Training Your Apartment-Dwelling Dog

Author: Alecia Pirulis

Peanut the Wonder Puppy

Maybe you walked past a pet store or a pet rescue and couldn’t resist stepping inside … just to look. Perhaps someone handed this ball of fur to you and instead of handing it back, you ended up driving home with a five-pound bag of dog food, several squeak toys, a set of bowls, and a bag of training treats. Or maybe a friend’s dog had puppies and this wonderful friend decided to give you a four-legged gift.

Somehow, you’ve ended up with a fluffy little roommate. Now what?

If you’ve never trained a puppy before, it is a long and sometimes frustrating process. Don’t count on having The World’s Smartest Dog who potty-trains in 24 hours. It will take weeks. I made the mistake of bringing home a two-point-five-pound Chihuahua puppy in the middle of February. I stood outside shivering, surrounded by ice and occasionally a little snow waiting for her to “get the idea.” This was most fun at 3am, when she would wake me up whining from her crate. There were many times, standing outside in the middle of the night, that I wondered what I had been thinking. And even though I would (and probably will) do it all again, it takes time, patience, and commitment to train your puppy.

Living in an apartment will make this process even more complicated, especially if you don’t live on the ground floor, or your apartment complex doesn’t have a designated pet area. If you live in a high-rise and have to take the elevator down in the middle of the night, a coat tossed on over your pajamas and a squiggly, whining puppy in your arms, you may decide the entire process isn’t worth it. It is! Even though it may be a little challenging in the beginning, you’ll be glad you stuck it out. (You’ll even look back on the struggles and the accidents and laugh about them. Really!)

If you don’t live on the ground floor and you’ve chosen a small-breed dog such as a Yorkie or a Chihuahua, you may consider litter-training your puppy. Litter training is great for apartment dwellers, especially for those in cold climates. If it is the middle of winter and you live in Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, or even North Carolina – take it from me (yes, winters are cold in Georgia, too), standing in the freezing cold with icy wind whipping your face as you parade an in-absolutely-no-hurry-just-let-me-sniff-and-circle-awhile puppy back and forth – litter training is an excellent idea.

Using a large cat litter box, you can set up an area for your dog that doesn’t involve long hikes to and from your apartment. Most pet stores sell dog litter – fill the pan with it and teach your puppy to use it. Be sure to reward success with a dog treat and lots of praise! (Yes, it seems a little silly to jump up and down clapping that your puppy did his deed, but it really does reinforce the behavior so do it. Even if you are outside and people are watching.)

Crate train your puppy. This is the best way to cut down on accidents (and your landlord will thank you). While you are at work, you will know your puppy – and your apartment – is safe. Be sure to hire a dog sitter or have a friend or relative come by and let your dog out during the day, especially while they are being trained. Be sure the crate is the right size for your dog. Even though I purchased the smallest crate available, my tiny Chihuahua was lost in it. It was large enough that she set up her own “potty” area in her crate. Some crates come with a divider. If your dog is very tiny, use it. Also, be sure your dog has access to water. If they will be in a crate for an extended period of time, they need to be comfortable and safe. Give them a soft blanket and a couple of toys, also. They are less likely to get lonely and whiny – a barking, whining dog could annoy any neighbors home during the day, so be sure you leave your dog happy.

Some dogs are stubborn. My pug (pictured above) is one great example. Even with treats and praise and the fact that I had already trained one dog successfully, she was having none of it. The key to training a stubborn dog is consistency. And a little vigilance goes a long way. Learn their signals and be sure to get them to their litter box or outside as quickly as possible.

No matter how you ended up with your furry new pal, he’ll be worth it. Whether it’s the evening walks you’ll enjoy, the guaranteed best-greeting-ever when you walk in the door after a long day at work or school, the peace of mind knowing that he’ll bark away any intruder, or just having someone to share your roast beef dinner with, being a dog owner is a rewarding experience.