How to take care of a small dog in an apartment?
December 3, 2010 2:08 PM   Subscribe

I suddenly have a small dog. How to take care of a small dog in an apartment in the city? Should I even attempt this?

Long story short, I suddenly found myself in the care of the small family dog. My family relocated and due to a lot of unforeseen circumstances due to transportation that I won't get into, they couldn't take him. I was left with him, with the understanding that I would take him to the shelter. I decided to take him home to my apartment in the city instead, with hopes I'll get him back to my family in the near future. I now realize I have no idea what I got myself into, and am looking for advice.

The dog is a 2-year-old terrier mix, and not terribly well trained (we got him from an animal shelter about a year ago). He sometimes has the tendency to chew carpet/furniture, and sometimes goes to the bathroom indoors. When he was with my family, there was usually someone home (he likes to be around people), or if people are gone for a few hours, he was put in a kennel, which was fine.

I have little clue on how to take care of a dog in an apartment, or whether I even should. I work 9-5, but only a few blocks away, so I can check up on him a few times a day if need be. I have hardwood floors and no important/expensive furniture. I live in an apartment with other people, but they are ok with the idea, for the time being, with the understanding that I will mostly keep him in my room. I have no kennel, so I tied him on a leash to my bedpost, with a cushion, food, a chew toy, and water nearby. I am fine with walking him/spending time with him when I am home in the evenings. We have a nice big park nearby. Nobody else is around during the day, except one roommate how likes to come home for lunch and my dog seems to bark a lot when she does.

I have two main concerns:
1. Is this a good idea? I can't help but think that the part of me that wants to make this work is from a selfish perspective... I want to take care of a pet, and I want to let this pet stay in my family. They were quite sad to leave him behind. However, if I take him back to the animal shelter, he is guaranteed a spot forever, and maybe another nice family will adopt him, which doesn't seem like a bad deal either. Will he be ok with me in my apartment for at least a month (possibly more) or should I just suck it up and give him away because that's what's best for him?

2. If I do keep him, how to I best take care of him in this new situation? Is he ok on the leash in my room? Should I turn on a radio? How often should I visit him? What should I do when I visit (walk? give treats?) Is there anything else I should give him in his space? What is the best way to take care of a dog in a small apartment when I am working? How to I help my dog stop barking every time other roommates are in the apartment making noise when I'm not home?

Thanks in advance. As a note, I cannot afford a dog hotel or anything that costs a lot of money, so I don't need ideas for other scenarios. Please assume that my only options are to take care of him right now by myself, or taking him to the shelter.
posted by lacedcoffee to Pets & Animals (23 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Please assume that my only options are to take care of him right now by myself, or taking him to the shelter.

Wait, why? Why can't you also offer him on Craigslist to somebody who might want him?
posted by The ____ of Justice at 2:19 PM on December 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Because I need answers specifically addressing "Is it a good idea to keep a dog in an apartment in the city" and "If so, how do I go about this?"

I'm leaving out some details that make other scenarios less promising, because I only want to focus on these questions. I have thought of other things, but have decided that these two may be the best routes.
posted by lacedcoffee at 2:23 PM on December 3, 2010

I have city apartment dwelling friends that have had dogs. They took the dog for walks before leaving for work, and soon after returning home. They kept the dog either crated or in a carpetted room with a talk radio station playing while they were away. They talked to the neighbours on a regular basis, to make sure the dog wasn't going crazy while they were away. Loads of people have pets in an apartment.

Do you have the ability to take the dog to the vet if it gets ill/hurt? Does your family mind you keeping the dog for now? I am a sucker for animals, and would have done the same thing in your shoes.
posted by kellyblah at 2:33 PM on December 3, 2010

Consider crate-training your dog, leaving him in the crate in your room during the workday, with either you, a friend, or a dog-walker giving him a walk around lunchtime. (Crate-training tends to help with this form of mild housebreaking; it is easier to teach the dog not to pee in his crate than not to pee anywhere in your room.)

Many many people raise small dogs in small city apartments.
posted by willbaude at 2:36 PM on December 3, 2010 [2 favorites]

Don't bring him to the shelter if there's any way to avoid it. Especially if you are only talking about a month, and then he goes back to the family. There is no guarantee that he will find a home, and even if he deos find a home, it may not be permanent and he may end up back in a shelter over and over until he has become so badly behaved no one wants him anymore.

