Written by: Deb German
Dogs adapt well to unlikely situations—one reason they’ve put up with us for so long. Living with a big dog in a small space, while it can be challenging, is not only possible but also potentially rewarding for a dog and his humans. Read on to learn how to make it work.
You must exercise your big dog
This single item is central to enjoying a happy life with a big dog in a small space, whether you live in a studio apartment or a small house. Simply put, a tired dog is a good dog, and a well adjusted one to boot. Veterinarians agree most large breeds are happy to live in whatever square footage you possess so long as you’re willing to satisfy this one critical need.
How much exercise is enough exercise for your big dog ? It really depends on him, and as his keeper and closest companion you’re in the best position to know. For some, an hour of vigorous, heart-thumping activity every day of the week is essential; others are content with a leisurely trot in the park, happy to return home to the sofa and a good chew toy for the duration. Many large breeds in fact tend to be quiet and inactive during their adult years, and most adult dogs sleep around 12 to 14 hours in every 24.
But taking your dog outside to do his doings is not getting anybody’s heart rate up. True cardiovascular exercise means going for a run, taking a long walk on a trail or city greenway, or engaging in active outdoor play with your dog. If you can’t provide these opportunities for him, hire a dog walking or running service to do it for you, or find a doggy daycare where vigorous exercise or play is scheduled during the day.
Alternately, find a wide, open space for off-leash fun; bring a ball or frisbee if your dog enjoys playing fetch. If he must remain leashed, put him on a 20- or 30-foot lead that at least allows him the freedom to romp more vigorously than he can at the end of a six-foot leash. If you don’t exercise regularly yourself, you may discover your big dog is finally the best reason to start.
Keep your big dog occupied inside, too
Choose toys that keep him busy for long stretches: rawhide chews, extra tough rubber toys, noise-making or moving toys, or treat-dispensing or puzzle toys. Avoid dog toys or treats he is likely to rip apart or quickly consume.
Make a dog routine and stick to it
Dogs are creatures of habit like us. Set up a schedule that includes time outside, feeding time, exercise, and play time, and keep the same schedule every day. Your dog will soon catch on, and once he understands the routine, chances are excellent he won’t leave messes on the floor. Go home midday to take your dog outside if your work life keeps you away for long stretches, or hire someone to do it for you: nine or more hours is too long to ask any dog to “hold it.” Or ask your employer if you can bring your dog to work with you.
Give your big dog his own small space
His crate may suffice, and throwing a quilt or blanket over it will make it feel more den-like and secure. Even if it’s only a corner where you put his dog bed, he needs a special spot of his own; placing his toy box nearby will underscore it as such. Or if you’re willing, designate a chair or the end of a sofa in your apartment or home as your dog’s space (use a furniture cover or dog blanket to protect it). Allowing him onto the furniture will also help him feel less confined in your small home.
Which big dogs will most enjoy your small living space?
If you observe the strategies described here, almost any will, but some dogs are more adaptable than others to life in a small home or apartment. These include dogs in the guarding or sighthound categories, for example the Mastiff and the Greyhound. Developed to work in short bursts, they’re content to mainly relax the rest of the time. The Greyhound in particular has earned a reputation as a low-energy dog, sometimes called the “40 mph couch potato.” City dwellers occasionally choose a large dog like the Mastiff for its menacing looks (even if it’s a pushover), but also for its proclivity to curl up contentedly at the feet of a beloved human.
Be realistic about your big dog
It’s smart to be prepared for big-dog mishaps. When your living space is tiny and cluttered and your dog is enormous, there are navigational hazards—enthusiastic tail wagging does not always mix well the stemware on your coffee table. Nor does every big dog belong in a small space; some guardian dogs dislike crowded city life, and some breeds simply demand more daily exercise than a busy city slicker is likely to give them (the Giant Schnauzer and the Border Collie are examples). Other concerns for apartment dwellers include vocal dogs and territorial dogs, for whom there is no distinction between the private apartment and the public hallway.
Together with logistics (can you manage a large, incapacitated dog on a flight of stairs in an emergency?) these are all important considerations. But don’t let a big dog stand between you and your small digs—invite him inside and make him feel at home.