The Best Apartment Dogs for Your Lifestyle

So you live in an apartment, but you’re searching for a furry friend to share your life with. What breed is best for your smaller space? And how are you going to hide your new dog from your landlord?

We can’t help you with the second question (hopefully you’ve found a pup-friendly place), but we can definitely answer the first.

When an apartment dwelling first-time dog owner googles this question, they can be bombarded with hundreds of long lists of breeds, each entry usually consisting of a cute photo and all the important considerations that can fit into a 240 character limit.

But what makes a good apartment dog, really? And can any dog be a great flatmate with the right kind of training?

The answer, of course, is yes and no. A dog is most certainly a product of their owner’s training, and you’d be surprised how many breeds will happily live in a small space when you make a conscious effort to meet their needs.

However, different breeds are going to learn different things at different rates. Because of this, the most important thing to think about when choosing an apartment dog is your lifestyle.

We’ll get to how to choose a puppy based on your own behaviour, but first, let’s get some basics out of the way.

Nature vs nurture: Breeds and their quirks

With careful and consistent training, any dog can become a happy and obedient member of a pack, and many breeds have an undeserved poor reputation.

Just ask any devoted pit bull owner, and you’ll be treated to a (usually quite long and somewhat frustrated) explanation of how a buddy bred for fighting can become a loving family companion.

But humans have been breeding dogs for millennia, and some traits are difficult to dissipate. Jack and Wendy Volard, veteran trainers and authors of Dog Training for Dummies, counsel owners who run into training roadblocks to think about whether a dog was bred for the behaviour you’re trying to instill or remove.

If your pup has been bred for hunting, it’s going to take some time to correct a tendency to chase after squirrels!

In the Volard’s view, there are three types of drives harnessed and developed by dog breeders:

The Prey Drive: This governs different behaviours involved with hunting and eating. Prey-drive behaviours include biting, jumping, pouncing, digging and high-pitched barking. Hounds, retrievers and terriers have all been bred to enhance their prey drive, and it might take some time for them to learn to keep quiet and stay off the couch.

The Defence Drive: This is all to do with guarding behaviours. Defence drive behaviours include touch aversion, growling, hackling, guarding toys and food, or blocking doors and objects. German Shepherds, Rottweilers and Dobermans have all been bred to enhance their defence drive, and it could take a while to get them comfortable with strangers or cool with crowds.

The Pack Drive:  Pack drive behaviours are all to do with socialising, reproducing and following the rules, and these are generally behaviours you want to encourage in your dogs. Play, a desire for physical contact, and submission are all pack drive behaviours.

Sounds wonderful, right? Maybe not!

Dogs bred for high pack drive behaviours are often quite prone to separation anxiety. Toy dogs and breeds such as pugs and King Charles Spaniels were bred for their pack drive -- and it’s going to take quite a bit of training to get them comfortable with being left alone.

FINAL THOUGHT
Your training is responsible for your pup’s behaviour -- but you’ll need to work harder on certain areas with certain breeds.

Size doesn’t matter (or at least not as much as you think)

Let’s state the obvious: you can’t keep a Newfoundland in a studio (for the sake of your belongings if nothing else -- those wagging tails can clear a coffee table in two seconds flat). But it’s unfortunate that many letting agents and landlords set a breed size restriction, because some larger dogs can do very well in small spaces, and some smaller breeds just aren’t suitable for certain kinds of owners.

The most important thing is to avoid what is commonly known as Small Dog Syndrome. Shi Tzus and Chihuahuas are sometimes slandered as yappy holy horrors, but this is usually due to a misconception among owners that small pups don’t need as much training as their larger brothers and sisters. Make no mistake -- your puppy may be kitten sized, but they are definitely not a cat. A Maltese needs as much training as a Doberman, but you’ll need to focus on removing or enhancing different behaviours.

FINAL THOUGHT
While some breeds might just be physically too large for a small space, size should not be your sole consideration.

So what should you be taking into account when choosing the perfect pup for you? Here are some of the questions you should be asking yourself.

How much time do you have to train?

Here’s something that almost no-one tells new pet owners -- it will take longer to train a dog if you live in an apartment than it would if you had a backyard.

This is particularly true when it comes to toilet training. Unless you’re prepared to spend hours of your life running up and down stairs, you’re probably going to need to teach your puppy to use pee-pads or grass mats, as well as to let it all go outside. That’s two different commands for your puppy to get down, and that’s a lot to take in when they’re so little!

Toilet training is the most obvious thing you’ll need to spend more time on, but it’s definitely not the only one. It’s likely that leash training will take a while longer if you need to go to the park for lessons, and recall commands can prove a challenge if the apartment is small enough.

If you don’t have a lot of time to train, some companion breeds won’t be suitable for you, as these dogs are not bred for intelligence. King Charles Spaniels are often listed as one of the best apartment pups out there, but they are, to put it very charitably, not the brightest buttons in the box, and they’ll take longer to pick up commands.

Daschunds, another highly recommended apartment breed, are very intelligent, as are terriers and miniature pinschers. However, greater intelligence often comes with a greater need for stimulation. Hunters in general are quite bright, but you’ll need to put more effort into training out unsuitable prey drive behaviours.

Daschunds, greyhounds and terriers are all a good bet for people who don’t have a lot of time to train.

FINAL THOUGHT
Looking for more toilet training tips? Check out our Toilet Training Guide.

What kind of exercise can you offer?