He will absolutely be okay under the circumstances you describe for a couple months or even more. Here is what I suggest:

Get a kennel. You can find one for less than $50 on Craigslist if you watch for one. A kennel will make the dog feel safer and be more prone to sleeping while you are gone, instead of being anxious and bored and confused, which will lead to him barking during the day and being hyper in the evenings. He could also find a way to choke himself on his leash. Trust me, he can.

Get into a routine. Come home for lunch every day and take him on a short walk. If he knows what to expect, he will again be calmer, and will also be less likely to have an accident in the house. Make sure to lavishly praise him when he goes potty outside/on your walk. Take him on a longer walk (30 mins plus) in the evenings. This should be sufficient exercize for a medium sized dog.

Spend 15 minutes every evening working on his training - sit, down, stay, come, etc. You can find plenty of articles online describing how to do this. This will be fun for both of you, and good for his mental health.

Let him sleep with you. He will be happier and bond to you and be more inclined to follow your directions. You will also love him more and be more inclined to forgive his transgressions and be patient with him.

I really don't think this situation sounds bad at all. You are doing the right thing, and the dog will be fine, and there will be a happy ending.
posted by ohsnapdragon at 2:37 PM on December 3, 2010

I have a dog in a small apartment. It's not impossible. If the dog is confined to your room, I wouldn't tie him up. Make sure to walk him before you leave for the day. I walk my dog briskly for a half hour. If you can come home for lunch and take him out to pee that would be awesome. Also, don't leave food out all day. Just feed once in the AM and once in the PM. It will help get him on a schedule so accidents in the house are less likely to happen. Then, when you get home from work exercise him some more. We go to the dog park for about an hour. You could walk him, play fetch, play tug, etc. . .Just give him physical and mental stimulation to tire him out. Then, feed and quick potty break before bed.

Another thought about having him in your room: have you considered a baby gate across your door? It might help doggie not bark when roommates come and go because he can see them.

Last thought: some basic training is good mental exercise and has the bonus effect of helping doggie be better behaved in the house so he can have more freedom. Good luck! I have a VERY active 45 lb dog in a 600 sq ft apt. Its doable.

On preview: crate training is a great idea too.
posted by rachums at 2:38 PM on December 3, 2010

It's an OK idea. Many many people do this. Many of them are hopefully better prepared for this than you are, but city dogs of all sizes are fine in apartments, from small terriers to Great Danes.

Some pointers:

1/ You need to house train the dog, pronto. House training is about helping the dog to form a habit. The habit we want is never ever indoors and only ever outdoors. Therefore, you help the dog form the habit of going outside by taking the dog out regularly and then praising her when she goes, followed by a treat.

With a puppy, this is hourly for absolute ages. With a full grown dog, this is hourly until he goes and then every two hours until you have 48 hours of no accidents. Then three hours, etc.

Unfortunately, dogs need to pee on waking and after play. That means that during training, the dog pees before you do. Wake up, put on a coat, pick up the dog, race downstairs, on the ground, pee, treat.

2/ You may wish to crate the dog when you are not home. This will confine it and avoid destruction while you are gone.

3/ Chewing should not be allowed to happen. A dog who chews is bored, anxious, poorly trained or poorly supervise. While you're sorting out those issues, a dog who cannot be trusted should NEVER be left alone. This is true for peeing and for chewing. If the dog is a wandeder, tether the dog to you on a long lead or some clothes line.

4/ A good dog is a tired dog. Park. Balls. Fetch. Toys. Kong. Booda Bone. Walks! Daily.

5/ If you cannot afford many dog expenses, you cannot afford a vetirinary emergency. You will have one. Get pet insurance. It's cheap cheap cheap and you need need need it.

6/ 90% of the time, a dog being bad is actually the human's fault. Owning a dog requires radical behaviour adjustment and responsibility on your part. It is hard but rewarding!
posted by DarlingBri at 2:41 PM on December 3, 2010 [3 favorites]

Ah yes, the word I was looking for was crate. He is crate trained but I do not have a crate right now. I didn't know the purpose of it, which is why I tried to simulated it by tying him to my bedpost. Is the leash a bad idea? A crate is much better? If I get one, is that the same one I can eventually use to transport him as cargo (or whatever the official term is) on the airplane? Sorry, I am so clueless about this.
posted by lacedcoffee at 2:42 PM on December 3, 2010

Is it a good idea to keep a dog in an apartment in the city?

Sure. We've been doing it for years and we know lots of other people doing the same. And with much larger dogs than yours.

