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How to help your dog adjust to apartment living

How to help your dog adjust to apartment living

These expert tips from trainers will help your dog seamlessly adjust to a smaller living space.

As condos crowd out houses and highrises grow higher in Metro Vancouver, more and more of us are living beside, under, and above other people.

And when your roomie is a dog…well, things can be a bit challenging. But they don’t have to be difficult. Believe it or not, not every dog needs a big backyard – especially when fewer and fewer people can afford one.

“There is no question that dogs can adapt to any living situation as long as attention is paid to their overall quality of life and daily enrichment,” Valerie Barry, dog training expert of Dog Partners Training tells OhMyDog!.

“I have met many ‘yard dogs’ who don’t get the opportunity to venture beyond their fence boundaries very often which, in my opinion, is an important form of enrichment for a dog. There is no reason a small living space can’t be very comfortable for many dogs.”

Smaller isn’t necessarily better

One misconception about apartment dogs is that they must be as little as the space they inhabit. But all sorts of breeds – both big and small – can function with fewer square feet. And even medium-sized dogs have their place, as OhMyDog! previously reported.

“Small dogs are often touted as the best apartment dog,” says Valerie Barry. “But I know many laid back, larger breeds who are very much ‘couch potatoes’ when they aren’t out and about on walks, and they would be equally suited to apartment life.”

What really matters when choosing an apartment dog, experts say, are the energy levels, exercise requirements, and noise-levels of the breed.

The snags of living skyhigh

You live on the 32rd floor and your pet has to go NOW. Or your dog is terrified of the noises and fire drills. Or maybe the kid in apartment 608 is just as terrified of your dog. Apartment living can throw a lot of curve balls for your dog to chase.

“The biggest problems my clients report are quite common,” says professional dog trainer Bonnie Hartney of Ocean Park Dog Training.

“It’s barking inside and at building noises. It’s the neighbours complaining when a dog is left alone. And it’s the fear of strangers and dogs when exiting or entering the building.”

But hold the elevator. There are ways to cultivate a happy and healthy apartment life with your dog here in Vancouver.

Big solutions for small spaces

Here are six tips to help your dog adjust to apartment living, courtesy of our expert trainers.

1. Give Space

Create an area your pup can call his own. It could be as big as a room or as small as a corner in your bedroom. This zone should include familiar items like toys, a water dish, or a favourite blanket. Some pet parents put a piece of turf on the balcony. This way, no matter the square footage, your dog will have a space to feel safe and have a sense of home.

2. Routine Routine Routine

“Make a daily schedule of activities for your dog which includes outside adventures and inside games,” says trainer Bonny Hartney. “Dogs are masters at noticing patterns so build a pattern and reward them with tasty treats!.”

If you time out your dog’s feeding schedule, walk times, bathroom breaks, and bedtimes, she’ll find a groove that better suits apartment and condo dwelling.

3. Brain Games

“Daily and ample mental stimulation is important, especially if your dog is at home for long hours,” says trainer Valerie Barry. “Find a way for your dog to use his brain, think and solve puzzles and help the time pass in a productive, confidence-building and enriching way.”

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Treat dispensing and puzzle toys are widely available, but even the old trick of hiding treats around the apartment can stimulate your dog and keep him enjoying the apartment space while you’re gone.

4. Break A Sweat

Of course we know exercise is crucial – but for an apartment dog it needs to be creative and extensive. Take different routes, find challenging obstacles to manoeuvre, and let your dog see more than the perimeter of your building.

“The exercise and enrichment needs of dogs is probably more than most people expect,” says Bonnie Hartney. “A dog who has those needs met is a joy to live with in an apartment. A dog who is just taken out for odd bathroom breaks and a longer walk on the weekend may not do well.”

5. Ride The Volume

Barking training is a careful process for dogs, no matter where they live, but in a highrise, you can also manage the other noises that might unsettle your pup.

“I would say that helping desensitize your dog to noises would be helpful,” says Valerie Barry.

“Sudden noise like fire alarms, doors slamming, or people talking as they walk by your door can be very startling and alarming to a dog. It’s difficult to duplicate these sounds of course, but you can work with different sounds at lower levels to at least partially mimic the situation.”

6. Portable Potty

You may want to have a back-up plan in case your dog gets backed-up, and really needs to go.

“One particular thing that I think would be helpful for an apartment dog,” adds Valerie Barry, “is to teach them to ‘potty’ in a particular spot within your home like a litter box on your balcony, or a grass (real or fake) area. I wouldn’t suggest this for regular use, but it is helpful for a dog to feel comfortable pottying elsewhere if need be.”

“Dogs have a hard time learning new bathroom habits, so teaching them another option is much easier done before it’s necessary.”

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