How to help your freedom-loving dog adjust to life in an apartment

March 13 | Guest post by Stealmystapler
Gidget sez: So… THIS is my "outdoor" space now?

When I moved across the country last year, I was mildly worried about how my husband and I would settle into a new place and new jobs. Those concerns were easy to set aside in my excitement about the opportunities that awaited us. However, I can honestly say I was afraid of how our dog, Gidget, would adjust to living in a 700-square-foot apartment.

Gidget is a pretty clever Jack Russell something-or-other, but there was no way to tell her she had big changes coming! Since she's a rescue dog, there's a lot we'll never know about her early life. But with us at least, she always had a yard, lived in a rented house with no shared walls, and had plenty of space to herself. How would she handle people walking down the hallway and neighbors talking inches from her space? We had no idea, and feared our experiment in apartment living would come to a quick end if she freaked out.

Fortunately, our worries were unfounded and months later she has become the perfect apartment dog. She's quiet, happily greets other apartment dwellers in the hall, and is patient with us now that going outside means preparing for a walk rather than opening the door to the backyard.

Here's what we did to help make the transition easier on all of us:

1. Establish a new "normal" and create new routines as quickly as possible

After two days of carrying everything up the stairs to our second-floor apartment (during a heat wave. Ugh.), we tried to unpack as quickly as possible. The small space may have helped us here — it either fit, or it didn't, and went to Goodwill. Having boxes sitting around made us tense, and there's no question Gidget could feel it too. She wouldn't let us out of her sight. By the time the unpacking was finished, we had already begun creating a routine of two walks a day. As busy as we felt, we tried to take longer walks than normal so we could all explore our new city with our eyes and noses.

2. Alternate being home

If you moved with a friend or significant other, you're in luck. We found that this was really helpful to have one person stay at home, while the other person could run an errand. I've long had a habit of telling Gidget to "be good" when I leave (like she understands, I know), so I picked right back up on that old routine once I started my new job. If Gidget started to cry at the door, my husband would be there to comfort her. And eventually, she came to understand that even in this new place, her other person would always come back. If she started to growl or bark at people walking down the hallway, one of us would be there to shush her. After a few weeks, she realized that there was no need for concern unless one of those mystery walkers stopped by her door or knocked.

3. Leave for short periods of time

Even though always having one of us with her helped, we knew that could only be temporary. While I was gone, my husband started leaving for short periods of time (minutes or seconds even). He would walk to the hallway, count, and return. Later, he was able to make it to the bottom of the steps and back before she'd anxiously shriek or yowl.

4. Minimize distracting noise, and make friends with your neighbors

Soon after we moved in, we met our closest neighbor, introduced her to Gidget, and gave her our phone number. We explained that Gidget was new to apartment living, and that we were trying to get her adjusted as quickly as we could. If we were ever gone and Gidget was being noisy or causing trouble, we asked her to text or call us right away. She never needed to do that (fortunately), but I think it made us all feel better. We also got into a habit of closing our windows when we left for an errand. There's nothing like fresh air in the spring, summer, and fall — but we were never sure when a shouting passerby, or UPS truck, would make Gidget bark. Hopefully those few seconds of thought helped save our neighbors some headaches!

Gidget enjoying her freedom outside of the apartment.
Gidget enjoying her freedom outside of the apartment.

5. Practice patience and compassion

It isn't a quick process or any easy one, and some days will just be rougher than others. Some days she was fine with our separation exercises and enjoyed lots of treats, and other days she was a blubbery mess. Some days we had to accept that we both needed to go to the store, and often that meant Gidget had to come with us. Like with so many things in life, getting through rough patches takes time, love, and patience.

The first few months of apartment living were rough for all of us, but we've all managed to figure out how we fit in our tiny space. Gidget has become a bit of a building celebrity — and we're those people who walk Gidget. Life is back to normal.

    • You're right on, there! My husband and I drove the Blue Ridge Parkway for our honeymoon – and of course brought Gidget along. It was a great week: lots of camping, 50+ miles of hiking, one skinny dip, one shower, and so many beautiful vistas like this one. This is looking toward Mount Mitchell from Mount Craig – we drove to the top of Mount Mitchell and then hiked over. A beautiful day!

  1. This is timely for me. We just moved from Turkey to North Dakota and switched from an end row-house with a yard to a small apartment. Our two dogs, a Golden Retriever and a German Shepherd, are both dealing with long hallways and thin walls for the first time in their lives. I currently don't have a job, so I'm home with them but it's hard navigating the hallways with two big dogs that just want to say hello to everything. One thing we did insist on was being ground floor and having a patio door that we can take them out if needed to avoid the hallway situation. It mostly works. I'm glad to hear your dog adapted and look forward to mine doing the same.

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  2. This is super helpful. We will probably be moving into a smaller space with my next job and have two dogs so very used to our house with small yard.

    One question though, was Gidget a barky dog in the house? Ours generally don't bark while inside unless its the dreaded mailman, or some one physically at our door. But in the yard, any visible human and their arch-nemesis, the groundhog that lives under the neighbors shed, get barked at loudly. This makes me worry so so much about apartment or even town house living.

    • You've hit the nail on the head – as with everything, you need to know your dog and YMMV. Gidget was always more barky inside than outside, but it was in response to things she saw or heard outside. She'd bark at the mailman, the UPS truck, kids walking by in the street, loose dogs running by, etc. That is part of why keeping the windows shut is critical: fewer things to spark barking. She's done well, but there's some things you can't control. We came home the other day, and someone must have recently gone around and put tracts by every doorknob. She was not happy about that!

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  3. I didn't even know this was a thing. We've only had our dog a couple months, and when he spent a weekend at an apartment, his whole little puppy brain exploded! So many people, and so many noises from upstairs that he wanted to guard us from. (He's always lived in a one story.) Thanks for the advice! Now we know what we're getting into next time.

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  4. We had to make a HUGE adjustment into an apartment from a house. Poor Bruno (rottie-chow mix) had to make some big adjustments. One that we didn't even THINK about was the fire alarm! One day we got a notice on our door that said our building would be testing the fire alarms the following day. We discarded the notice, went on with our routine as normal, and later found poor Bruno had peed under our kitchen table — probably paralyzed with fear! We made sure to give him extra treats that day, but I imagine it will take a long time before he will never really feel "secure" at home again.

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    • I had the same issue with my dog. One day while at work, the fire alarm started beeping because it needed a new battery. I'm not sure at what time it started, but it broke my heart that she might've been dealing with the noise for hours. My poor dog had chewed on my bedroom door blinds and was extremely shaken when I got home. I think she was trying to get out. I felt so bad. She was just getting used to apartment living and now I feel we're starting over. I found that giving her dog toys (once a week) helps with her anxiety.

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  5. I like your point about introducing your dog to the neighbors. We rent a small house with a small backyard, but introducing our dog to the neighbors helped her to recognize them rather than bark at them. And introducing her to the neighbor dogs successfully made her change her behavior from barking madly when she could hear them to whining because she wanted to go out and play with them. Whining is at least quieter!

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