If so, how do I go about this?
  • Get a crate or kennel. He's used to that so that should make the transition to a new home easier.
  • Take some dog training classes. On top of all the reasons that you should, it'll help the two of you to get to know each other.
  • Have fun. Don't worry. And keep a sense of humor when things go a little off the rails.

posted by timeistight at 2:43 PM on December 3, 2010

millions of people in new york city have happy dogs of all sizes in their tiny apartments. you can do it too! dogs love routines, so the most important one is to establish one right away—take the dog for a walk before you leave for work, maybe one during your lunch break if you can go home for lunch, and one either after work or before you go to sleep. since he's already used to being in a kennel while alone, get him one for him to stay in instead of leaving him leashed to your bed; it's safer and more comfortable for him to be in the kennel.

How to I help my dog stop barking every time other roommates are in the apartment making noise when I'm not home?

i have no real advice on this point, i just find it bizarre that you live with people who refuse to interact with a small cute dog when you're not home, especially one that's barking and probably distressed from being in a new environment and situation. i mean, seriously, what's wrong with them?
posted by lia at 2:45 PM on December 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Google is your friend: dog crate basics and crate training. Yes, if the dog is crate trained, you need a crate. Get one you can use for transport if that's an issue.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:46 PM on December 3, 2010

PS: Crate the dog in the living room and it may alleviate the barking. He may be anxious about what's going on, lonely, or trying to defend against intruders. Ot he may be a barker, in which case you have other training issues.

Important question: Do you like this dog? Because if you don't, none of this will be worth it. Dogs are, again, a lot of work.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:50 PM on December 3, 2010

If I get one, is that the same one I can eventually use to transport him as cargo (or whatever the official term is) on the airplane?

Yes, you can use those. One for a terrier shouldn't be too expensive or space consuming.

Dogs generally like their crates, unless they've been freaked out by being crated as punishment or for too long. It appeals to their denning instincts.

The advantage to crating the dog when you aren't there is that he's unlikely to pee in there (unless you've left him too long and he's desperate) and he'll be chewing on the toys you leave him instead of on the furniture.
posted by timeistight at 2:55 PM on December 3, 2010

Thanks for all the advice so far. Keep 'em coming! I've started looking for a crate and I immediately went home and untied him from the bedpost when I heard about leashes being unsafe. I still need time to feel this out, but to answer the question, yes I like the dog. Not love it yet (it was my parents' dog, not mine). I want this to work out, so the advice and reassurance have been very helpful.
posted by lacedcoffee at 3:31 PM on December 3, 2010

Nthing the suggestion to get a crate pronto. Dogs see being tied up on a leash as...well, being tied up. Dogs see their crates (ideally) as their den and their "place." Dogs will naturally not want to pee in their crates because it's their den and also a small space they can't get away from. It's a natural step to house training. They might whine and fuss at first, but if you're cheerful and consistent about it, they'll take to it really well. Much better for the dog.

I not only have lived in an apartment with two dogs, but have raised a very young puppy. It's a lot of work, but it's doable if you're commited to it. Take them out. Lots. They won't have a yard to run around in so regular walks and play sessions is important. Be commited to taking them out even when it's dark and late and the weather is nasty and you just got into your pjs. And just be gentle and consistent with whatever rule you set down.

Also nthing the suggestion to make sure you have money set aside for vet bills, busy toys, vaccinations, preventative care, etc.

Terrier breeds can be barky, they're natural alert dogs. Like I said, some of the crate whining will go away--the little guy is probably a lot freaked out by all the changes going on right now--but it will be hard to keep him from barking entirely. Dogs are pack animals. They're naturally wired to seek attention, affirmation, inclusion from the people they live with. See if your roommates are at all amiable to the idea of interacting with the dog when you're not home. With my own dogs, I've found that sometimes all it takes it a second to directly look at the dog, pet her and acknowledge her presence and she calms down.
posted by ninjakins at 3:32 PM on December 3, 2010

Please don't put this dog on Craigslist. Small dogs given away for free are used sometimes as "bait dogs" to train dogs for dogfights. As I type this, I wonder if it may be an urban legend (no time to check at the moment). But still, a dog given away for free or really cheap may end up in the wrong hands. If you must give the dog away, call a rescue organization (not the shelter unless you know it is no-kill).
posted by Wordwoman at 3:50 PM on December 3, 2010 [2 favorites]

If you want a crate that you can transport the dog in on a plane, make sure you read online about the requirements before you buy one - they are pretty strict. Are you wanting to ship the dog in the cargo of an airplane or take it with you into the actual passenger area? You need different crates for different areas of the plane.

My favorite crate tip is to leave treats in the crate randomly so the dog discovers them and thinks of the crate as being a magical treat dispensing place. You say he is already crate trained so he might not need extra encouragement but I'd do this for the first few days anyway.

