Dogs in flats – does size matter?

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Alex & Max 1
Sydney MP Alex Greenwich and his dog Max in their pet-friendly apartment block

Breed is more important than bulk when it comes to choosing a dog that won’t drive your neighbours barking mad, writes Isabel Mackie.

Does size matter in the animal kingdom? Not when it comes to pets in strata, say the experts. A massive Great Dane or Doberman is much more likely to prove the perfect apartment pet than a nippy little Jack Russell. “Often, the larger the dog, the better suited they are to apartment-##living,” says Steve Austin, the past president of the Pet Industry of Australia. “People might look at Greyhounds or Salukis or big Irish Wolfhounds and imagine they can’t possibly live happily in small spaces. “But they don’t need as much exercise as other breeds and tend to like to lay around a lot. Generally, it’s not the size of a dog that matters, but the size of the commitment of the owner. No matter whether a dog is large or small, the owner must be prepared to exercise them and spend time with them, and that will fix any behavioural problems.” At a time when two thirds of Australian households own pets and half own dogs and cats, it’s little wonder that more and more apartments are also becoming home to animals. Most new developments now advertise themselves as being ‘pet-friendly’ and owners often find the value of their property rises as a result. “Owning a pet also helps build community in apartment buildings,” says Alex Greenwich, a Sydney independent MP in the NSW Parliament who lives with his Whippet-Fox Terrier-Cross, Max, in a pet-welcoming building in Kings Cross. “People all start to talk about your dog and it creates a much friendlier, happier atmosphere.” Research certainly supports that view. University of Western Sydney social scientist Dr Emma Power is one of the few academics in Australia ever to have studied the issue, and she’s found that most people’s experience of strata-living has been enriched by the presence of pets. “One lady told me that when she first moved into a block, people would smile but avoid her eyes,” says Emma. “But when she bought her dog, every time she went out for a walk with it, people would stop her in the corridor to chat. “That’s an experience we found was duplicated over and over among so many of the apartment residents we interviewed.” Most apartments that permit pets impose rules about noise, control and – often erroneously – the breed of dogs permitted, and then find there are plenty of benefits, including no shortage of tenants for rental units, and more contented owners, since a number of studies have found that having pets improves people’s mental health. The kind of breeds suggested by animal authorities include pugs, Basset Hounds, Great Danes, Boston Terriers, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, Toy Poodles, Shih-Tzu, Yorkshire Terriers, Chihuahua and Bichon Frise. The main rules to remember is to stay with a dog as much as possible when you first move into your apartment until he’s used to it, try to keep as much floor space available as possible and to establish a routine. Then, the cardinal rule is to give your dog enough exercise, whether that’s the owner taking him out for walks, or employing a pet walker to take him out during the day and give him the chance to socialise with other mutts. “A good owner will walk their dog every day, rain, hail or shine,” says Steve Austin, who’s now the current director of Young Diggers Australia, an organisation that trains rescue dogs for returned soldiers suffering from post traumatic stress disorder. “Dogs need regular exercise, which is a mistake many people in big houses with big backyards make. They leave the dog outside, thinking they’ll exercise themselves but dogs don’t think, ‘I’ve got an hour free, I’ll go for a run!’ They need someone to take them out, wherever they live.”

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