Best Dogs For Apartments: A How-To Guide

The best dogs for apartments can be dogs of literally any size or breed. Successful apartment living with a dog has to do with one thing: you, the owner. 

Take Shiva and I as an example. He’s a young boxer. We live in a 50 square meter apartment.

When I said I was getting a dog — particularly this athletic, active breed — my family thought I was nuts. “A dog needs a yard,” they said. “Why don’t you wait til you have the space?” 

I didn’t wait. I wasn’t sure I would ever have the space. And you know what? It’s been fine. More than fine.

What are the best breeds of dogs for apartments?

Rather than asking what are the best dogs for small apartments, ask yourself this: can I commit to spending a good deal of my life meeting my dog’s needs? 

Pup won’t be able to pee or poop or run without you getting off your butt and getting him out of the house. No matter what. Every day. 

If your answer is yes, here are 12 tips for successful apartment living with a dog of any breed or size.

1. Tired dogs are the best dogs for apartment living

My city dog gets more exercise than almost any suburban backyard dog I know.

How much exercise does a dog need everyday? This varies by breed, the individual dog and age. 

My dog is 3 years old. On a standard day we walk for an hour to an hour and a half first thing (after coffee!). The same again in the afternoon. We go out for loo breaks of 15-30 minutes in the middle of the day and last thing before bed. So that’s 3-4 hours a day of walking or hanging out outside. 

I realize not everyone’s life can revolve so much around their dog. Just sayin’. Your dog can live happily in an apartment but not if he’s cooped up there 24/7 while you’re out, living your life without him. 

Living in an apartment you can’t just toss the ball or have a play in the backyard for a few minutes here and there. Getting out is an effort you have to make reliably every day. 

Time your walks so your dog is exercised and attended to before he’s left home alone. That way, he’s content and ready for a snooze to pass the time while you’re out — instead of getting up to mischief or stressing. 

When it’s rainy out, find creative ways to exercise your dog indoors. Check out these inside games to stimulate your dog’s mind as well as get him moving around. 

2. Low-key entrances 

This is huge. 

Make comings and goings super low key. Nothing to see here. No big goodbyes and especially no dramatic reunions. 

Avoid revving him up as soon as you get back. Enter quietly, mosey around and put down your bags, maybe change your clothes before you give your dog your attention. 

Shiva doesn’t bat an eyelid when I leave or get overexcited when I come home because I taught him from the start it was no big deal. 

Contrast this with the dog that lives down the hall from me. I know his owner comes home at precisely 6pm each day because that’s when all hell breaks loose. 

The dog yips and yowls and dashes out into the hall and generally goes berserk. The entire floor probably hears the commotion. This is what you don’t want. 

3. Ease into it

If you get your puppy on the weekend and on Monday go out to work as usual for eight hours straight, your puppy will be distressed and you’ll come home to some kind of destruction. 

Start with short absences of just a few minutes, gradually extending the duration. Once pup understands you’ll always come back, all will be well.

Your dog will learn to read the signs that you are about to go out, almost before the thought enters your own mind. But it helps to have a routine and make it as predictable as possible. 

Dogs are like four-legged alarm clocks. They know what’s supposed to happen when. 

Once trained, how long can you leave a dog home alone? This depends on the dog and especially on whether there’s somewhere to go to the toilet indoors. To avoid UTIs you want your dog to have frequent opportunities to pee. The best dogs for condos are healthy dogs. 

4. Something to chew 

You can give your dog a chew as you leave. This way, he learns to associate your absences with something positive, rather than as a deprivation. 

Bully sticks

During teething, bully sticks can help direct your pup’s energies into something other than the rosewood leg of your Danish dining table. 

These ones make a great alternative to rawhide and contain no artificial preservatives, colors or flavors. The chewing action will help keep your dog’s teeth in good shape.

And because I know you’re wondering what bully sticks are made of: they are beef pizzle. What is beef pizzle? Beef penis. 

Just make sure that you’re around by the time your dog gets down to the last little bit, in case you need to remove it before it’s swallowed whole.  

If you prefer, there are alternatives to chews.

I don’t recommend raw meaty bones for when you’re not there to supervise. But how about…

Dog treat dispenser

You can use a dog treat dispenser toy so your dog has to work to extract tasty morsels. 

Snuffle mats 

Snuffle mats for dogs are fantastic. Hide healthy treats inside and your dog will spend the first half hour after you leave engrossed in sniffing them out. Occupied dogs are contented dogs. 

5. A dog cam 

For us, a dog camera has been an important part of how to leave a dog home alone successfully. It’s an especially wonderful aide when you have a dog in an apartment. Does wonders for your peace of mind and for understanding exactly how your dog copes while you’re away. 

Is he jumping on the couch soon as you’re gone? Does he bark for half an hour non-stop? Go ballistic when someone rings the buzzer and you’re not there? Counter surf? 

Most camera apps also let you press a button and talk to your dog, so you can even deliver a well-timed “No!” command when you witness undesirable behaviors. This way you can stamp them out quick-smart, before they become habits.

6. Learn how to dog proof your apartment

Especially when you’re living in a small space with a dog, nothing will stay off-limits for long. 

He will sniff and investigate everything in his environment, both when you’re there and when you’re not. So anything that’s on the ground or within reach if he puts his paws on countertops needs to be harmless. 

Preempt your dog’s curiosity. Leave chairs turned upside down on the couch, put hazardous objects out of reach. The best apartment dogs have no opportunity to rehearse unwanted behaviors. 

Until you know for sure your dog’s proclivities, err on the side of caution by turning off electrical outlets at the wall in chase he chews on a cord. 

Needless to say, invest in a dog proof trash can. 

