Owning a dog while living in an apartment
April 8, 2018 9:21 AM   Subscribe

If you're an apartment dweller and a dog owner can you tell me what your daily dog care routine looks like and how you manage to keep them healthy and happy?

My dog Annie and I are still adjusting to apartment life and struggle to find a routine here without a yard. I'm not sure what people do with dogs in apartments to keep them entertained and happy and how they handle it when the weather is lowsy or other issues stop them from going out. Where I live everyone with a dog usually has a yard etc so I have no idea what people in cities do. Maybe your story would help me see it is possible?

We walk every morning for 1/2 hr and then again at lunch time. After that, I take her into the alley and she gets pee breaks there. But when its raining (she hates it!) or my chronic health issues act up I'm not sure what to do with her. Both of us lying on the couch for most of the day makes her bored and then she starts to act up and not listen when I do take her outside.

I project a lot on my dog as she saved my life and is the most healing thing I've ever done. While I'm over my life long depression and use tons of therapy techniques I still worry that us moving out from abusive family was unfair to her because we lost the yard. Or that me being overwhelmed by chronic pain/fibromyalgia/auto immune disorder/and mental health issues for the last two years has made me not a good dog owner anymore. We used to go for 1hr hikes twice a day. So I'm also asking in hopes that your routine will give me ideas of things I could do with her inside or in the alley to ease my self-guilt.
posted by kanata to Pets & Animals (19 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Annie is gorgeous. I live in the city and have a large dog. We take her for long walks when possible but also take her to dog daycare a couple of days a week so that she can socialize with other dogs and run and play for the day. If Annie is good with other dogs, consider taking her to a doggy daycare once or twice a week. Most places will give you a free trial day (ours gave us 3 free days to see if it was a good fit). Get recommendations from friends or from local rescues for daycares. Or consider hiring a dog walker once or twice a week who can take her for longer walks. We have a dog walker take our pup for one-hour walks once or twice a week, and she comes home tired and happy.
posted by smich at 9:38 AM on April 8, 2018

There are tons of activities you can do with Annie that will not be too physically taxing for you but will be mentally tiring for her! Top of my list is nosework, but trick training is awfully fun too, and there are lots of online classes now. You wouldn’t ever have to leave your living room.

Do you have any good puzzles for her? Take a look through the offerings at places like Chewy.com. Some of them are pretty inexpensive and will keep her entertained for a long time. You can also freeze food for her in Kongs.

What about looking around for a dog friend for her whose owner has a yard? It’s hard but it can be done. You can place an ad on NextDoor and see what you get. I indirectly found a playmate for my puppy that way. The two of them wear each other out while I watch. It’s awesome.
posted by HotToddy at 9:46 AM on April 8, 2018 [2 favorites]

Keep her mentally occupied. I freeze lots of stuff inside toys, and my hound would spend a good 20 minutes working on getting it all out. I would always have a bowl of frozen water in the freezer with small amounts of tasty stuff floating around in there. The Bob-a-Lot kibble dispenser worked great for kibble. I basically would think of how to torture her with challenges, and she loved it! Her meal would sometimes take an hour for her to get through (kibble in toy, frozen broccoli after, small amount of peanut butter jammed in hard to reach places after that, then we would roll blueberries on the floor for her to chase.)

I would also play a game where I would tell her to jump on the sofa, then she has to jump onto the bed, then back into her chair for a treat.
posted by Vaike at 9:56 AM on April 8, 2018 [1 favorite]

Oh I forgot to add that I'm looking for free options as I am on disability. And that she's ok with other dogs but is scared of them and the dog park or groups of dogs causes her to shut down. She's a people! dog but does well one on one with time to warm up.
posted by kanata at 9:58 AM on April 8, 2018

Pretty girl!

I don't have a dog myself (yet) but I support a city-based rescue; most NYC dogs live in apartments! Also, I have a close friend with a dog who has physical issues that means she can't always give them all the outdoors exercise she'd like. You can do a lot of training indoors that isn't physically demanding at all, e.g., touch and then advanced targeting. Training can be a great way both to keep your dog busy and build your relationship. You can also feed through puzzles, like the Bob-a-Lot.

Finally, there's no shame in hiring a walker for an additional walk a few times a week, or sending her to doggie day care once or twice a week. Doggie day care will often do pickup/dropoff if you can't get there physically yourself.
posted by praemunire at 10:01 AM on April 8, 2018 [1 favorite]

She's so gorgeous! What a great picture.

To reassure you about living in an apartment without a yard: I once helped a friend do a long distance dog adoption from my city. I described where my friend lived and said he lived in an apartment. The adoption folks were completely unconcerned that he lived in an apartment and that there was no backyard; they said it was more important that my friend was committed to walking the dog daily and giving him lots of love and attention. He successfully adopted the dog and they had 12 wonderful years together--one of the happiest dogs I've known.

