Thursday, October 23, 2008

Finding the right apartment dog

I was asked to write a post about how the size of a dog isn't relative to the size of its living space. I decided to write all about apartment dogs. My opinion? There's nothing wrong with keeping a dog in an apartment - so long as (like with any living situation) you do your homework!

First off, I'm sure you know to check with your landlord and all that. You might want to run the breed you'd like past him/her, too. While you may not agree with them if they're uncomfortable with "bully" breeds, your landlord can still give you boot or make you give up your dog, and nobody wants that to happen. Respect his/her feedback. Secondly, figure out an action plan. Do you have a nearby park or place to exercise your dog every day? Do you know how he's going to relieve himself? Are you ready for the possibility of your dog making noise or picking up other habits that might annoy the neighbours?

But most importantly of all, have a breed in mind, and research research research!

Going to a shelter could also be a good idea. The people who work there have a good idea of what their dogs behave like, and might be able to pair you up with a suitable pooch. That way, you'll get an already polite and housebroken companion with a new lease on life. Win-win! If you do want a puppy to raise, though, think HARD on breed selection. I looked up some outside sources for help, and ... nearly every article was actually way off the mark when it came to some things. This one recommends Weimaraners, that one recommends Malamutes, here's one that recommends BEAGLES, as in named-for-baying BEAGLES - it's just a big headache. Let's start with the dogs we should AVOID.

The possibilities seem infinite. Gundogs and hounds are a noisy bunch, so you'll want to stay away from them. Even the barkless Basenji will yodel. Oh, and I think spitzes may own the title for Most Strident Voice in the dog world. Working/herding dogs have busy paws and busier minds, and they will wreak havoc on a small space if bored. Terriers might seem good for apartment living, but remember that these dogs were largely bred to a) investigate nooks and crannies, and b) run and find out. If something's happening on the other side of the wall, the curiosity may drive your terrier crazy. Sporting dogs are bouncy, exciteable and active. Faced with all these dead ends, I thought of Golden retrievers, the canine all-rounder, but then remembered that they can suffer from separation anxiety which can lead to destructive or noisy habits, oh my God, WHERE ARE ALL THE APARTMENT DOGS AT?

This site was my favourite of all the ones I looked at, because it's good for basically ball-parking things for you. It's a list of 50 most popular apartment dogs, but that doesn't mean that they all make GOOD apartment dogs, which the writer points out. It makes for a good estimation: if you check all your facts, one of these breeds could work well for you.

In picking your dog, generally check for three things: noise level, exercise requirement, and aggression factor. Remember that you and your dog will be sharing living space with other people. You're not the only one who has to get along with your dog.

Now here's a handful of breeds I can think to recommend.

THE GIANTS: You might be surprised to hear that the giants actually do quite well in apartments! Which brings us back to the original topic: big dogs do not necessarily need big plots of land to be happy. In fact, big dogs are some of the biggest couch potatoes in the dog world. I've mentioned Great Danes before now - those guys are quite happy to contort themselves into a happy pretzel and doze on the couch. And Newfoundlands, the sweet-tempered lovechild of a grizzly and a gorilla, used to spend most of their time hanging out on boats, and will do fine in an apartment provided they get their daily walk.

Things to consider: Naysayers will give you grief about cooping up such a big dog, and that may get wearying. Some people find it difficult to swallow that the dog doesn't require a huge house and yard. In actuality, your dog would probably just laze around some other six cubic foot space if you moved. The giant breeds are not the ones who will run laps around your home like they're chasing hubcaps at the Indiana 500: no, those are the small dogs!

Also, giants may not typically be big barkers, but when they do bark, they can bring the ceiling down. And you'll have to be quick to the draw on training your dog out of spurts of hyperactivity while it's small, especially when people come to the apartment, because if your giant starts a happy dance it might cave the floor in. (This is always something to consider with a giant, though. My cousin and her husband have a massive, soft-hearted Great Dane who greets people not by dancing but by putting his face in theirs to examine them from an inch away. His tail is going a mile a minute, but it can still be alarming. And they think this is okay, because he's not jumping!)

