High-Energy Dog + Apartment: Exercise Can Avert Disaster

The subprime mortgage crisis, declines in some sectors of the economy, and a rising cost of living have led to more families moving out of houses and into apartments, townhomes, and condos. I see ads on Craigslist or in the newspaper almost every day, reading something like, “Free Border Collie. Have to move into an apartment and he won’t be happy there. Needs a yard.”

Does apartment living with a high-energy dog always spell disaster? Do all high energy dogs need a yard and a spacious house in order to be happy? While some dogs simply can’t function in an apartment, the majority of high-energy dogs can adjust to apartment living, and though the situation’s not ideal, it’s certainly a better plan than giving away a family member because of necessary changes in one’s living situation.

In this post, I’ll share seven tips and strategies that helped me live with a young, high-energy dog in an apartment for over a year. In future entries we’ll talk about encouraging appropriate inside behavior, and how to keep your dog occupied while you’re out of the apartment for short or long periods. It’s almost never a good idea to adopt a high-energy dog with the intention of keeping it in a small apartment, but it’s possible to cope with a necessary move without giving up the family dog.

First, let’s discuss some traits of high-energy dogs. There is no absolute definition for this term, but for our purposes, I’m referring to a dog that cannot go a day without moderate to heavy exercise without definite negative consequences. There are dogs at both ends of the energy spectrum in every breed, but in general, herding and sporting breeds are most likely to have high exercise needs. In addition, dogs under three years old generally need more exercise.

Some dogs with high exercise needs, when confined without exercise, exhibit destructive chewing, pacing, paw-licking, tail-chasing, howling, barking, scratching at doors and baseboards, nipping, or may even stop eating. Sounds pretty bad, right? It is, but all these behaviors can be controlled through exercise, planning, and committment to putting your dog’s behavioral health among your top priorities.

Provide Daily Exercise

The most important thing to remember is that, at least once a day, your dog should exercise until he or she is quite tired. Think about how you feel after a workout that doesn’t push you to exhaustion, but leaves you wanting nothing more than some quality time with the couch and a cold drink. For a high-energy dog, a walk generally won’t accomplish this, and without a yard for fetching and interactive or solo play, meeting this basic need can be tricky. You’ll need to maximize the exercise value of the time you can spend with your dog, while changing up the routine often enough to keep him or her exercising mentally as well as physically.

Keep Up The Obedience Training!

One often overlooked method of providing exercise is obedience training. Read up on clicker training and get started clicking with your dog, if you haven’t already. Two ten-minute training sessions with a clicker and treats every day will not only teach an impressive repertoire of tricks, they’ll keep your dog’s mind working on processing what he or she has learned, not on discovering how best to destroy the new furniture.

Find A Regular Buddy For Your Pet

Playdates aren’t possible every day, but if your dog loves to wrestle with others, try to schedule regular playdates with compatible dogs. Try putting an ad on Craiglist, finding a local Meetup group for your dog’s breed, or simply putting up flyers in the neighborhood. Two or three regular play buddies, especially if they happen to be dogs whose owners have yards where the pals can play, will do more for a high-energy, apartment dwelling dog’s sanity than 20 casual introductions at the dog park. Dogs that know each other are less likely to fight over resources like toys and treats, and will play more vigorously than dogs who have just met.

Swimming Is Tiring But Low Impact

Swimming is another excellent form of doggie exercise. It can be tough to find an appropriate place for your dog to swim, but call around; some dog daycares have pools where you can swim your dog for a fee, and some off-leash dog parks include natural or man made water features. Toward the end of summer, many municipal pools schedule dog swim days before closing for the winter. If your dog is young and his joints are not yet mature enough for vigorous exercise like agility or long runs, or if you have a senior dog, pay particular attention to swimming opportunities. Swimming is tiring but low-impact, resulting in fewer injuries than dog sports on land.

Join A Sports or Agility Class

Speaking of dog sports, look into opportunities to enroll in training for sports like agility, flyball, canine freestyle, dock dog, lure coursing, earthdog, rally obedience, schutzhund, bikejoring, tracking, or even mushing. There is a dog sport for every owner/dog pair, and you’ll find that veterans of most canine sports are eager to help newbies. Don’t be shy about enrolling, even if your dog isn’t well trained; many instructors offer introductory classes, which tend to be less expensive than classes geared towards competition, and which work on skills that form the foundation of all obedience and canine sports.

