6 Tips to Keep Your City Dog Happy, Healthy & Safe

There are more than 76 million companion dogs living in households in the United States. Rural areas tend to have the highest percentages of dog ownership, but there are plenty of dogs living the big city life, as well. New York City has some 600,000 dogs, while San Francisco has about 230,000 and Seattle has 153,000.

Living in a city with a dog, where apartment living is often the norm and daily life is hectic and crowded requires a bit more effort to keep your pooch happy, healthy and safe. Daily exercise isn’t as easy as sliding open the backdoor to the yard. Small apartments can make it hard to find space for play. And safety risks are everywhere once you step outside.

But having a dog in a city setting can be as wonderful and rewarding as owning a dog anywhere else. You just need to take a few extra precautions. Here are six ways to keep your dog happy, healthy and safe living in a big city.

1. Choose the Right Dog Breed

Not every dog breed is appropriate for city life. A high-energy Border Collie, for instance, will have a hard time living anywhere there's no backyard to run around in. Wee Yorkshire Terriers are notoriously tough to housebreak and need frequent bathroom breaks, making apartment living tough on the entire family.

Picking the right breed will give your dog (and you) a better chance at a happy and safe city life.

Though some large breeds are fine for a decently-sized apartment, small to medium breed dogs tend to do best in city environments. Because they’re smaller, they need less room indoors. Plus, they take up less space when navigating the crowded world outside. It’s much easier to carry your Shih Tzu in a stylish doggy bag than figure out how to get your St. Bernard on the bus. 

Dog breeds that are easily trainable are also better for life in a city. Dogs face lots of stimulation in urban settings. They're inundated with nonstop noise and regularly surrounded by strangers. Your dog must be able to respond to basic commands like heel, sit and stay to stay safe. Obstinate breeds like Boston Terriers and Shiba Inus that don’t like to follow orders are more at risk in big cities.

One of the most important things to consider when having a dog in a city is how your dog will impact your neighbors. Upset your downstairs or next-door neighbors one too many times and you could find yourself in trouble with the landlord or Co-Op board. Vocal dog breeds like Beagles and Siberian Huskies aren’t going to make you a lot of friends and could lead to lots of complaints.  

2. Know the Rules

Knowing the rules no matter where you live is important. But it can be even more important in a city where violations might cost upwards of hundreds of dollars… and in extreme cases, cost you your dog.

For instance, failure to pick up after your dog will cost you $250 in NYC and $320 in San Francisco. In Stanford, CT not having your dog leashed can cost between $50 and $150, while allowing your dog into a prohibited area in Milwaukee will bring a $200.50 fine.

Not all fines are exorbitant. Riding the subway in NYC with your dog not in a carrier will get you kicked off the subway and a fine of $25.

In the worst-case scenarios, having a dog deemed dangerous by a city will result in a fine and may mean the forfeiture of your dog. In North Chicago, no one may own a Pit Bull over 6 months old without a special Pit Bull license, which costs $500 a year. Get caught without a license (plus an insurance policy covering a minimum of $100,000 per year), and you’ll need to move your Pit Bull outside of North Chicago or give up your dog.

Even in cities that don’t need special licensing, specific leashing and/or training laws may apply to breeds like Pit Bulls and Rottweilers.

3. Socialize Your Dog & Follow the Etiquette

Having a dog in the city means being careful of how your pup is interacting with everyone and everything around him. Etiquette is especially important in cities and socialization is key to being able to follow the etiquette.

Starting as a puppy, expose your dog to lots of people. Take him for walks throughout your neighborhood. If you think you’ll need to use public transport, make buses or trains a part of his socialization process.

City dogs need to learn to navigate their world politely. They must never jump on or lunge at a stranger. They shouldn’t bark in a taxi. They must also not take up too much space when in public. No matter their size, etiquette says your dog should never block an aisle on a subway or the bus.

At the same time, you don’t want your dog trembling in fear every time he needs to leave his apartment.

“Make sure the dog you’re adopting has the right temperament for the city,” says Dr. Jennie Snyder, a veterinarian at NYC-based Small Door Vets and consultant for doggy shampoo and conditioner company Pride + Groom. “Some who haven’t been well socialized as puppies can really struggle with the loud noises of traffic, bright lights, etc. and would be much better off living outside the city.”

Another etiquette rule, which in some cities is law, is curbing your dog. In other words, your dog should be relieving himself at the very edge of the sidewalk curb. Not on the sidewalk.

4. Teach Basic Commands

One of the best ways to help keep your dog safe in a city is to ensure he knows basic commands. Heel, sit/stay, and come ensure your dog won’t go running off after a pigeon or run away frightened by a delivery van.

A command like “leave it” can stop your pup from eating something off the sidewalk that could lead to a bad tummy ache or worse.

5. Provide Plenty of Exercise

Making sure your dog gets adequate exercise is important to keep him happy and healthy. But how do you do that in a city?

For some small dogs, playing catch in the apartment may be all that’s needed. But for most dogs, getting outside is mandatory.

In dog-friendly apartment buildings, you might have access to a rooftop play area for your pup. And, of course, all cities have dog parks where your pooch can run around, sometimes off-leash. But walks are effective too.

Brooklyn, NYC-based Ben Tanner, a public communications manager at BNY Mellon Wealth Management, makes sure his Golden Retriever gets a minimum of four walks a day. A high-energy dog, Golden Retrievers need about two hours of exercise a day to prevent weight gain and boredom.

But even lower energy dogs need regular exercise for the same reasons, says Dr. Snyder.

“Most dogs need at least an hour of exercise per day split into multiple walks. Some dogs will need 2 hours (or even 3+) of hard exercise and mental stimulation. Make sure you’re prepared and able to give them enough exercise and outdoor time, particularly if you don’t have a yard or shared outdoor space.”

For many city dog owners, a dog walker is a necessary expense to ensure their dog gets adequate exercise. Doggy day cares are also an option, offering both active play and a chance for dogs to socialize with each other.

6. Find the Fun

Dogs need play as much as they need exercise. Though walks can provide mental stimulation, visits to the dog park give your pup much-needed socialization with other dogs, as well as room for games like catch.

But even without a backyard, there are ways for your dog to have fun at home. You don’t need a lot of room for a bit of tug-of-war. And puzzle games are excellent tools for keeping your dog’s mind active, especially if you’re going to be at work for much of the day.

With some dog breeds, like English Springer Spaniels or Basset Hounds, nose work can be a great way to provide your pooch with some distraction. Place a few prey-scented toys around the apartment, then set your dog loose to find them.

Always wanted a dog that does tricks, like “shake” or “roll over”? Teaching a dog a new trick is another way to keep his mind occupied when there’s no backyard to throw a ball around in.

Interested in watching our training sessions playlist? Check it out on YouTube!