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I was so excited to move into my first apartment with Matilda and Cow… and so, so guilty.

The move seemed like it would only be for my benefit. I was excited for the freedom, but in return, my dogs would no longer have access to a big, beautiful, fenced-in yard.

It seemed so unfair to them.

Five months later, though, I realized that Matilda and Cow have been thriving as apartment dogs. This has actually been one of the greatest opportunities of their life.

So, if you’re feeling the same way – worried that your dog will be experiencing a huge downgrade – you, too, will be relieved to find that your dog is going to adjust wonderfully.

Choosing The Right Apartment

First, choose a pet-friendly apartment if you can, even though it is possible to have your dog in a no-pets apartment with an emotional service animal note from a mental health provider (if you do, of course, actually need your dog to support your mental health), you can live anywhere with your dog and not pay a pet deposit.

Even if your dog is an ESA, a pet-friendly building, may have amenities like a dog park, or even just more grassy areas, more so even than a complex that allows pets, but isn’t pet-friendly.

Ask if there is a ground floor unit available. This makes potty breaks so much easier – just walk out the front door or patio, and you’re outside.

A ground floor unit is also better if you’re concerned about noise complaints. You don’t have to worry about stomping on your downstairs neighbor’s ceiling every time you play with your dog.

A carpeted unit can also help muffle the sounds of your dog running around and barking. If you have bare floors, you can always get area rugs. Rugs also provide traction to help keep your dog from slipping, especially if she likes to jump up on furniture.

Why Apartment Dogs Can Get More Exercise Than House Dogs

The biggest thing you’re probably worrying about is that your dog is no longer going to get enough exercise. How can she, now that she’s no longer going to have a yard?

For us, apartment life means more exercise – for all of us.

It’s easy to get a little lazy when you have access to a fenced in yard. You can let the dogs out so easily. Weeks went by in which my dogs didn’t go for walks at all.

Going out for potty walks 3-4 times per day means that we are all getting exercise. According to my exercise tracker on my phone, we walk at least one mile, total, per day when I’m feeling really lazy or too busy to go for true exercise walks.

When the weather is nice, though, our midday walk is usually long. We may walk up to four miles at a time.

On those long-walk days, I’ve noticed a huge difference in their behavior. They’re happier and more relaxed. They really do need that quality time and that structured exercise.

Another perk, now that we have to go for more walks, Matilda and Cow are getting more socialized. We missed their early puppyhood window for socialization, so they are wary of people, but lately, they’ve started to be less and less shy. They’re still not entirely friendly, but the difference in their confidence has been remarkable.

Exercise On Rainy and Snowy Days

We moved in the middle of snowstorm season. I hate cold weather, but I was surprisingly happy to go for long walks if I was wearing my coat, hat and scarf.

When it’s rainy, the dogs want to go potty and then get back inside as quickly as possible.

So, I do have to find ways to entertain them indoors. I should have been doing this anyway when we had a yard, but living in an apartment made me more acutely aware of their needs.

Hide and seek is a really fun game, and even if your apartment is small, you can find creative ways to hide. Your dog won’t really mind if you choose the same hiding spots over and over. It’s also perfectly fine if you hide under a blanket in the middle of the room.

A dog treadmill can keep your dog in shape if you’re able to invest in one.

You could also just use a people treadmill, just be sure to start slow, use a harness, and stop before you think your dog is getting tired. Your dog should run on the treadmill because it’s fun, not for a fear of falling off.

I personally haven’t used a treadmill with my dogs. I don’t think they would enjoy running without scenery and interesting smells. However, if you motivate your dog with lickable treats (like a bit of peanut butter or coconut oil) between short, easy sprints, she might enjoy it.

Another thing we like to do on rainy days is enjoy a nice raw meaty bone. It might not sound like exercise, but a big recreational bone will actually have your dog working her jaw, neck and shoulders in a way that will wear her out.

Of course, just tossing around some toys for some free play is a simple, easy way to get your dog moving. Dogs tend to only pay attention to their toys when we interact with them.

How Often Does My Dog Need To Go For Potty Walks?

Another big concern I had when moving from a house with a yard to an apartment was potty breaks. How on earth was I going to take my dogs out so many times every day?

I actually found that only three to four walks works just fine for us. We go out around 10 AM after they’ve digested their breakfast. Then, we’ll go out for our long midday walk around 3-4 PM. Finally, we’ll go out one or two more times, around 8-11 PM.

Even though it doesn’t sound like much, Matilda and Cow often go potty multiple times on a long walk. They just don’t seem to need more walks than this.

If your dog is under a year old, has accidents, or has any kind of health issue, they might need more walks. If your dog needs help communicating when she needs to go out, you can train her to use potty bells, or the quieter, neighbor-friendly Paws2Go.

Indoor Potty Solutions

I actually bought a Wee-Wee Patch fake grass potty tray for Matilda and Cow. For us, it was a total waste of money. Matilda HATES the feeling of the fake grass beneath her paws. Cow just isn’t trained to go potty inside, so she’s never going to use anything like that.

I may go for a more natural indoor potty solution this coming winter if it feels necessary.