My real warning is that large dogs are prone to arthritis and displasia, so be mindful of the type of building you live in. Are you on one of the lower levels? Do you have to climb flights of stairs up to your apartment, or take an elevator? It may not seem important while your dog is young, but it could cause them grief later on in life.

Oh, yeah - and don't forget about the walking disaster that is a Dane's wagging tail!

THE TOYS: The ankle-biter brigade isn't for everyone, but trust me, if they were good enough for royalty, they're good enough for you. :) Just check if your breed of choice was originally bred to be a pet (like the Pekingese), or an active working dog (like the Yorkie), because this may make a difference.

Personally I'd recommend dogs from the Bichon family, because .... I like small white fluffy dogs. I feel ashamed every time I say it. But look into Malteses, Havaneses sound especially delightful, and Bichon fris├ęs and the adorable Bologneses are promoted as low-shedding. And I won't lie: I like Chihuahuas, too. Honest! But if you get a Chihuahua, make sure you know exactly what you're getting into. I don't know what most owners expect, but Chihuahuas CAN be high-strung and they are by and large one-person dogs, and I think it's the owners who aren't prepared for that and don't socialize their dogs right that give Chis a bad rap! Papillons are another small breed I'm fond of, and they make very pleasant companions; just know that they are quite physically active. And the King Charles Spaniel makes for a very sweet-tempered lap dog.

Lastly, for those who prefer not to sit on either extreme end of the scale, some medium-sized dogs suited to apartment life:

ENGLISH BULLDOG: Friendly, squishy, stubby-limbed, bricked-in-the-face face, what's not to love! These guys are sweethearts AND they're easily trained.

SHAR PEI: Cutest puppies ever, plus these dogs are affectionate and, a bonus, very quiet.

CHOW CHOW: For those who know their way around a dog. Mostly bred as companions these days, they can be a bit willful, but they love their people.

GREYHOUND: You might be surprised, but it's true! In fact, one of the best apartment roomies you'll find is a retired greyhound. Most dogs retire at 3-4, but some will be 2 or younger. They get along with everyone, kids, grandparents and other pets included, and they are little couch potatoes. They're laidback, clean, relaxed, and low-maintenance. You can't ask for a better apartment dog.

STANDARD SCHNAUZER: Recommended by An American in Copenhagen - these guys are also for the dog-savvy, but they're very healthy, trainable, shed very little, don't bark much, and make great family dogs. They're also highly adaptable - and they're calm enough that some are used as therapy dogs. If you've got the time to exercise this robust little dog, he'll make another perfect roomie.

And, before I stop, yes, designer dogs can fare well in apartments too, I'm sure. As long as you're looking for a responsible breeder, I won't tell you not to buy one! Just REMEMBER that you don't always know what you're getting with a muttpuppy. Remember the puggle: Pugs aren't big barkers, but beagles ARE, so it's a bit of a risk to take one home (though training in puppyhood will help). With a designer dog, you've always got to do double the research!

I guess that's all for today. If you've got a breed to add, or if you think my information is wrong, please tell me! I'd like to have a relatively reliable list here. Thanks!


water_bearer said...

