Urban living with pets presents special challenges that many pet owners never think of. There are fewer green spaces, more people and pets in a more confined area, and of course increased traffic. Urban living with pets may encompass several living situations, including single family homes, rented apartments in smaller buildings (think 4-8 family), townhomes or duplexes, and apartment or condominium living in high rises.
The urban landscape is changing with more people moving to downtown areas where living in high rises are more common. These buildings, often housing commercial and residential units together, or with multiple floors of just condominiums and/or apartments, present their own special challenges for pet owners and non-pet owners alike. This article is designed to address the pet owners who reside in high rises with their pets. Since dogs impact both pet owners and non-pet owners more than other pets, the focus of this article will be on dogs.
Below is a list of 10 things that everyone should be aware of when living with dogs in high rises:
1. Dogs need space and exercise: This seems obvious, but all dogs need to get out of the apartment/condo and see, sniff and experience the world. Walks are an important time for dogs to relieve stress, decrease anxiety, burn off energy and develop social skills. They should be walked every day, even when the weather is not great. Dogs are much more tolerant of rain, snow and wind that we humans are and they are happy to go out for a walk and experience the new smells that a fresh rain storm can bring with it. Not to mention, they need to relieve themselves, as well!
What if you have a dog who uses indoor pads to relieve himself/herself? They still need to be walked outside, every day! Here is a link to our recent post on the many benefits of dog walks and why we do different types of walks! If you’re having trouble getting your dog out for his/her daily walk, please reach out to us! We are happy to step in when you can’t be there to give your dog the break he/she deserves!
2. Give people and dogs space: Not everyone who lives in a building that allows pets enjoys your dog as much as you do. Some people are afraid of dogs, may have allergies or just may prefer not to be approached by a dog they don’t know. When walking your dog down the halls, have him properly leashed or harnessed and on a short leash next to you and in your control.
On that note, dog owners need to remember that while your dog may be friendly and want to meet other pups, not all dogs are. I own a dog that, for many years, had extreme anxiety and was not comfortable with other dogs or people he did not know. A dog with another owner may be in training, nervous, shy or not dog-friendly. It is important that all pet owners (and non-pet owners) respect that and give each other space when passing in the halls. This usually means putting the dogs outside and allowing the people to pass closest to each other.
Elevators also present a special handling. Far too often, we see dogs waiting with their owners for an elevator, with their noses pressed against the doors, when the doors open, they rush in. The problem is, sometimes those shy, nervous or anxious dogs are on the elevator, trying to exit. At best, this causes additional stress for the humans and dogs; at worst, a fight can break out causing injury to dog or humans. We all need to remember to have our pups stand away from the door and to only enter the elevator when we know it is safe and clear. It is also a good idea to ask other riders on the elevator if they mind you entering with your dog. Remember, some people have allergies or are afraid, and the small courtesy can go a long way towards building relationships with your neighbors!
3. Help your pup with his/her anxiety: Separation anxiety is real and many owners must deal with a pup that is barking or whining all day while they are gone. This is not only annoying for your neighbors, but it is distressing for your pup! Separation anxiety can be treated behaviorally or with medications. We recommend that if your pup has signs of anxiety, you contact a Veterinarian Behaviorist or a certified dog trainer to help develop a plan. The results are often a happier, more content pup (and happier neighbors)!
4. Clean up after your pup: Okay, it’s true that this rule applies to every dog owner, pet sitter and dog walker in any environment, but it is especially true in urban areas. Dog waste carries disease and bacteria that is harmful to humans and other pets. With almost 40% of households in urban areas owning dogs, that is a lot of waste!
Dog waste is not only unsightly and inconvenient (ever step in a pile you didn’t see?), it can be dangerous for other dogs and humans. Parasite eggs can live in dog feces for a long time, and if another dog sniffs the feces (remember dogs are sniffing machines!) they can pick up parasitic eggs and become infected. Dog feces also can transmit human diseases so it should be picked up immediately and disposed of properly.
5. Don’t approach another owner who is cleaning up after their dog: The reality is that when we (as dog walkers, or owners) are picking up after a dog, our attention is on the task at hand. Trying to handle a dog while picking up its feces can be tricky, even with a well-behaved and well-trained dog. However, if another person or dog approaches, the situation can change quickly. When someone is bent over, with one hand holding a dog and the other trying to clean up his feces, that person is vulnerable. You may mean well by letting your dogs meet, but again, you don’t know how the dog you are approaching will react. Are they shy, nervous, excited? You don’t know until you approach, and the person picking up feces is not in a good position to maintain control of an excited or reactive dog. It is courteous to ask before approaching any dog, but if the owner or dog walker is distracted by another task, wait to approach and give them space.
