7 minute read

How to Take Care of a Dog in an Apartment

Not every dog is suited to apartment living, but millions of dogs around the world live happily in apartments. 

If you are an apartment dweller thinking about adding a dog to your family, it takes some thinking and planning to make sure your pet is a good fit for your lifestyle and home.

There are several things you need to consider before bringing a dog into your apartment home.

Know the Rules

The first step is to determine if your apartment is pet-friendly housing. It may or may not be advertised on their website. Regardless, you’ll need to read the rules in your lease or talk to your landlord or management company before bringing a dog home. Too many places don’t allow pets.

Those apartments that do allow pets will likely limit the number of pets you may have, the types of pets you may have, and the size of your pets, determined by how much your pet weighs. Dogs come in a wider variety of sizes than the typical house cat, so knowing your dog’s weight will be important. This can be tricky if you get a puppy, since you may not know how big they'll end up getting.

For budgeting purposes, you’ll need to know if they charge a non-refundable deposit and if they charge a fee each month, as well as how much they charge. The rules will likely include requiring annual veterinary care, with an emphasis on vaccinations and parasite control. This is a public health measure to help prevent the accidental spread of diseases between pets and all the people living in the facility. This means you’ll need a Primary Care Veterinarian to keep your pet current on veterinary-recommended vaccinations and parasite control all year round.

There are important exceptions to “no pet” rules in housing. Service animals and emotional support animals are allowed by law to live with their owners, even if there is a “no pet” policy. Service dogs are specialized helpers, and emotional support dogs are “prescribed” by a mental health professional to assist with conditions like anxiety, depression, learning disabilities, and post-traumatic stress disorder. You still need to check with the property owner before moving a dog into your apartment, but it’s good to know your legal standing before doing so.

Watch for Scary Stuff

What might not be scary for you, might be scary for your dog. 

When you live in an apartment, you’re probably used to things like elevators, narrow hallways or stairwells, unusual sounds, and lobbies. These things can be scary for dogs because they never know when they might encounter strange dogs, other pets, or people. And unusual sounds may cause them to be on alert that something dangerous may come their way, even if it’s something that sounds familiar to you like elevator noises.

If you do want to bring a dog into an apartment, look from your dog’s perspective. 

First, how does your dog react when they’re near strange people and strange dogs or other pets when outdoors? If they ever growl, bark, lunge at, or try to bite anyone when simply walking by, then you’ll need to work on teaching the good behavior you want them to have. The ideal behavior is for your dog to walk closely next to you, walking confidently with a slightly loose leash, and perhaps glance at the people or pets walking by but otherwise remain calm. And some dogs are naturally friendly towards strange people and pets, but that doesn’t always mean that they want to interact with your dog. It’s always best to ask if your dog can approach them or their pet. And if they say to stay away, respect their wishes.

If your dog has ever growled, barked, or lunged at any person or pet, then will your dog respond to you? That is, if you ask your dog to stop and sit as the person or pet walks by, will your dog stop and sit quietly? If they have never growled, barked at, or lunged at another person or pet, then apartment living might be fine. If they have, then your dog may not be happy in an apartment and both of you could be kicked out of your apartment. 

If your dog has ever tried to bite anyone, then an apartment is probably not the best place for your dog. Strange people or pets may interact with your dog, and your dog may react out of fear (and fear may look like aggression). If your dog does bite someone, no matter the reason or damage done to someone’s clothes or skin, then your dog may never be welcomed again in that apartment complex. Bites are especially troublesome if your dog isn't current on their rabies vaccination. If your dog bites someone, then that will need to be reported and measures taken, depending on your local laws.

If your dog does seem comfortable in strange places near strange people or pets, then consider this. 

Will your dog need to go into an elevator? If so, do they seem comfortable getting into and out of the elevator? If they’re not comfortable getting in and out of the elevator, then you could try giving a small portion of their daily kibble as a treat when they go in and when they leave the elevator. This training might be a slow process since we want to reward your dog for the behavior you want, which could be getting closer and closer into the elevator, one calm step at a time.

If they are comfortable getting into and out of an elevator, then the next question is, how will they respond to someone else (person or pet) in the elevator with them? If they growl, bark, or lunge at anyone else in the elevator, then apartment living might not be right for your dog.

Before you introduce your dog to their new environment, help your dog succeed as their pet parent and do some positive reinforcement training (ideally, with a portion of the dry kibble you’d be feeding them during the day) to make sure they can at least sit and stay when strange people, pets, noises, and things could freak them out.

Be Attentive to Neighborly Relations

As suggested above, apartment dogs need to have excellent manners. 

Not everyone in your building might be as excited as you about your new family member. Some people are allergic to dogs or they might be afraid of dogs, no matter their size or breed (though some people’s fears are breed-specific). And if your dog is barking, whining, or scratching things, that is no fun for neighbors. Also, they cannot be aggressive towards strangers or other dogs.