Keep things clean

Don’t leave food or anything potentially dangerous near the front of the kitchen bench etc. I know dogs of that have swallowed basting brushes and had to have surgery to remove the obstruction, dogs that have eaten trayfuls of meat and ended up with pancreatitis. Don’t let yours become one of them. 

Just as you would with a toddler, do a thorough inspection of every room through the eyes (and nose) of a dog and make it safe. 

By the way, all of this information absolutely doubles as instructions for how to leave a puppy home alone. Ideally all of these steps were part of your new puppy checklist

House plants 

A special note about house plants. Check which ones are toxic to dogs. Many common indoor plants (fiddle leaf figs, for instance) are hazardous if ingested. Having said this, as a puppy my dog once tore a few leaves off my rubber plant (another fig variety that is also said to be toxic to dogs) and gnawed on a leaf and show no ill effects. 

The risk posed by plants doesn’t mean you can’t have your favorite indoor greenery, but it does mean you have to be vigilant and you have to train your dog to find them boring or to know they’re off limits. Be aware this can change. Steroids like prednisone, for instance, make dogs ravenous and when on this drug they may well eat things they previously showed zero interest in.

7. A bed with a waterproof undercover 

Beds with waterproof undercovers are fantastic for eating raw meaty bones inside. The blood and guts is contained and when your dog is done, just zip off the cover and throw it in the wash. 

8. Pee pads 

My floor is polished paint, which has been pretty hard wearing. Carpet is less forgiving of accidents. Once your dog reaches adulthood this will be much less of an issue — except when he’s sick with diarrhea or a UTI. Or when he randomly throws up a chunk of undigested food as dogs will sometimes do. 

Get okay with having a less pristine place. 

Which brings me to the point. Pee pads. They’re indispensable, and a key part of how to leave your dog home alone. 

Ultimately, dogs prefer to pee outside. You will be going downstairs every time he needs to go potty. In the rain, in the cold. It can be wearing. It is relentless. If you’re going to struggle with that, perhaps you’re not ready for a dog.

How often does a dog need to pee? 

Ideally I don’t like to leave my dog without a chance to pee every 3-4 hours. But 6-8 hours may well be fine if he’s asleep the whole time because his metabolism is in a different mode. Overnight he can comfortably go even 12 hours if he’s having a big sleep in. But that amount of time during the day when he’s awake and active would be far too long. 

It depends, of course, on what your dog has recently had to eat and drink. If he gets home from a walk and drinks a gallon he’ll need to pee sooner. Factor in all these things. 

9. Keep an uncluttered space

We’ve had an injured dog tail from wagging and whacking it on a coffee table. Furniture is not very forgiving on soft tissues. Minimalist décor goes nicely with apartment dogs.

Another hazard worth mentioning is dog elbow hygromas

These swellings on the elbows can develop from too much lying on hard surfaces. You can get dog elbow pads for hygromas but it’s easier to avoid them in the first place. Use orthopedic dog beds. Put several beds in different spots where your pup likes to lounge, so that he’s always lying on something soft rather than the floor. 

If you hear clicking when your dog walks on your floorboards or tiles, you know your dog’s nails are too long. How long should dog nails be? They shouldn’t touch the ground when he’s standing up. It’s no cosmetic matter either: long dog nails cause postural problems, so keep on top of it. Here’s an easy way to keep your pup’s nails trimmed

10. Stop barking immediately

Have a zero tolerance policy on barking. Everyone agrees that good dogs for small apartments are quiet dogs. You don’t want to create a nuisance for your neighbors or generate noise complaints. Dogs barking in apartments are seriously annoying. And it’s easier to prevent a dog from barking in the first place than to work out how to stop a dog barking once it becomes habit. However, if you’re doing all the other steps, I bet your dog won’t be barking from boredom or distress while you’re out. 

11. A vantage point 

If there’s a way for your dog to see outside and watch the passing parade, brilliant. Just make sure this doesn’t induce barking at passers by.

Maybe it’s a couch or a chair he’s allowed on. Shiva stands on his back legs and leans on the windowsill to survey his kingdom. Fine when I’m right there, but of course I always close the windows when I go out so there’s no danger, however remote, of him falling out. 

My neighbors sometimes spot Shiva at the window and talk to him from down below. Not something I want to encourage, for safety. 

At our place we also have massive wasps that fly in from time to time. Bees, too. Another reason to close windows when you’re not there. If your apartment gets stuffy when shut up, remember to leave some air conditioning on. 

12. Chill-out music for dogs

The best dogs for apartment life are chilled out dogs. 

You can easily stream some great music for dogs to relax. I like this playlist from concert pianist Lisa Spector, who created the pretty wonderful Through A Dog’s Ear “Music in Shelters” program. These tunes are specifically composed to be calming music for dogs. iCalm is also great music for dogs with anxiety. It has been clinically tested and found to be twice as effective as regular classical music at discouraging anxiety-related behaviors. It’s relaxing listening whether you’re dog or human. You will feel yourself begin to breathe more deeply.

In conclusion: The best dogs for living in an apartment are happy dogs

In many ways it’s been wonderful raising a dog in a tiny space. 

It’s allowed 100 per cent supervision and made puppy training easier than in a larger space where monitoring his every move would have been much more difficult. 

Not to mention apartment living means less exposure to parasites than for an outdoor dog. (Hey, you’ve got to look for the positives, right?) 

While it’s still my dream for Shiva to have a big backyard of his own, there are upsides to this apartment life.

Hopefully by now you can well and truly see that it’s within your power to create a good apartment dog. 

More reading:

The complete new puppy checklist

Mucus in dog’s poop: Why it’s not necessarily a bad sign  

How to teach a dog to heel or loose leash walk