5 Tips for Moving into a Smaller Home with a Dog

Do you live in an apartment or are you moving to one? Here's how to keep dogs in a small space.


Some time ago, I moved from a farm in Scotland to an apartment in Indiana with a dog who had never lived in indoor-only housing. I even thought very hard about adopting him to a friend, but ultimately decided it was better for a rescue dog with multiple behavioral problems to stay with me, even under less-than-ideal circumstances. Ten years later, we have lived together in several different apartment complexes, and here is what I have learned about making a good transition and keeping a dog happy in an apartment.

1. Scrutinize the lease or association rules

Try and get a copy of your lease (or association rules if you are buying) in advance of the day when you plan to sign on the dotted line. If you can’t get a copy in advance, make sure you sit down and read it properly, no matter how long it takes. The agent is probably more interested in getting your signature on the check, so do not accept any verbal assurances from him or her as proven fact.

Make sure you identify all clauses that relate to pets, and there may be more than one. Look for details about pet bond and additional rent, restrictions on dog size or breed (looking for any ambiguous language), and read that language literally. If anything seems ambiguous or open to interpretation get that clarification (e.g. what constitutes a “pit bull type” — you might be surprised) added in writing to the agreement and signed. Make sure that addition is transferred when your lease is renewed and track any changes in the rules.

2. Select an apartment

If you can get an outdoor space at all, go for that option. An apartment others might see as undesirable might be great for a dog, like one on the rear of the building with no good view and a higher flooding risk, but a door that goes directly to the outdoors. (This allowed me to have my dog with access to the outdoors when I was home.) Avoid putting stairs or elevators between you and the outdoors. And even a small balcony is good, so long as it is not one the dog could jump off.

A window with a view might seem nice but it can set off persistent barking in some dogs, so a view of a less trafficked area might be preferable. Ask to see all available options and think carefully about how any difference between them might affect your dog. If possible take the dog along for the viewing.

3. Meet the neighbors

It is always good to be on friendly terms with the neighbors. Focus on those that live near you, are home during the day, or have dogs. Makes sure some of these neighbors have your cell phone number. If something goes wrong with your dog, you want them calling you rather than the association or management company.

For example in my most recent move, my dog did some barking during the day. But he could tell I was approaching, and stopped before I could hear him. I would never have known if my neighbor had not told me. This allowed me to make some improvements, get a daytime dog walker, and give my dog time to settle into his new routine before I was in danger of getting evicted for creating a noise problem.

Dog-owning neighbors will be able to tell you about hazards like the “no dog” zone where the sign was stolen, the shrubbery where the family of skunks lives, or the other neighbor with the aggressive dog who walks early in the morning to avoid other dog owners — as well as useful tips like the nearest off-leash area and trustworthy providers of grooming, pet sitting, or walking.

4. Make a dog zone (or three)

Even though an apartment is small there need to be areas that “belong” to the dog. Rather than just deciding where these should be I suggest getting in the main furniture and looking at what areas the dog chooses to sit or rest. Dogs can be like Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory. They have their own idea about what the perfect spot is. Often one that is a bit out of the way, but where they can still keep an eye on what you are doing. If the spot is in an inconvenient place, it may be easier to move the furniture around a bit to move the dogs preference than to get them to use a place they don’t really like. Most dogs will have several “spots” around the apartment that they move to throughout the day.

5. Neighbors can be a noncontact sport

An apartment building is like a small village in a concentrated area. You can find some great friends but there will also be the awkward and unreasonable people. If any of your neighbors fear or dislike dogs you need to give them a lot of space. You might be used to opening the door and letting the dogs go out first. In an apartment, it is a good idea for you to go out first and make sure the dog-hating neighbor is not passing your door right at that moment.

If your association or management company starts to become more hostile to dogs, make you go over the top with responsible behavior, poop collection, hygiene, good leash behavior — so that they have no excuse to cause you any trouble. If you are an owner it can be worth your trouble to get on the association board, or get to know someone who is. That way you will have advance notice of any suggested new pet regulations that might adversely affect your dog.

If you have any more tips about apartment living with dogs please share them below!

About the author: Emily Kane is a New Zealand-born animal behaviorist of the throw-back radical behaviorist type, albeit with a holistic-yuppie-feminist-slacker twist. She spent many years as an animal behavior researcher and is now more of an indoor paper-pushing researcher. Her early dog-related education came from Jess the Afghan Hound and Border Collies Bandit and Tam. It is now being continued by her own dogs and extended dog family and some cats (and her three aquatic snails Gala, Granny, and Pippin — they think of themselves as dog-esque)

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