It's much better for her as well as you that you're not living with your abusive family anymore, yard or no yard. Dogs are sensitive and pick up on when their owners are upset.

Seconding the nose work and mental stimulation challenges mentioned upthread--we do that with our dog when it's -30 out and we can't take him for very long walks.

Ear skritches for Annie and best wishes to you!
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 10:23 AM on April 8, 2018

*Tons* of people in cities (in apartments) have dogs, tons! Don’t feel badly about leaving a yard, it came with some major strings attached. Not good for you or the dog there, don’t feel guilty.

Not currently a dog owner, but when it was too cold to take my old girl out, I’d keep her busy by throwing balls around and having her chase them. She used to like “hunting” a red point of light (produced by a laser pointer).

Is there a neighbour who could help out on rainy days?
posted by cotton dress sock at 10:30 AM on April 8, 2018 [1 favorite]

Fetch! So most important if you are low energy is to teach the dog to bring you their toys so you can throw them. Some dogs take to this faster than others, but once you have it down, you can lie on the couch and they will bring you the toy and then you throw the toy while lying down and /they/ zoom run to get it and tire themselves out while you continue basically napping.
posted by corb at 10:59 AM on April 8, 2018 [3 favorites]

The Canine Enrichment facebook group has a ton of ideas and discussion about this, especially for repurposing things like cardboard or spare cloth you already have around the house.
posted by gaybobbie at 12:14 PM on April 8, 2018 [1 favorite]

I have a 90lb Mastiff and a 70lb Boxer in a city centre home with a concrete alley for wees. I have these dogs because my fostering organisation sends us high-needs and special-needs dogs because they know we are a GREAT dog home. And they know we don't have a yard :)

They get walks obviously. At home I throw balls for them. They get Kongs (does Annie have one? If not I can send you one!). They get frozen raw chicken legs tinwork on. My dog behaviour course claimed that 10 minutes of training was as good as a 60 minute walk, so daily training is fun. Someone in a Boxer group plays hide and seek with her dogs, where she does them a toy, puts the dog out of the room, and holds the toy for them to seek.

You are not letting your dog down. You can give her a rich, happy life. All she really wants is to be with you.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:24 PM on April 8, 2018

I haven't really put much into training her as she's a very easy dog. Just the basics. Is it possible to introduce training to a dog you've had for 6 years?

She doesn't have a kong tho we have one of those balls that she pushes around with her nose to get food and prefers her dinner out of that. I've tried before to hide treats etc from her and get her to find them but she's kind of nose deaf for a beagle mix. Fetch has proven hard. It mostly works but she isn't so good at return. Mostly throwing the ball outside for her causes her to play with it herself until she gets bored. I am a big softy so dropped out of obedience class when she'd shut complete down and shake just being in a room with other dogs. She's gotten better and now will approach others to play if they are smaller than her. Thanks for your tips. I just want to do right by her.
posted by kanata at 2:38 PM on April 8, 2018

My dog also hates going out in the rain. He didn't like a raincoat that I got at the pet store, but he has no problem with one that is custom made for him (make sense—poorly-fitting clothes are not comfortable!). It's much easier for both of us—he is more comfortable because he doesn't get as wet, and it's faster for me to dry him off.

It might also help if you bring "high value" (really tasty) treats on your walks when it is raining, and really praise her and give her a treat every time she eliminates.
posted by radioamy at 2:49 PM on April 8, 2018 [1 favorite]

FYI, reminded by this thread about enrichment, I just cut a hole in a used soda bottle and threw some kibble in there. I also put some kibble in an empty toilet roll and put the toilet roll in a sock. One was a hit, the other was a bust, but it's free and easy to try.

Is it possible to introduce training to a dog you've had for 6 years?

Absolutely. If she's food motivated, you can train her at any time. You can also add hand signals to the commands she has, and work on getting her to do them just with the hand signals.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:34 PM on April 8, 2018

Our best dog spent his first 2 years with us in a series of apartments getting about as much exercise as you describe, on account of dealing with one overworked human and one human having a bit of a mental health crisis. (My spouse, who once texted me for help because "the dog is staring at me," would likely identify with your question.) We tried to take dog with us as much as we could, even if it was just to go sit outside the grocery store while we got milk. He just loved being around either of us and doing things as a dog with his people. Only thing I see missing in your description is something to gnaw on for rainy boring days. Do you have a chew toy Annie really likes? The best/safest chew really depends on how aggressive your dog is with chewing, but my retriever mix dogs have all been able to work on an antler chew for years without getting bored, so I've stuck with those so far.
posted by deludingmyself at 8:26 PM on April 8, 2018

I've been a dog owning apartment dweller. The nosework suggestion is a good one. Save five or six cardboard boxes of various sizes. Put them out around your living room in various positions (laying on their sides, right side up, one on top of another one etc.) Put Annie in a room with the door closed for a few moments while you hide treats (small pieces of hot dog work really well) in and around the boxes. Make them really easy to find at first. Let Annie out and say "Annie search! Good girl!" If you need to you can point her to some of the hidden treats the first couple times, but most dogs catch on to this game very quickly. As she gets better at finding the treats reduce the number of treats so she spends less time eating and more time searching. Do short sessions, 10 mins at the most. Give lots of encouragement. Most dogs love doing nosework and it actually tires them out pretty fast.

