One of the things that lives on most peoples' bucket list is to try the carefree, bohemian lifestyle of living downtown in a hip loft or condo overlooking a city. And I can tell you, I am certainly one of those people, and a few years back I had the opportunity to follow that dream! It was an interesting transition for me, but for my dogs, it was a world of new smells, sights, sounds, and experiences!
So I want to share with you, my experience and tips on how to move with your dog downtown to a loft or condo!
First things first, when you are considering moving downtown you have to think long and hard about your four-legged-friends. At a minimum, you need to make sure there is a safe and easily accessible place for your dog to be able to go to the bathroom. Beyond that, you need to consider their personality, how they react to new situations and people, and where you are going to exercise them.
Let's tackle the easy one first, making sure they have a good, safe, and clean place to go to the bathroom. Before I moved downtown, I was living in a nice house with a backyard. I was able to open the back door, send my two golden retrievers out to do their business, and they’d come trotting back inside. I didn’t have to go with them, I didn’t need to find a leash, deal with an umbrella on rainy days, or pick up their poop as soon as they went because I cleaned up en masse every few days.
I was spoiled to the easy suburban life of dog walking.
So when I went looking for my first place downtown walking the dogs weren’t my first thought. I was thinking about parking, skylights, big windows, and how the view will look at night. The first place I looked at was beautiful! Had everything I wanted, including an elevator!
I was so ready to sign on the line. But as we were leaving I started to look about and plan out how life would really be. And then it hit me - there is no grass outside the building. Every bit of open space outside the building was taken up with parking spaces. Having grown up in this city and spending countless evenings hanging out in the area I knew it like the back of my hand, but what I had never noticed was grassy areas. So I started scanning the area around the building, and the CLOSEST grass area larger than a couple weeds growing in a crack in the concrete was 2 blocks away and on the side of the highway!
At that moment, I realized that my first priority when shopping for a new urban home was not the architectural details and convenience items, but how will things be for my dogs. With my new search criteria in hand, I set off looking for new options. I quickly found a whole community within the downtown living community of other dog owners who have built up little spaces around their buildings for their dogs. Some buildings carved out a little of the parking lot to make a grass area for tenants, one building had built a large gated courtyard with a fountain and poop bag dispensers for their 4 legged residents, and still, others relied on the small green spaces sprinkled throughout downtown.
I got lucky in finding a building that ticked off all my original boxes (except an elevator, which will cause some issues later for the dogs) as well as all my new dog related tick boxes as well. The gated and fenced public parking lot behind the building actually had a very large grass around the edges right behind my building, so it was very convenient for our bathroom walks. It was also nice since it was fenced and gated it always felt safe even when I needed to take the dogs for a 3am bathroom run. So I signed a lease and moved to the third floor with my 2 big fluffy goldens. We had succeeded! We were now a part of the downtown living community, everything was all good. Right?
What I Learned After I Moved In
Thankfully, being a dog trainer and having 2 older golden retrievers, my dogs were very quick to adapt to new environments and new situations.
But that doesn’t mean everything was easy. The first hurdle we had to deal with was now living on a 3rd floor walkup. Getting home every day and trudging up the stairs with a pair of 9-year-old goldens and 5 bags of groceries was always a solid test of how well they listened to me with minimal leash input. The next thing we had to contend with was motivation to go on bathroom walks. My boy golden was always happy to hop up and go for a walk no matter what. My girl one, however, would weigh the effort needed to do the stairs with how much she thought she needed to go. On many occasions, I had to prod her into coming with us for a bathroom walk! She would begrudgingly come along but she would huff when we got back to the stairs to come home again.
As we lived in the space longer, we really got to know the neighborhood while out on walks. What restaurants to walk by that had patios the pups could talk people into giving them some pets as they went by, what natural areas usually had broken glass in it that we had to avoid, dark corners and alleys to not walk by, and which other buildings had other dogs they could visit as they went out on walks. It was a great time learning all of this. But there were times when I had to step in and work with them on things they didn’t like.
Dealing with new sounds and experiences
Being downtown there is a base level of noise that doesn’t exist in suburban neighborhoods. Cars constantly driving through, airplanes flying overhead on final approach to the airport, commercial air conditioners that would kick on as we walk by, street sweeper trucks, garbage trucks, and in an old southern industrial city like we live in, trains. Right beside our fenced parking lot with the grass area is the main train tracks that run through the city. Being an old iron working city, there are 4 sets of tracks that at any given time of day or night there is a train passing through. If you’ve never been right next to a freight train as it passes by, it is loud.
Very loud, actually. And one thing I never knew about, when a parked train starts moving it can be 15 blocks of clanking, as each car engages and starts moving. For a person, it's loud. For a dog that has no idea what is happening, I can imagine it seems like a world ending event.
With my goldens, I had to spend a bit of time walking them around getting them used to the noises. I would use a few snacks to distract them and give them something positive. But I would really spend a lot of time doing training while these things are going on. I personally feel that for a dog who is trained, when their mind is preoccupied by something new and it has taken over their thought process (like a street sweeper going by), the best way to help them overcome being overwhelmed by thought is to engage their brain in doing work and skills that they know well. Even if it is simply working on leash walking and every 4 or 5 feet having them sit. It can help snap their brain out the cycle of stress.
Neighbors and exercise
Before we lived in our house in the suburbs I lived in an apartment with my dogs. During that time they got used to sounds of having neighbors overhead stomping around, people through the walls making noise, and walking out into the walkway and there being someone they don’t know walking by. This experience made the transition to urban life a little bit easier for them. But if your puppy hasn’t had that experience, you should be very aware how they react to these things.
The number one thing to do is work on desensitizing your dog to these new situations. Always keep a couple of treats handy so when you meet a new person you can give them a snack for your puppy. When your puppy hears a new noise while you are in your place and alerts to it, tell them, “Thank you. Now leave it.” You don’t want to harsh about it, but you want them to know that they don’t have to alert to every little noise and react to it.
If you have a dog that does react to every little noise with a bark or growl it is time to break out the leash to use inside, and brush up on the command "Leave it." Your job is to be more persistent than they are. Every time they alert, tell them "Leave It." If they do not respond, repeat the command and give a light, but firm, collar correction. If they do not respond to that, you should physically walk them away from the situation so it breaks their concentration. Be consistent, and it will get better.
One thing we learned was how enjoyable going for walks are downtown. At least where we live, there are many green spaces to walk to so that we can get some exercise and relax a bit once we get there. Plus, walking on sidewalks and having to stop at crosswalks and red lights made a great opportunity for training! Just always be aware of your surroundings while out walking and keep in mind that not every other dog or person you meet loves dogs as much as you do.
The last thing I would like to say about this is that when you move downtown with your dog, be the best citizen you can be. Always carry poop bags and clean up after your dog. Respect signage for buildings that don’t want you walking your dog in their spaces. And don’t let your dog be a bother to others. As people start moving back downtown it is important that we show people how great it is to have good dogs around.