Apartment dogs should be well socialized. If they are, they are more likely to behave well with other dogs and people. Read our tips for socializing your dog here.

To be a good neighbor, also make sure you know what the rules are for managing your pet’s waste (poop), such as where they are allowed to go and where and how you can dispose of it at or near your apartment building. No one likes it when they have to smell or accidentally step in dog poop, so please pick up your dog’s poop every time and your neighbors will appreciate it. For those people who don't like to pick up their dog's poop, I suggest investigating solutions that make the task more tolerable. 

Consider Breeds, Size, and Temperament

Even though landlords and management companies often restrict the size of apartment dogs, size is not always the best indicator of whether a dog will adapt to an apartment lifestyle.

For example, many larger dogs are content to plop down and nap for most of the day if they get a good run in once or twice a day. Some smaller breeds, like terriers, beagles, and toy breeds might bark more and bounce off the walls with all that extra small-dog energy.

The American Kennel Club has a list of breeds it recommends for apartment living. You might be surprised to see Greyhounds there. Greyhounds love to run, but most Greyhound parents find that they are sweet, gentle, and lazy when not out running. There are some breeds listed that I wouldn’t recommend because some are noted in the veterinary community to have expensive health problems, such as breeds with short snouts (they might look cute, but it’s harder for them to breathe or even eat). And consider if you want to deal with managing a pet with long fur – they need to be groomed regularly, adding to the cost of keeping your pet healthy and happy.

If you are adopting from a rescue organization or shelter, you can discuss your living situation with the staff and volunteers. Some dogs suffered trauma or abandonment early in their lives, and some were rescued from puppy mills or farms and had little contact with friendly humans before they were rescued. This may cause those dogs to be fearful of people, other pets, and strange noises.

However, some of these dogs can emerge from bad circumstances and become wonderful companions. Regardless, the more you know about your dog’s background, the more likely you are to have a perfect match. Some rescue staff members or volunteers are more interested in giving pets a home than considering whether apartment living is the best place for the pets they have available. If they’ve been able to do a “personality” profile on the dog before you adopt, then that will give you a better idea of whether apartment living might be a good fit.

Make Your Apartment Pet-Friendly

Once you find or have the perfect dog for apartment living, then you’ll need to make sure your apartment is dog-friendly. When setting up an apartment for living with a dog, be sure to learn which plants and foods are toxic for dogs, and make sure your dog doesn’t get access to things that can harm them, like chocolate, artificial sweetener (Xylitol), and dried fruits. You’ll need to keep your apartment neat and tidy so your dog doesn’t eat or chew things that they shouldn’t, including plastic bags, hair ties, or other things like socks and even underwear. Also, you’ll want to keep breakable items away from wagging tails or exploring noses.

Dogs do best when they have a “den,” like their wild relatives. Think about setting up a space with a comfy bed, toys, and food and water. Many dogs are crate trained and use their crates as their safe space when they need a break. Even if they seem like they don’t want to go in at first, it can quickly become their safe space where they can rest and chill out alone (even dogs need some alone time). You can put down a rug or mat for chewing activities and games. 

Exercise Is Important — for People and Dogs

Dogs that have an outlet for their energy are happy dogs. 

Exercise is even more important for dogs who live in apartments and don’t have access to a yard. Cooped-up dogs, especially when left alone, can wreck your stuff, bark, or whine. They need to keep their minds and bodies active, just like we all do. And without enough exercise, they can gain weight, leading to health issues.

It’s a joy to exercise with a dog. Whether it’s a leash walk, a jog, or a trip to an off-leash dog park, the enjoyment they find in sniffing, running, fetching, and cavorting is infectious. 

Ideally, a dog should get exercise twice a day. And most dogs that get that are happy to lounge around the rest of the time, minus potty breaks. 

Mental exercise is important, too. Dogs are smart. Pet stores often have chewies, KONGs, and puzzles that can occupy a dog for quite a while. Look for those that are veterinary-approved because there are many items that pet stores sell that are not. Dogs love to have jobs, so you might be able to teach your pup to put their toys away with the right incentives.

Be Realistic

It doesn’t always work out. Unfortunately, I’ve seen a few dogs adopted from rescues that just couldn’t adjust to apartment living. They had to be rehomed to somewhere where they could have more space, with a house and yard, that allowed them to stay on their property safely away from strange people and pets.

Sometimes you have to meet a dog several times before you know if they will be a good fit for your living situation. Some organizations won’t adopt dogs unless they have a yard, and most rescues will work with you until you know that you can provide a “forever home.”

When the dog has the right training, a suitable temperament for apartment living, gets enough exercise, and can relax in their own special place — life is better for both dog and human.

Download the Pet Parent's Guide to Caring for Your Dog or Cat