Comfort Works


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Can you really keep a big dog in a small apartment?

… yes you can! If you’re a city dweller or live in a tiny house, you know how tricky it is to keep a large dog happy and calm in a small space. The bigger your dog, the harder it can be to meet everyone’s needs – owners’ and dog’s! If you do not keep a healthy balance of exercise, enrichment and rest times, your dog can become a big problem.

However, with the right setup you can keep even giant dogs in tiny apartments. We spoke to SpiritDog Training founder Steffi Trott to get her ground rules for keeping a big dog in a small apartment. 

Steffi Trott. Image credit: SpiritDog Training

Schedule is everything

“One of the biggest mistakes I see owners make all the time is that they do not have a set schedule for their dog. In my career as a professional dog trainer, nearly every dog with behavioural problems I have met did not have a schedule – and every dog who was well-behaved had a good schedule.

“Your dog needs to know what to expect when. If you sometimes walk him first thing in the morning, sometime you walk him at night and sometimes not at all, he will always be on edge. Your dog has to be able to predict what is happening when. This does not just apply to activities but also to rest times! Set nap times will allow your dog to regulate his excitement and settle nicely when it is time to sleep.”

Playtime is for outside

“If your dog likes to play wildly, this should be reserved for outside. A Great Dane tearing around a small apartment is a recipe for disaster. Dogs can absolutely learn that certain games only happen in certain places – in your case, outside. You should establish this rule already when your dog is a puppy. That way he will grow up to understand that inside he rests, and outside he plays.”

Grooming is crucial

“The smaller your apartment, the more rapidly dog hair will accumulate! Especially with a long-coated dog it is crucial that you stay on top of your dog’s grooming and brushing needs. If you own a heavily shedding breed such as a Husky, you should brush your dog every single day. Do not skip out on this or every inch of your apartment will soon be covered in dog hair!”

Image credit: Leonardo Baldissara/Unsplash

Ditch the bowl

“One of the challenges of keeping a large dog in a small space can be occupying his mind and body even when the weather outside makes walks impossible. Food puzzles and brain games are a fantastic way to do this.

“You should generally try to feed your dog out of a food bowl as rarely as possible – every meal is an opportunity to challenge your dog’s mind and let him work a bit! Many dogs do really well once owners completely ditch the food bowl and only feed their dogs out of puzzles. Especially for a high-energy breed such as a German Shepherd this is a great way to manage the dog’s need for mental challenges.”

Have a quiet space

“Your dog should have a resting space in your apartment where nobody bothers him. If you have small kids or other pets such as cats, make sure that they do not disturb the dog when he is napping in his quiet space. Such a space can be a crate, but also a comfy dog bed or an exercise pen. You should introduce your dog to sleeping there early on to establish this habit. If you give your dog a chew toy or bone in his quiet space, you can quickly have him form a very positive connection.”

Practice good door manners

“Large dogs dashing out of doors of small apartments are a recipe for disaster! You should practice great door manners as early on as possible. Teach your dog to not race out the front door as soon as you open it. Your dog should also learn to politely greet visitors and to not jump up or bark at delivery people. Great door manners are a result of consistent training – the better you work on it, the faster your dog will learn how to be well-behaved when people come over.”

The bottom line

“Successfully keeping a large dog in a small apartment comes down to consistency in your daily schedule, grooming and training. Teach your dog important skills when he is still a young puppy, such as great door manners or that playing is for outside only. If you keep up with your schedule and routine, it is absolutely possible to have even giant dogs in tiny apartments.”

Steffi Trott is the owner and founder of SpiritDog Training, an online dog training resource. She teaches thousands of dog owners through online classes and seminars all over the world.