Go For A Bike Ride

To make exercise in your neighborhood more tiring than a simple walk, try biking with your dog. Some dogs, if well-trained, can bike with you with no special gear. I recommend using a harness rather than a collar, because a sudden stop while biking at high speeds could result in a serious injury to a dog’s neck by jerking the collar. If your dog is not a puller, can be easily taught to stay on one side and turn with you, and you feel comfortable managing hand brakes, handlebars, and a dog lead, go ahead and try a bike ride together using a harness and lead. If your dog pulls strongly, or you’re not comfortable holding a leash while biking, look into bike attachments like WalkyDog, which not only keep a dog’s pulling from destabilizing your bike, but take the pressure to keep ahold of the dog off of you. The only caveat is that a bike attachment may make a serious crash more dangerous for your dog.

Doggie Backpacks

Finally, for days when a walk or jog is all you can manage, buy a well-fitting doggie backpack and use it to increase your dog’s workload while you walk. Make sure that if you don’t know how to fit a dog backpack, you get help from someone who does, in order to prevent rubbing or back strain. Don’t load the backpack with more than 5% of your dog’s weight until he is very accustomed to wearing the pack, and even a fit dog well used to a backpack should not generally carry more than 15% of his weight.

Keep in mind that, first and foremost, every dog is an individual. Some may hate one or all of these methods of exercise. Others will love every single one. No dog or dog owner is perfect. Sometimes you’ll be unable to exercise your dog properly for a day or two, and sometimes the new sofa will get some tooth marks. Living in an apartment with a high-energy dog isn’t easy, but it’s rewarding to work through a difficult situation without giving up, and the bond you’ll develop with your dog by making a committment to exercising together will be phenomenal.

You will need to make some sacrifices when moving into an apartment with your high-energy dog, but if it keeps your family — human and animal — together, it’s worth turning down a few bar invites because your dog has agility class or a playdate.

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7 Responses

  1. Kathleen
    | Reply

    Boy, you sure hit it right on! I always cringe when people get a high-energy breed when they don’t know much about them. Especially people who are away from home all day. Then they wonder why they see behavior problems.

    Yet another reason I always say RESEARCH your breed before bringing it home. It makes things easier on the dog and the person.

  2. Dr. Nicole Sundene
    | Reply

    Very helpful. Thanks! My dogs are always worn out more from swimming for whatever reason.

  3. dog leash
    | Reply

    Any idea where I can buy Doggie Backpacks??? By the way, Nice post! I will be saving this page to my favorites for sure.

  4. Ruth
    | Reply

    I think dog parks are great, and with today’s tough economic times every single town should have one. We don’t have one here and I know my dogs suffer for not getting enough exercise. I was reading this really funny book over the weekend called Dog Park Diary, and just from hearing the stories told from a dog’s point of view you can see how important both the exercising and the social aspect of it is important to not only the dogs but their owners as well.

  5. Jelena
    | Reply

    Kathleen– Yes, research is a MUST! Sometimes when getting a mixed breed it is hard to predict future behavior, and every breed has its exceptions– I have met lazy Border Collies and hyperactive Mastiffs, but most times, adequate research can prepare a new owner for their breed of choice.

    Nicole– Just like humans, dogs use every muscle group when swimming. That’s why it’s such great exercise!

    Dog leash– Petsmart and Petco both sell dog backpacks. I like the Ruffwear brand.

    Ruth– Dog parks are great for most dogs! Certain dogs and owners should not use dog parks, however: Unaltered pets, aggressive pets, and pets that don’t have a good off-leash recall should exercise safely on leash.

  6. J Morgan
    | Reply

    It’s the same here in the UK numerous ads for dogs when families are moving to smaller homes – good on you for these suggestions as I don’t feel people really try enough before placing those ads. I bike with my dog, weather permitting and he loves it – great way for both of us to get the exercise we need at the same time!

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