However, Matilda surprised me by refusing to use potty pads of any kind. She only had one accident, a poop, and that was my fault – I was feeling sick, and slept for hours instead of taking her out. Even though she was, of course, not reprimanded for that poop, she’s continued to go outside flawlessly since then.

I believe Matilda prefers going outside to using any sort of indoor potty pad because she loves to mark. She lifts her leg on everything. She would rather hold it to wait for an opportunity to leave her scent outdoors.

This is why it’s so important to let your dog sniff on walks. Don’t worry about a perfect heel all of the time. If walks are fun and engaging, your dog may too refuse to use potty pads.

If you choose to go with potty pads or any other indoor toilet, just make sure it’s something you’re happy with. Carefully choose a location that is out of the way, and use something that isn’t going to make your home smell bad. High quality, absorbent puppy pads might work for this.

If you have a patio, you may want to put the potty pad or patch out there.

Help! My Neighbors Are Complaining About My Dog Barking

A former house dog may need time to adjust to the sounds of other tenants walking around the building. It took a few months for Matilda and Cow to figure out that they don’t have to bark every time our neighbors open or close their door.

In the meantime, you can drown out environmental sounds by playing soft, calming music like jazz (we’re partial to Norah Jones around here,) or by keeping a fan going.

Excessive barking can be caused by stress and boredom. Free play can help your dog feel more relaxed in their apartment, and help them communicate with you when they’re feeling uncertain, rather than overreacting to every noise.

Dogs bark. You need your dog to bark sometimes because if your home is ever invaded, your dog will be both an alarm and a deterrent. Yes, even a Chihuahua – they were bred to be watch dogs. Not to be confused with guard dogs, which actually attack intruders – just watch dogs, who act as guardians that alert you to danger.

When you’re home, you can get your dog to stop barking with a simple “quiet” command. I often just whistle, and occasionally offer up a treat when my dogs stop barking. That’s sufficient to communicate, “Thanks, crisis averted, no further barking is needed.”

Separation Anxiety Barking

If your dog is barking while you’re not home, consider setting up a camera to observe her behavioral patterns.

You can use a specialized pet camera that gives your dog treats, or even plays with them – or, you can simply use an old smartphone connected to your home WiFi to Facetime or Skype your dog while you’re out. You can also just record video and watch it when you get home.

There are many ways you can reduce lonely barking when you’re not home. I find the absolute best way to do it is to go for a long walk. Get your dog so tired that she sleeps the whole time you’re gone.

You can also try using CBD oil to help your dog relax.

I don’t recommend using long-lasting chews or bones, as any kind can cause choking, intestinal blockages, or fractured teeth, especially when your dog is unsupervised.

You can, however, safely fill a Kong with your dog’s regular meal, soaked food or treats, fruit/veggie puree, yogurt, or any combination of these foods to keep your dog busy. You can even freeze it to make it last longer.

Music is scientifically proven to be calming to dogs, and can muffle out noises while you’re out.

You may also want to keep your dog away from any windows or other sources of stress. A cozy, covered crate will make your dog want to nap, rather than pace and cry while waiting for you to return.

As for your neighbors, you may want to communicate with them before you move in or shortly after. Let them know that some barking is to be expected, and if they need to get in touch with you, they can have your phone number or email address. It’s better for them to be able to communicate with you than feel the need to go directly to your landlord.

Alternatives To A Fenced-In Yard

Just because your dog no longer has a yard, does not mean she will never again roam free.

You’ll still want to obey leash laws, even if she’s recall trained. Wildlife, other dogs, cars and toxic plants can all harm even the best-trained dog. And, of course, those off-leash dog fines can be super expensive, ranging from $50 to $500.

I like to go to dog parks on weekdays because I’m lucky enough to work from home. Matilda and Cow can handle 1-2 dogs, but a crowd would be overwhelming and possibly dangerous.

If you work regular shifts, you can go to the dog park before work or on your lunch break. Google Maps can sometimes show you the peak times so you can go when there’s not many people around.

Sometimes, you can get away with using a long line in a field, or letting your dog play in a fenced-in school yard or tennis court, though you’ll need to obey any posted signs – and even then, you may be told to stop.

You can also rent someone else’s yard on the app Sniffspot.

Adjusting To Apartment Life With Your Dog is Hard… But Worth It

The first few weeks of living in an apartment with my dogs was not easy. But it does get easier.

Hang in there. If you’re considering rehoming your dog, please exhaust every other possible solution. You may need a professional trainer. Your dog might need doggy daycare, or a dog walker, or some other kind of support.

Maybe you just need someone to talk to. If you’re having trouble adjusting, feel free to leave a comment. It’s okay to vent, and it’s okay to get frustrated sometimes. If you can get through the adjustment period, you’ll find that having a dog can make apartment living so much better.

Lindsay Pevny
Lindsay Pevny lives to help pet parents make the very best choices for their pets by providing actionable, science-based training and care tips and insightful pet product reviews.

She also uses her pet copywriting business to make sure the best pet products and services get found online through catchy copy and fun, informative blog posts. She also provides product description writing services for ecommerce companies.

As a dog mom to Matilda and Cow, she spends most of her days taking long walks and practicing new tricks, and most nights trying to make the best of a very modest portion of her bed.

You'll also find her baking bread and making homemade pizza, laughing, painting and shopping.