P.S. Where are the pictures??
posted by ohsnapdragon at 4:14 PM on December 3, 2010

DarlingBri: "PS: Crate the dog in the living room and it may alleviate the barking. He may be anxious about what's going on, lonely, or trying to defend against intruders. Ot he may be a barker, in which case you have other training issues.

Important question: Do you like this dog? Because if you don't, none of this will be worth it. Dogs are, again, a lot of work

As usual, DarlingBri has very good advice.

And to the question of selfishness...look the reason people have pets and children is largely selfish. You want someone to love who will love you, to spend time with, cuddle with, etc. Doubly-awesome when it is a rescue-type situation. Our dog is "pre-owned" so part of why I wanted her was to give her a better life, but don't think for a second that she doesn't bring me as much joy as I hopefully bring her!
posted by radioamy at 4:56 PM on December 3, 2010

I had my dog for years in NYC and she basically spent most of her life in an apartment. Sometimes she barked but mostly she was very happy and absolutely loved walking outside and smelling all of the great city smells. Dogs live by their noses and a city is awesome for a small dog like a terrier.

Terriers need a ton of exercise. Play with and walk this dog as much as possible. Toys in a crate are a must for the dog.

The reason dogs love crates is the den instinct. I would actually purchase two inexpensive crating items:

- hard sided crate for the house - it's stable and "houselike" and you can put blankets in there and treats. It's more like a little cave for your dog.

- travel bag for travel. Small dogs can fit under your seat in an airplane and I think they probably prefer that to being in the cargo hold. Then your dog can smell you and be reassured. Sherpa bags are awesome, but expensive new. Search craigslist and ebay to see if you can get one used and a bit cheaper, or maybe there are cheaper knock off versions.

Yes! pet insurance. Some workplaces offer it as a benefit. Since your dog is young it will be affordable.

If you do sleep with the dog at night be aware that your dog will never be able to break the habit. Mine has always slept with me and it is very cuddly and nice, but at times I don't want her in bed and she whines incessantly if she's not allowed (well, now she is ancient so doesn't whine very much, but for the previous 14 years she wouldn't leave me alone if she wasn't allowed on the bed). If I get a new puppy I will cuddle with the puppy at non-bedtime and train the puppy to sleep in a dog bed or crate.

This is fun and great - so enjoy!
posted by rainydayfilms at 5:08 PM on December 3, 2010

Please do not give him to a local shelter, unless it is a no-kill shelter.

I have 2 small dogs in my 1br NYC apartment. Prior to getting the 2nd dog, I lived in an apt with 3 roommates with my one dog. Crate training is a great idea, especially for separation anxiety - tying to a bedpost is not the same thing. The crate gives the dog his own little "cave" where he can relax and feel safe. Leaving a radio or TV on can help too. Ideally you'd get him enrolled in basic obedience and get a dog walker for midday walks. If you can't afford that, make sure you walk him for at least 1 hr each day (30 mins in the am and 30 in the evening) and spend at least 10 mins a day on basic training (reward training or clicker training both work well - there are a ton of budget books on this topic). The training helps with behavior and your bonding to the dog.

As to the barking when other roommates are home, the best way to remedy this is by giving him plenty of exercise (physical w/ the walks and mental w/ a treat-filled Kong). The radio should drown out some of the noise. Eventually, he should get used to it and bark less. He's just been through a stressful situation, is in a weird environment with a new schedule, so it will take time for him to adjust.

If you can't/don't want to put the effort in, then you should contact local rescue agencies. Whatever you do please please please do not drop him off at a municipal/kill shelter. Last year the NYC municipal shelters had a kill rate of 33% (which is the lowest its been).
posted by melissasaurus at 5:22 PM on December 3, 2010

You can probably get a crate on Craigslist, Freecycle, or a Big Box store(KWalMart), etc. A pet store is a good place to visit; they'll have flyers for training. Go to the library and get a book on dog care. Has the dog had veterinary care? It might need vaccinations.

A terrier mix can do fine in a small apartment. I have a Jack Russell terrier, and he's a great dog and great company. Do you like dogs? If you do, you can make this work. If not, any effort you've put into housetraining will make the dog more adoptable.
posted by theora55 at 5:57 PM on December 3, 2010

There was a cute DogTown recently (I think episode 4, season 4 - available on hulu) for training a sometimes destructive hyper small dog who spend the day alone at home.