Nthing getting a dog walker if you are able, so you get a break sometimes. You sound like a wonderful, contentious pet owner, . Your dog is very lucky to have you as her person, whether the two of you live in a mansion, or an apartment.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 9:07 PM on April 8, 2018 [1 favorite]

You can totally introduce training to a dog you've had that long!

For my dog, we do a ton of enrichment toys - in fact our pup doesn't get kibble in a bowl at all. Sometimes I just throw it all over the floor, sometimes he gets a rolling treat ball like you describe, sometimes we use other purpose-made toys/puzzles (our favorite is an Orbee Snoop), and sometimes I DIY new challenges by hiding food inside cardboard boxes, takeout containers, whatever I have on hand. He also gets various frozen goodies (kongs sometimes - although that Snoop taught him to repeatedly bounce things and the kong is too loud to allow him to bounce - so sometimes they're just big ice cubes with goodies inside). We also use chews to occupy him as-needed (especially on those on-the-couch days where we just can't manage more.) In order to keep treat stuff engaging, we vary treats a lot - not just purpose-made dog treats, but any "people food" he might like goes in the mix. Basic frozen fruits and veggies are big ones for us recently (sometimes I microwave them quickly to make 'em stinkier).

We do as many long walks as possible. Our guy is pretty small - he's in the neighborhood of 26-27 lbs - but we still do four walks a day of approximately 20, 20, 40, and 10 minutes minimum respectively. I try to make our after-work walk much longer if possible. We try to bring him on any errand on foot, though sometimes that only works because either me on my boyfriend wait outside the store/library/take-out restaurant/whatever with him. We do bring him inside any dog-friendly establishments, which in my experience includes many you wouldn't expect (Clothing stores! Lush! banks! Apple Store! Furniture stores! Liquor stores!). We also plan our activities around long (ideally 4+ hour) outings with him, whether hikes or functional walks to the grocery store or trips to the park for a picnic. If one of us is going somewhere that we can't bring him (exercise class, say), the other one usually walks there with them and the dog.

I'm definitely not sure that we've cracked the exercise code - I'm sure our pup could use more - but building it into our routine as much as possible has worked very well for us. We get a lot more in when it's just a default consideration in our normal activities. I know it's harder with one person (I used to do all the dog care alone, and it's measurably harder) and with chronic health issues, so not all of that would apply, but hopefully the basic principles would? Our guy would not do well as a dog park or day care, so I feel you there - it would be nice to have the option but fortunately or unfortunately we tend to need to exercise alongside him instead.

Also, I see people sometimes advertising on nextdoor or wherever for casual doggy play dates. I'd definitely look into things like that if I had a more dog-friendly dog. Seems like a mutually beneficial option.
posted by mosst at 7:49 AM on April 9, 2018

One other thing that I think about is if walking a dog on a leash is as exciting for them as being off leash. The time spent living with family we spent the majority of our walks off leash in the woods. Now since my body has blown up we mostly stick to on leash. Is that healthy for a dog? (excuse me if I seem neurotic but I honestly just want the best for her and love her so much blah blah blah)

Thanks for your advice. We started practicing our basic commands today just for something to do and that went well. So I think I'll look up the info you guys gave me and try a few different new training techniques and see if that interests her and tires her out.

I do have a friend and one family member that will walk her for longer now and then but I'm trying to get back into the routine of having her full time and break away from that family member. I did discover that the nearby park today seems to have an informal dog group at noon and while she didn't play with any of the dogs we did walk by them and she didn't freeze or shake so maybe we'll try to go there more often.
posted by kanata at 2:13 PM on April 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

One of the really low-energy things that I do is I sit on the floor, stretch out my legs, and move a toy back and forth across. Forces my dog to keep jumping over my legs and maneuver quickly. Substitute legs for other object, and toy for other fun toys, as necessary.

That said, exercise / activity is an energy issue rather than a boredom issue. I second everyone who said toys - particularly problem solving ones - would help prevent the latter.
posted by ahundredjarsofsky at 3:26 AM on April 10, 2018

Clicker training

Is there a college campus nearby? College campuses are full of dogge deprived people, and maybe one of them is a future friend/ dog walker.

And remember, it's okay to put on your own oxygen mask first.
posted by oceano at 8:33 PM on April 10, 2018

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