Can a Big Dog Live Happily in a Small Home?

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Q. I have a neighbor who has a Mastiff in a city apartment. I see her taking him for walks and he seems happy, but isn't living in such a small space cruel to a large dog breed?

A. Dogs are among the most adaptable of species, and that’s likely one of the reasons why they’ve been our coworkers and companions for so many generations. Big or small, dogs have shown an astonishing ability to be happy in every kind of human environment, from massive ranches to tiny urban apartments.

Big Dogs Can Live Pretty Much Anywhere

Almost any dog, regardless of size, can be happy anywhere if the owner is willing to satisfy the animal’s need for exercise. That means a minimum of half an hour of aerobic exercise each day, the kind of gets-the-heart-pumping activity that comes with running or a game of fetch. That’s obviously easier to accomplish if you have a small dog or a big yard, but with a determined owner, even a big dog living in the big city can get enough daily exercise.

I know people who keep high-energy dogs such as Border Collies and Weimaraners in Manhattan. Some of these pet owners can handle the dogs’ activity needs on their own, and some of them rely on pet care services such as dog walkers, runners and daycare centers to help. Either way is OK.

But Certain Breeds Do Better in the City

Many people think a dog’s size is the only thing that matters when it comes to whether or not city living is possible, but with large dogs, the breed type is really more important. Some large dogs, typically herding and sporting breeds, were developed to work constantly, and it's more difficult to keep them happy in a small apartment.

Not so the large breeds of the guarding and sighthound categories, such as your neighbor's Mastiff and the Greyhound. These breeds were developed to work in short bursts and relax the rest of the time. In fact, retired racing Greyhounds make such wonderful pets for those who want a low-energy companion that these dogs are known as “40 mph couch potatoes.”

The bottom line is this: Apartment living is not cruel, even for a big dog, and if the dog and the owner both seem happy, I’d be guessing they are happy, indeed. 

To learn about breeds that may be a particularly good fit for smaller homes, check out: 13 Dog Breeds That Are Ideal For Apartments.

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