We recently got a small dog, who spends some of his time alone in my small apartment in New York (he otherwise gets to spend all day with my girlfriend, so a similar situation of being used to constant contact). It really is fine. The first couple of days we left him home he was clearly really stressed (he didn't even eat the treats out of his Kong that we left him), but after a few times it seems like he has gotten much more comfortable and looks relaxed when we come home. We tried to start small, leaving him for only a bit and giving him lots of praise (and an immediate walk) when we returned.

Barking has been the hardest thing for us. What has been working so far is to wait until he stops barking and then immediately praise him (good quiet) and give him a treat.
posted by lab.beetle at 6:21 PM on December 3, 2010

First of all, let me say that the age of internet is a great time to be a newbie dog owner . . . I got so much invaluable information online, and specifically from mefites. We are lucky to have some really smart, wise and articulate dog people here, and they're always ready to help.

The first thing you need to know is that the dog you have with you right now is not going to be the same dog that you have six months from now, or even three months from now. It's okay if you don't feel like you *love* your dog yet; that's perfectly natural. He doesn't love you yet, either. He's certainly confused and sort of afraid; he may be depressed. He doesn't know how to act or what to expect. Did you know that scientists believe that the average dog is about as smart as a two-year-old human child? Understanding this helps my perspective a bit, I find. The sooner you establish his routine and begin some basic training exercises with your dog, the sooner he will begin to find some order and security in this scary new situation!

Which brings us to this: a well-trained dog makes absolutely everything a million times easier. Please check out positive reinforcement dog training information and videos online. There is a ton of information! I urge you to ignore the Cesar Milan-style aggressive, domination oriented stuff, though. Animal behaviorists roundly condemn methods that rely on fear and punishment as motivators.

Teaching your dog the basic obedience commands will bring you closer together, give him a feeling of security and sense of accomplishment, and make every interaction more pleasant. He needs to be housebroken, obviously, and also learn Come, Sit, Down, Stay, and walking on a loose leash (no pulling). Here is a simple guide to the most basic commands. My dog learned "No" right away, which is very useful! :)

You can choose your level of house manners to teach. My dog [obligatory pic] isn't allowed to rush to her food bowl when I put it down; she has to wait for me to say "okay." Of course, there's no food stealing tolerated, though we're more lenient than perhaps we should be about letting her hang out with us while we eat (she parks herself at our feet and plays the anything-that-touches-the-floor-is-mine! game). She isn't allowed on the bed unless invited. She has to sit and wait when I open the door to take her for a walk, instead of dashing through at 100 mph. We used to make her wait for an invitation to get on the couch, but dropped that -- she isn't the type to jump up there with someone else (who may not be keen on the idea!), and when it's only us we always called her up anyway. If you sleep with your dog in the bed, and you're single, it could be a problem on special occasions when you don't want him there. You'll have to ask the single people about that! My dog sleeps beside the bed, on a comfy rug, and is very happy with that; even when I ask her to get on the bed, she sometimes refuses!

If you crate train your pup, and teach him basic obedience, you should have a very peaceful and happy home existence. Destructive behavior usually arises from boredom and lack of exercise, so you'll want to figure out how much exercise your dog needs as a minimum requirement, and make sure he gets at least that (plus make sure he has suitable chew toys). Find out where people nearby are walking their dogs after work, and you'll probably also make some nice new friends!

One of the loveliest times in my life was seeing my dog overcome her initial fear and depression after we adopted her. I remember the day (the exact place and time!) I first noticed her carrying her tail up, happy and jaunty, while out on a walk. I remember the first time she smiled (dogs smiling; my dog smiling), plus so many other milestones. We didn't *love* her immediately. In fact, we worried that we had made a horrible mistake, since she seemed so lifeless and remote. That was her way of coping with traumatic change, after a series of traumatic changes; your dog's may be by barking and chewing. But that morose dog that entered our house the first time has no resemblance to our dog that we love like mad, and it was amazing to see her change.

You can always come here for tips, and you can memail most of us if you can't post. Some key concepts that I've learned or discovered in my own relationship with our dog are "mutual respect," "calm attitude," and "consistency." I try to imagine things from her viewpoint as much as possible, and have found books by Jean Donaldson especially enlightening. The first dog book I got (before even the Dog Owner's Home Veterinary Handbook) was her book Culture Clash, which was recommended by biscotti, and which I still read all the time. One of the great, eye-opening and sort of brilliant sections of that book is an explanation that attempts to illustrate the dog's point of view re behavior problems using the analogy of humans kept as pets by aliens. You can read an extract here.

Good luck, and have fun! (Also, pix?)
posted by taz at 4:11 AM on December 5, 2010

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