Almost all apartment dwellers in search of a pup do take exercise time into consideration when choosing their dog, but the quality of exercise is just as important as the quantity.

As the proud owner of a wonderful whippet, I am most certainly biased, but greyhounds, lurchers and whippets do make great apartment dogs for owners who don’t have a lot of time to exercise. I call Joe the Whippet the hundred-mile-an-hour couch potato. When I take Joe’s leash off, he generally proceeds straight to the sofa, which he then flops on to like a Victorian lady swooning on to her fainting couch. He’ll probably stay there for the rest of the evening, perhaps taking it into his head to play with his toy kangaroo in a few hours if he feels like it (yes, I bought Joe a joey, because I am ridiculous).

This is not because Joe is a diva (though during training he did have his moments) but because whippets, greyhounds and lurchers are all bred for speed, not distance. Forty-five minutes to an hour of exercise and all they want to do is cuddle for the rest of the day.

So are whippets the way to go when you’re pressed for time? Not so fast! Joe and his skinny cousins need a small amount of very high-intensity exercise. If I didn’t live close to an area where I could let him lose his leash, Joe would be a very unhappy pup. A short walk around the block just won’t do it -- they need to run.

If you don’t have a nearby place where your furry friend can run free, consider getting a French Bulldog. These adorable lumps are satisfied with a brisk walk around the neighbourhood per day. However, keep in mind that they are a companion breed, and are likely to need a lot of time and attention.

Do you lead a fairly active lifestyle? If you take your buddy on a ten-mile hike every weekend, you might be able to get away with shorter weekday walks.

Whippets, greyhounds and lurchers don’t need a lot of time to exercise, but it needs to be intense. French Bulldogs and daschunds can do with a moderate amount of low intensity exercise.

FINAL THOUGHT
The quality of exercise is as important as the quantity. Think about what kind of parks and facilities you have in your area before you decide on a breed.

How thick are your walls?

Here’s the thing -- most puppies are going to bark. This is because they’re trying to alert you to danger, and, well, they haven’t learned which things are dangerous yet. The sound of a car door closing could set them off, because it’s loud and new and scary!

When you’re sharing a wall, floor and ceiling with your neighbours, this can quickly become a problem. Fortunately, barking is one of the easier things to train out of your pup! You just need to show them that what they’re barking at is nothing to worry about. Online training expert Doggy Dan has a Three Bark Rule:

  1. For the first bark, simply look at whatever the puppy is looking at, then look away.
  2. For the second bark, walk over to where the puppy is looking, and then move away.
  3. For the third bark, put your pup into a time-out or isolation.

Keep calm all the while to show your pup that the situation is under control. They’ll soon get the message!

But of course, hunters such as terriers and beagles are more likely to bark, and there’s likely only so much your neighbours can take before your puppy stops the behaviour.

I do feel that I need to offer a strong defence on behalf of the much-maligned Yorkshire terrier. Yes, they are terrible barkers, but they’re also very smart and can pick up training quickly.

FINAL THOUGHT
For more on barking and Doggy Dan’s methods, check out our Puppy Training Guide.

Companion dogs are more likely to bark for attention. Which brings us neatly to...

Are you away for most of the day?

Bichon Frise, French Bulldogs, King Charles Spaniels and Havanese all exhibit strong pack drives. While they’re less prone to destructive behaviour, they are more prone to separation anxiety.

Being alone is not a natural state of being for a pack animal, and this goes double for companion breeds.

You can train separation anxiety out of a dog. Cesar Milan, the Dog Whisperer, suggests doing this by building up to separation slowly, starting with a few minutes at a time. You can also drain your puppy’s energy with intense play before you leave, or use a white noise machine or pheromone dispenser to calm them down.

But on the first few long separations, your puppy may cry or bark, and this can be difficult for your neighbours to deal with. Not only that, but you won’t be there to deal with the behaviour.

Doggy daycare is another option, but apartment dwellers who work long hours should think very carefully before getting a companion breed.

FINAL THOUGHT
Anxious about separation anxiety? Take a look at our Separation Anxiety Guide.

Are there breeds that should never be kept in an apartment?

Think very carefully before getting a collie or other herding dog. They’re bred to patrol large areas, and often don’t do well in small spaces.

FAQ -Best Apartment Dogs

What breed of dog can be left alone during the day?

Hunters take particularly well to being left alone during the day. Terriers are quite happy to have some alone time -- they were bred to work by themselves catching rats and other small creatures, and have a strong independent streak!

Can labs be apartment dogs?

Labs are very obedient, but they have strong prey and pack drives. This means that they require a lot of exercise and a lot of attention. If you spend a lot of time at home and are prepared for lots of walks, they can do well in apartments.

Do Great Danes make good apartment dogs?

Absolutely! Great Danes require only thirty-to-sixty minutes of relatively brisk exercise a day, otherwise, they are notoriously lazy. They have a low-to-medium pack drive and are happy enough left alone, and they are very quick to train. Truly proof that size doesn’t matter (too much)!

Are bloodhounds good apartment dogs?

Bloodhounds have a very high prey drive and require a lot of exercise. You may be able to keep a bloodhound in your apartment if you have a very active lifestyle. They also require a lot of stimulation. One thing to keep in mind is that bloodhounds have a very… distinctive smell, which could be problematic in close quarters.

The Wrap Up

So now you know -- the best breed for an apartment dog all depends on you, and it’s important to take an honest inventory of your lifestyle before you chose your pet. Want to know more about the breed for you? Check out our detailed Dog Breed Guides.

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