When I started writing about pets more than a decade ago, I lived with my husband and our two dogs--an 80-pound shepherd and a 60-pound pit bull mix--in a 770-square-foot condo. We stepped on each other’s toes, but it was perfect for us at that time in our lives. Fast forward several years, and we added a third dog--another pit mix--and a cat into the mix. We lived in a bigger house, yet we still stepped on each other’s toes. Why? Because all three dogs always wanted to be with us, wherever we were in the house. The cat, too, though she hardly takes up any space at only eight pounds!
More recently, small space living has become a trend both for financial and environmental reasons. Yet, in my work, folks often express to me their hesitation about adding a dog to their family in a small space because, they ask me, won’t my dog need more room?
Sure, if you adopt a Great Dane, you’re going to need a little more legroom than, say, a Pekingese person. But, there are three general rules for small space living with your dog to ensure cozy, comfy success:
Get outside and get moving! You’ve probably heard the saying, “A tired dog is a good dog.” Sure, that’s an oversimplification, but the gist holds true. If you get your dog ample exercise outdoors, she won’t need as much room to play indoors. Once your dog has gone for her morning run or neighborhood walk or dog park play session, she’ll likely curl up and doze away a good chunk of her day. To nail the small space living and sustainability cross-over, skip buying synthetic-stuffing dog beds or microfiber dog blankets. Instead, toss a washable slipcover or throw over your furniture and allow your dog to climb up for her snooze.
Also, exercise her mind with puzzle feeders instead of a bowl for breakfast and dinner. It’ll keep her occupied and focused, and a mentally-enriched pup is less likely to find her own form of entertainment, i.e. chewing up the curtains or unstuffing the sofa! Make the most of your small space by using a variety of puzzles in different spaces within your home--it feels different to a dog to work on a puzzle in the kitchen versus the living room versus the backyard!
If your pup gets plenty of physical and mental exercise, she needs less stuff. All dogs need a couple basics--a collar and leash, a water dish, and so on--and all dogs need a few toys to play with, but no dog needs a giant basket full of so many toys that she can’t even sniff down to the bottom. Instead, focus on getting her that physical and mental stimulation, then identify the type of toys she enjoys playing with the most and offer a couple at a time. You can stash a couple alternate toys in a closet and rotate them every so often--after a week in the closet, an old toy feels brand new!
Less stuff means more space for you and your dog to play together, cuddle together, and build your bond! It also means less time cleaning and repairing items and less clutter to spend your time and money organizing
Dogs thrive on routine. Your small space and your commitment to the environment work in favor of routines. If your dog gets used to getting her exercise, her food puzzles, one-on-one attention and play with you, and alone time at the same times day in and day out, she’ll feel happier, confident, and more secure. By keeping to a routine, your dog knows what to expect and when. This prevents anxiety, which can turn into destructive behavior. Instead, your dog will feel close to you--literally and emotionally--knowing what’s what in the small space you share.
Ultimately, if you provide enough enrichment and stimulation for your dog, the size of your space doesn’t matter one bit. In fact, it can work to make your relationship stronger since you’ll be spending so much close time together!
Finally, if you’re still not convinced, adopt a senior. Many seniors are well behaved (aka, won’t eat your shoes), house trained, and totally fine to just Netflix-and-chill with you! Many seniors are past the toy stage, too, so don’t need as much stuff as a younger pup. Likewise, many seniors need less intense exercise (though they still need some, especially the mental enrichment of a puzzle) and prefer to doze the day away in a cozy sunspot. A senior dog would love to share your small space with you!