgiveness for misbehaving.
For example, in a house if the dog barks and wakes up the kids or parents it might get scolded, maybe put out in the garage, or the people might just try to ignore it and go back to bed. In an apartment building if a dog barks and wakes up the neighbor (or neighbors) they make a complaint and that dog is in big big trouble. The dog must conform to our standard of living and not just ours but of the entire building or its gone. Think of how different a single family of people can be, let alone 8 families and what they consider acceptable behavior.
Any barking can be a major issue for quality of living in an apartment building. Cloverleaf made a very astute observation and question in one of her comments on my first hub. It leads into a prime example of how so many dogs get a bad rap in apartment buildings; and why there are so many strict guidelines on dogs living in apartments. She said, "Sometimes I find that dogs in apartment buildings bark excessively, do you think this is because they don't have enough space or perhaps because owners don't exercise them enough?"
I'll try to explain that answer in the next few paragraphs. I touched on the issue of living space when referring to the physical "space" or square footage above. I don't think that makes dogs bark more, due to them generally liking smaller living areas. However, apartments are not small segregated living areas. They are living areas stacked on living areas next to other living areas with lots of traffic in a condensed area.
For example, I always know when someone walks into our building's common area. This common area connects all the individual apartment doors to the apartment building's entrance. Even if she is sleeping Zoe's ears will perk up and she will wake up. If she is awake when the person walks in, she will walk over to the door with her nose to the bottom crack and sniff to check on who it is. As soon as Jenna steps foot inside the common area, before she has even stepped down the stairs to our apartment, Zoe knows its her. Even in a dead sleep she will know and wake up to greet her with no visual ques whatsoever. Her senses are keen enough from that far away to tell the difference between a stranger and Jenna walking in.
I would think Zoe is the norm, more than the exception for dog senses. Dogs senses are much greater than we realize and when you combine that with the increased, concentrated, activity of an apartment building it is easy for them to get an overload of sensory input which builds excitement. You combine sensory excitement with pent up energy from a lack of exercise and there's your extra barking. Plus, some dogs individual personalities as well as breed characteristics will just naturally cause them to bark more. Combine all of those things and then consider dogs living next door to other dogs and feeding off of each other's energy and you've got a very boisterous building!!
One of the reasons exercise is so key to living in an apartment is that it curbs a dog's tendency to bark. A tired dog is much more likely to sleep. A sleeping dog is a quiet dog! Even if they are awake they are much less likely to bark though. Another key to curbing dogs barking is introducing them to your neighbors. The more familiar they are with your neighbors the less likely they are to get excited and curious about the new smell or person. This is a win-win situation because as long as the introduction and meeting go well a friendly neighbor is much less likely to report you should there be some stray barking. Neighbors have a margin of forgiveness, strangers next door are much less forgiving.
There are training techniques that several trainers have developed for teaching a dog not to bark as well. Again, i'm no expert on training so I'll leave it to someone with more experience. Here is an excellent hub highlighting the issues on barking and techniques to stop it written by Whitney05.
One method I saw quick, and really pretty impressive, results with was squirting lemon juice in the dog's mouth whenever they barked. I was in a trainer's building just asking some questions and zoe and some other dogs started barking and making commotion. The instructors told me there was no barking. I politely informed them my dog was not barking, she was talking with a bit of howl and woo thrown in. They didn't find my humor that amusing, sadly. I just got an old lady scowl. They gave me a squeeze bottle of lemon juice. They said if she tries to howl again squirt this in her mouth, a big glob right on the tongue. I did it and after about 3 squirts all i had to do was show Zoe the yellow bottle and she wasn't making a peep. There are also devices you can buy from pet stores which will emit a sound every time a dog barks this gets them quiet apparently. The sound is inaudible to humans but somehow it makes them quiet. If a neighbor dog is barking loud enough it can work through walls too lol. It sounded pretty interesting to me. Especially how it was able to stop a neighbor's barking dog as well.
My wife and I personally like Zoe's talking and wooing. It isn't that loud so we don't curb it very often. One of the great things about Zoe and the malamute breed is they are not barkers typically. Zoe is a very quiet dog compared to some I've heard. She talks (woos) all the time and occasionally howls but the barking and yipping that so many dogs make is distinctly absent 90% of the time she is here. Her woos are never any louder than Jenna and me in a good lively conversation.
The last thing I wanted to touch on was neighbors. Jenna and I are pretty fortunate because we have really great neighbors. There are 3 other dogs in our building. One family has 2 and both of those dogs are the barkers of the section. They take all the spotlight off of Zoe as far as noise goes.
I highly recommend you get to know and befriend your neighbors. At the very least get on their good side! By doing this you can give yourself a little bit of buffer should you ever have issues with your dog disturbing your neighbors. Someone who knows you and likes you is far more likely to forgive any annoyance your dog creates or at the very least they will come over and let you know something bothered them before just taking it to the apartment office.
Another important reason to get to know your neighbors is for dogsitting! This is one of the strengths of living in an apartment. If you have good friendly neighbors it is so much easier to find a dog sitter in an apartment. The apartments are so close it is hardly any effort for a good trustworthy neighbor to simply take 3 steps from their door to yours and feed or water your dog. Maybe throw a leash on and walk them out to go potty really fast. This is also another reason to socialize your dog to your neighbors, if they do this for you the process is a smooth comfortable one. Jenna and I had a really easy time with this because when we brought Zoe home she was just a pup and the entire section fell in love with her, she was so cute. They've kinda grown just as attached to her as we have. When we see them in the hall or outside they are always wanting to pet her and commenting on how big she has grown. Relationships like that help keep your dog safe from negative complaints. They also encourage the apartment staff that dogs and people are able to co exist. In an economy where a lot of people are turning to renting this can be important so families are able to keep their pets when they move!