Whether out of preference, convenience or simply down to cost, there’s no denying more Australians than ever before are choosing apartment living. In fact, the number of apartments in Australia had exploded to 1.2 million at the time of the 2016 Census – an increase of 78% in 25 years.  

At the same time, data is also confirming to us the positive impact of pets on our health and wellbeing. Not only do pets encourage us to lead healthier lifestyles, but pet ownership has been found to be significantly correlated with a number of health benefits such as fewer doctor visits, lowered stress and increased social support for individuals*. Added to this, increasing evidence also suggests that pet ownership can improve cardiovascular health, with dogs in particular acting as a stimulus for exercise**. But does the fact more and more of us are opting to live in apartments mean we’re having to sacrifice our chance of living with pets?

According to the 2016 Pet Ownership in Australia Survey, the number one barrier to pet ownership, cited by non-pet owners, are problems with strata and body corporate regulations. Indeed, pet lovers often face resistance from landlords, strata committees and neighbours when it comes to approving their four-legged family member. However, the good news is, increasingly, pets are being welcomed by housing corporations with reforms to Victorian legislation giving pet owners the right to keep pets provided they obtain the landlord’s written consent – and the onus on the landlord to seek approval from VCAT if they choose to refuse consent to a pet. In Queensland, the banning of all pets, as well as banning dogs of a certain size or weight by body corporates has been ruled invalid by the Queensland Commissioner and in a mid-2016 review of strata laws in NSW, Fair Trading has taken a much friendlier view to pets, encouraging people and strata plans to allow pets in their buildings.

Strict legislation may not be the stranglehold on pet ownership that it once was, but that’s no reason to rush out and invest in a Rhodesian Ridgeback. Not all pets are designed for apartment living and your first decision needs to be which pet is right for you and your home – cats, for example, have fewer requirements than dogs, and most breeds can be kept indoors with little to no impact on their health and wellbeing – you can even encourage cats to explore the outdoors safely, on a lead or within a confined play area. If your heart is set on bringing a dog into your apartment lifestyle, however, there are several aspects of dog ownership to consider before committing to your decision.

Find the right fit

Choosing the right breed for apartment living is critical. Firstly - the physical size of your dog will dictate how easily you can transport your pet in and out of your apartment – up and down stairs or into lifts. Stairs can be difficult, for example, for breeds with long bodies and short legs.

The breed of dog will also dictate its exercise requirements. Apartments are small spaces where it is difficult to play boisterous and active games with dogs. As such, they will need to go out at least once a day to somewhere they can run safely off leash, and be taken for walks. Some breeds were bred to be active for most of the day, like hunting, gundog, herding breeds and sledding breeds, and therefore are simply not suited to predominantly indoor life. When choosing a dog for apartment life it’s important to realise that there are always exceptions within breeds. Some individuals are very laid back and tolerant and others are alert spitfires. So once you have settled on a breed, you may wish to look for an adult that is already showing their adult personality, or find a breeder you trust to select a suitable puppy from a litter. If you wish to adopt a dog, go through a rescue organisation that allows a generous settling in period during which you can return the dog if they turn out to be unhappy in an apartment environment.

Top Dogs for Apartment Living

•    Bulldog
•    Boston Terrier
•    Bichon Frise
•    Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
•    Chihuahua
•    Dachshund
•    French Bulldog
•    Greyhound
•    Maltese
•    Poodle
•    Pomeranian
•    Pug
•    Shih Tzu
•    Silky Terriers

Be a good neighbour

Good relations between you and your neighbours won’t last long if your dog is noisy or disruptive, so it’s worth remembering that dogs are very much like people: we deeply hate to be bored, and so do animals. If they can’t find things to engage them around the apartment, they will make their own fun - think chewing furniture, breaking into kitchen cupboards or counter-surfing for food, barking at everything they happen to notice and digging at the carpet. Of course, when living in an apartment, behaviours such as these – especially barking – are much less tolerable to neighbours because more people will be impacted by it.

To guard against this disruptive behaviour, it’s important to provide your dog with mental stimulation throughout the day. An easy way to do this is to leave food puzzle toys for your dog while you’re at work, or create scent trails around the apartment with goodies hidden at the end. Rotate the toys you leave out for your dog each day, to ensure they have something new to explore, and consider your local doggy daycare centre, which will offer a stimulating mix of social playtime, puzzle time and rest time to keep them engaged throughout the day.

Professional Advice

Of course, no matter how diligent you are, you may still run into problems. The density of unfamiliar humans and other dogs in an apartment building may be a source of stress for some dogs, for example. Some dogs have trouble adjusting to all the constant sounds and become anxious and forever on the alert, and some dogs find strangers threatening and it is very challenging to get these dogs out of the apartment without creating more stress for them when they inevitably meet strangers. If you do face problems, it’s important to seek professional advice – dog trainers are increasingly used to visiting dogs in their home environment to provide support and advice to pet owners and to guide you in making changes to ease your dog’s behaviour or stress.

Top tips for living in apartments with pets

•    Check your strata rules before purchasing an apartment or the rules for renting before purchasing a pet
•    Select a pet that suits your apartment living, paying attention to breed and personality
•    Iron out behavioural problems such as barking with the support of a professional dog trainer
•    Provide daily enrichment for your dog or research local dog daycare facilities for their mental stimulation

*Ferry, L. A. (2007). Adult Pet Attachments.
**Walsh, F. (2009). Human-Animal Bonds 1: The Relational Significance of Companion Animals.