How easy is it to successfully combine flat-dwelling with dog ownership?
They say that home is where the heart is, but for many people home is where their dog is. However, not everyone lives in a traditional home with a garden, so does that make it difficult to keep a dog? We talk to two owners who live happily in flats with their dogs, while behaviourist Jackie Drakeford outlines some of the challenges it presents.
“With the right help, the right dog, and the right neighbours, it’s perfectly possible to keep a dog in a flat.
By Jackie Drakeford.
Living in a flat doesn’t have to rule out dog ownership. In many other countries, lots of people keep dogs and live in flats, but what works for them doesn’t always apply in the UK, as we have different laws and social tolerances. Often, the lease or rental agreement specifically forbids keeping dogs in flats, and even if your particular block does allow dogs, the most obvious challenge is house-training.
If you have a ground-floor flat with its own private garden, even if very small, then this is as good as a house in dog-keeping terms. However, if you have to use stairs or a lift to get outside, it can be another story. What seems acceptable in theory can appear very different on your umpteenth trip out in your pyjamas on a cold, wet, windy night with a puppy who is so overwhelmed by the weather that he won’t oblige. When puppies need to wee or poo, it’s right now; they don’t get a lot of warning and so neither do we. If you have to negotiate corridors and shared areas before you can get outside, potty accidents are inevitable, and not all neighbours will be understanding about it.
You can hope to avoid this by getting an adult dog, but not all of these are reliable with house-training, especially if that is the reason they were up for rehoming in the first place.
As dogs age, stairs may become difficult for them to negotiate, and their bladder and bowel control can sometimes suffer, so ‘accidents’ are therefore bigger. A litter tray on the balcony can work with some dogs, but your balcony must be made safe first so that the dog can’t climb over it. You’ll need to check if regulations allow this too.
Ensure balcony areas are safe.
You do not want your dog to get into a barking match, balcony to balcony, with another pet. Noise can be a miserable issue in some flats — and the last straw for a shift worker or someone who has just managed to get the baby to sleep.
You could keep a litter tray in one of your rooms instead, but you might need two, as many dogs aren’t keen on weeing and pooing in the same place. And, of course, this would only work with a bitch, as constructing a leg-cocking area would be a challenge, even if it didn’t give mixed messages about marking indoors, which of course it would.
Puppy pads encourage dogs to think all soft furnishings and carpets are suitable for toileting, so if you do choose the litter tray option, use cat litter, or some people line the tray with grass — real turf or artificial — or compost.
When choosing a dog for flat dwelling, research your breeds thoroughly.
Some of the more mellow breeds who are naturally quiet, such as Greyhounds, can be a better fit.
Many blocks of flats have communal gardens for residents, but that does not mean everyone will take kindly to these being used as a dog loo, especially if children play there. You might well have to walk your dog somewhere less confrontational each time he needs a potty break. This can be tricky with sensitive dogs who only perform on a certain surface, are nervous of passing traffic, or want to be private while they eliminate.
Pups may find it difficult to ‘hold on’ while waiting for the lift!
Then there is illness to consider. Even the best-kept dog can get diarrhoea from time to time, and no matter how fast you reappear with a bucket of disinfectant and a mop, somebody will usually encounter the result on the stairs before you can clean up. A single incident could be remembered for ever!
Sometimes we get ill too, or have to recover from injury. In cases like these, do you have someone to call upon who can move in and attend to your dog’s potty breaks, or who is willing to take him or her back to their house until you can manage again?
With the right help, the right dog, and the right neighbours, it’s perfectly possible to keep a dog in a flat.
But, like so many aspects of life where it looks easy, it is, in fact, all down to good planning, and in the case of dogs, good training comes into the equation as well. If you can offer sufficient commitment, go for it — but if there are weak links in the chain, it might be better to wait until those issues are resolved before taking the plunge.
You’ll need to take your dog out regularly if you have no access to a garden.
Corwin and Sarah Emerysmith live in a rented first-floor flat in Malvern, Worcestershire, with their 10-month-old Cocker Spaniel, Bruno.
Corwin and Sarah with Bruno. Bruno is brilliant says Corwin.
“Bruno is our first dog, and he’s brilliant,” said Corwin. “Some people did say they thought we were mad to get a puppy in a flat during lockdown, but it’s worked out fine. When we first got Bruno, we took him outside every half an hour to an hour to get him used to going outside to toilet, and now he will just come and sit in front of us and not move until we take him out!
“He loves other dogs — especially my mum’s Labrador, and plays with lots of toys. We go on lots of great walks, and he adores water! I’m a quality control engineer and Bruno comes to work with me three days a week, which he likes, and on the other days he’s at home with Sarah, so he has constant company.
“Our flat has a little Juliet balcony, so we often open the doors and Bruno can sit there, sniff the fresh air, and look outside.
“This is quite a small block of flats; we had no problems getting permission to have a dog, and we weren’t asked to pay an extra deposit. This is actually a very dog-friendly block, as our neighbour above us has a Beagle, and the person below us now has a puppy, which is great.”
● To find out more, visit The adventures of Bruno on Facebook or Instagram.