6. Ask before approaching other dogs: As stated a few times already, it is not a good idea to approach another dog without asking the owner or dog walker. At Milwaukee Paws Pet Care, we have a policy that none of the dogs we walk are permitted to meet other dogs. It is a safety precaution that we take with every single dog. Still, we are often faced with a dog who is off leash on the street or in a public park, or a dog who has a 15 foot retractable leash charging at us and the dogs we walk. Often the owners yell out “he’s friendly!” but the problem is, not all of the dogs we walk are comfortable meeting other dogs, especially if they are on a leash.
It’s respectful and courteous to ask before approaching another dog. On top of that, it can be a safety issue for the dog running in to play. My dog used to be very leash reactive and did not accept new greetings well. We worked with a behaviorist and trained him, but every time a new dog ran up to him while off leash, it set us back and put the other dog in danger of getting bit! This again just stresses the importance of being respectful to those you come in contact with.
7. Keep your dogs leashed and under your control at all times: There are many reasons for this, the first being that you cannot control your dog or give other dogs and people space if your dog is not on a leash. Off leash dogs, even well-trained ones, are still animals with instincts. You may feel that your dog is well trained and will listen to you, but every day, we see dogs who chase a ball, squirrel or other dog into a busy street, who fail to come when called, or who are easily distracted by something. Unless you have taken your pup to an area that is specifically designed for dogs to be off leash (i.e. a dog park, a dog run, or a dog socialization area), they should be leashed and in your control.
Dogs who are not leashed are also in danger of getting injured. They may approach someone who is fearful or anxious with dogs, they may run into traffic and be struck by a car, or may approach a nervous or anxious dog to play and may be bitten instead. Plus, in most states, it is the law that your pet be on a leash of about 6 feet and in your control.
8. Provide your dog walker with everything they need: Use of dog walkers is on the rise, especially with people working longer hours and the increased knowledge of how important socialization and exercise is for dogs. When you own a single-family home, often you give your dog walker a key or a code to access the home. Many high rises do not permit this. They are concerned with safety of all the residents, and as such, often have policies against giving you an extra key or fob to allow your dog walker access. Some buildings want dog walkers to show an ID and sign out a guest key at every visit.
This is great for building safety, but can also have unforeseen consequences. As an example, one of the buildings our team walks dogs in has this policy. Our walkers need to ask the concierge for a key at every visit. One day, our team member called me and stated that while he was scheduled for a 15-minute potty break visit, he had been waiting at the concierge desk for nearly an hour with no signs of her! We called the building and could not get a response. Eventually, the team member needed to leave, and we had to contact the owner who then needed to leave work and let his dog out. Not only did the team member fall behind in his schedule, but he was not able to get the dog outside for her walk that she depends on!
If your building allows you to give a fob and key to your dog walker, do so. If not, have a back-up plan in place in the event that the walkers cannot access your home using the preferred method. Can you have a lock box? Can the walkers have a spare key and use that if needed? Is there someone else in the building they can call to gain entry to your unit? Think about what the backup plan will be if the walker cannot get into your building or apartment.
9. Train your dog: Behavior problems can increase in high rises for many reasons including the increased stimulation to your pet with decreased down time, being in smaller, more confined areas with multiple people/pets (think hallways, elevators and lobby areas) and stress. Training your dog increases your dog’s confidence, reduces their stress, and allows them to be comfortable in a variety of situations. Dogs in high rises need to be able to encounter other dogs and people and do so confidently. If your dog requires space, as some do, living in a high rise can be challenging. In addition, training increases bonding with you and your dog. Hire a qualified trainer to learn how to safely and effectively train your dog to prevent or correct a variety of behavioral issues.
10. Have fun and love your pet! Owning a dog is rewarding and beneficial to you, to others, and to your pet. While living in a high rise in an urban area presents some challenges, you and your pet can have a wonderful, fun-filled life together. Dogs bring so much into our lives, it is only fair that we reciprocate by doing what’s needed to keep them safe, happy and healthy!
If you find yourself having difficulty navigating some of the challenges of urban living in Milwaukee and are interested in finding out how Milwaukee Paws Pet Care can help, please reach out today! Our caring and dedicated team of dog walkers are passionate about meeting and exceeding the needs of our clients and their pets, and we can step in to take your beloved dog on a walk when you can’t be there while also providing the socialization and cognitive enrichment they need each day.