Apartment Life with a Reactive Dog
We haven't always lived in an apartment. In fact, we had never lived in one up until about four months ago when we moved to New Jersey. Back home, in Tennessee, we had a decent sized place with a large yard in a rural setting.
Things are different in an apartment. There are neighbors, dogs and maintenance workers all outside the front door. There's also noise to consider, particularly if you find yourself living below someone. All of these things have to be taken into consideration when living with a reactive dog.
I've been living with a stranger and dog reactive dog for approximately 9 years. Here are some of the tips and tricks I've learned that specifically apply to apartment life.
#1 - Throw out your retractable leash.
I understand the appeal of retractable leashes. You can opt to give your dog ample room, and this often makes the walk easier on you since you don't have to stop as often for him to catch up. However, the mechanisms inside the plastic handle can break, allowing your dog to run off into the sunset.
I'm not suggesting you go out and buy a normal 5 or 6 foot leash. I'm going to take this a little further, in the name of reactive dogs. I suggest using an even shorter leash. Personally, I'm a fan of Ruffwear's 30 inch Knot-a-Long leash. There are a lot of advantages to using a leash of this length around your apartment building.
For one, your dog won't be rounding corners ahead of you. This eliminates the possibility of meeting other dogs and people face to face. With a leash this short, you may also lose the urge to tighten up on it the moment you see another dog coming. If you have a large dog, a 30" leash will make it easier for you to keep your center of balance, so you aren't pulled off your feet.
#2 Always carry treats.
I know this can be hard to remember, so set yourself up for success. Find a zippered pouch and use a carabiner to clip it around the handle of your leash. Restock as needed!
#3 Remember distance is your friend.
For almost every dog, there is a distance from which she'll stop paying attention to your neighbors and their dogs. Find that distance and try to keep it between yourselves and any possible trigger.
#4 Master the "Turn and Go"
When it comes to a reactive dog, politely asking them to "please come along" often doesn't work. In the meantime, your dog is getting more and more riled up. When you've come close to a trigger, instead of beseeching your dog to follow you, just go. You're holding the leash and he'll have to follow.
The good news is, you can make your "Turn and Go" a good experience for your dog. As you begin to turn and move away, start "happy talking" your dog. Use your highest, squeakiest, happiest voice. This also helps you stay calm. It's hard to be mad at your dog while you're baby talking him. While you're turning, start giving your dog those treats you've remembered to bring along. If he's too upset to take them, just wait until he hits that perfect distance from the trigger.
#5 Crate Train
This is very handy for anytime maintenance workers have to be in your apartment. It is often the easiest option for keeping everyone safe. However, I'm not suggesting you just throw your dog in a crate for the first time when the maintenance crew arrives. You'll work up to that gradually.
Set up your dog's crate in a low traffic area of the apartment. Make it comfy with bedding and leave the door open. You can throw some treats in the back to encourage your dog to investigate and develop a positive association with her crate.
After you've done this, start luring your dog into her crate with a treat and rewarding her for going in. Gradually you will practice shutting the door and increase the time she stays in (be sure to continue giving treats while she's inside the crate). When it gets to be more than a few minutes, give her a stuffed Kong to make being in there extra special.
#6 Don't neglect the noise factor.
For some dogs, it isn't so much the visuals of apartment living, but the noise that creates anxiety. Dogs have much better hearing than us, so it's no wonder all the electronic sounds, talking and stomping can get to them. For this reason, it's a good idea to create a "safe sound space" for your dog using white noise.
This is another area where having a crate set up is handy. Again, position the crate in the quietest part of your apartment. Try to create as much white noise in the room as you can. If you don't want to purchase a white noise machine, a cheap box fan will do. Emphasis on cheap! More expensive box fans are often made to be quiet.
Try putting a comforter or thick blanket over your dog's crate to muffle some of the surrounding noise. You can even spritz some Adaptil Pheromone spray inside the crate.
#7 Consider medication.
Overtime, if you find that these tactics don't seem to be helping reduce some of your dog's stress, talk to your veterinarian about anti-anxiety medication. Do not consider this a defeat or reflection of how good of a job you are doing. Some dogs are just less suited to apartment life. When you think of the circumstances in which dogs evolved, it's really amazing some of them do well at all!
Sometimes anti-anxiety medication can just take the edge off enough so your dog can get back to feeling comfortable at home. Trust me, she'll thank you for it!