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!
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.