The short answer to "Which breeds make the best apartment dogs?" is "All of them and none of them."
It all goes back to researching what the breed was originally bred for, how close today's version is to that older ideal, what the particular breeder you're considering buying from is actually striving for, and which puppy in a particular litter from which you may be choosing comes closest to meeting your needs and wants per your gut feelings AND the input of the (hopefully) honest and knowledgeable breeder.
Yeah, exactly. Quite a bit of research and factors to consider that people like us are well aware of, but that people who would actually purchase a "teacup" anything from a website or go to "Pets r Us" to shop for puppies when they're on sale, don't have enough sense to consider. And the biggest factor of all to consider that even the most well-intentioned future dog owners rarely consider? Themselves. Sure, you may tell yourself that a Viszla is the perfect size and has the perfect level of grooming commitment you're looking for and so because you're totally willing to walk it several times a day and take it to the park to throw a ball, because it'll get enough exercise, it WILL make the perfect pet for your apartment. BUT. Are you REALLY willing, if you were totally honest with yourself, to walk a dog for a half hour, 3-4 times a day, plus get up really early an hour before you have to be up for work, rain or shine, heat wave or blizzard, and go for a jog with your dog straight to the park where you'll throw a tennis ball for him for another 20 minutes, just so that he doesn't find a way to occupy himself for the next 8 hours while you're gone? A lot of people I think like the idea of that, and think it's doable because it doesn't sound like much "on paper" but aren't honest enough with themselves about how much effort THEY are willing to put into the dog.
So... sure a Chow can make a good apartment dog, but that's if your lifestyle means you and your Chow get out a lot when it's young so that it can be properly socialized and you also have a lot of people coming and going in your apt. when you're training your very home protective breed that not everyone who approaches the door is to be eaten. So even the best bred Chow in an apt. situation can be a problem dog who eats your couch AND the pizza delivery boy because you put in the training and socialization effort with him that you would a Lab. And even a "Border Jack" (shudders) can make for a good apt. dog because you jog an hour every morning with the dog, and have a part time job so you can afford the time to do flyball practice with your mutt in the afternoons for competitions on the weekends. And so on.
The only constant I would say in choosing which dogs make good apt. dogs and which don't is that size really doesn't matter. I mean, obviously a hyper bigger dog is more to handle for most people than a hyper little dog, but as far as there being some consistency with size being related to the amount of energy... there really isn't.

an American in Copenhagen said...

Hello—I found your blog through a link on which I read every day. I am reading through all your back posts and loving them…

One you forgot--Standard Schnauzer. Surprisingly unpopular in the US, but you see quite a few of them in Denmark. I see one every day because I own one.

Medium size
Genetically healthy (and strong breed club working hard to keep it that way)
Physically healthy (no short face, no long back, etc)
Active outside--can keep up on your run, or bike, or camping trip
Mellow inside
Great with kids
Brave, curious, outgoing nature
Not excessive barkers, not biters
Rarely suffer from separation anxiety (the independent streak has it’s upside)

Positive or negative depending on your personal preference:
The fur: Wire coat like a terrier—not a shaved one—needs specialist grooming (stripping) about 4 times per year to be maintained or else regular grooming (shaving), about 6 times a year which results in the coat turning soft like a shaved cocker spaniel. The extent and styling of the eyebrows, beard, and furnishings (leg hair) is up to the owner. Either way it’s non-shedding.

Needs daily physical and mental exercise, need 2-3 walks per day preferably with some off leash time (1-1.5 hours total).
Independent/stubborn streak requires a dog-savvy owner who can predict and outsmart their dog and who will stick with basic obedience training even if it gets tough. That said, they need an owner who will settle for good enough and not demand the kind of robotic perfection that you see from border collies on TV.

I hate to harp on the independent/stubborn thing because it's not an overwhelming problem once you overcome it. Schnauzers are not sneaky and if you show them you are a reliable, confident leader they will be reliable, confident partners.

I think Standard Schnauzers fit in well with active, dog-savvy people living anywhere including apartments. We live in Copenhagen and have no problem getting our dog enough exercise but that's because we're active people (and because we live near a lot of parks). Having a smallish, non-shedding breed makes it easier to take him with us when we do active things. The Ford Fiesta, the bike, and the kayak just don't have space for a Weimeraner.

muttpuppiesontrial said...

Thanks so much! I can't believe you take your dog kayaking, that's adorable. :)
You're right, a Schnauzer would make a good apartment dog in the right hands. I'll add to my list. Thanks again!