On the assumption that large dogs can’t live in small apartments

Working at a humane society, I often come across the notion that a large dog can’t live in a small apartment. “Oh, we certainly don’t have room for a dog that size,” the person will say, eyes roving disapprovingly over a Labrador mix of medium stature. Having personally housed a 90 lb Great Dane/Labrador/husky mix in a 650 square foot apartment, I’d like to debunk this myth.

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Getting a dog is not like getting a goldfish, in which you match the size of the fish to the tank. Or like getting a hamster, when the animal lover inside of your shrivels at the thought of the hamster’s quality of life inside of those miniature bars. A dog is not even like a housecat, confined to the interior of your home, with only the windows a peek into the outside world.

A dog’s house is as big as you make it. You might not have thought you had a backyard at all, but once you get a leash and a dog, the whole world is your backyard. Dogs are meant for venturing out into the world at our sides: sticking their heads out of our car windows with their tongues blowing back in the wind; causing ruckuses in the dog-treat aisle of the hardware store while we act like they don’t belong to us; running like a pack of wolves at our ankles as we exercise in the wee hours of the morning.

Further, a dog is not a possession that takes up space. A dog is not a divan that you purchased before measuring the length of the wall, and have now discovered won’t fit, or a lamp that is too big for an end table. A dog is a new family member. When my husband snuggles up next to me in bed on a muggy night, I don’t think to myself, “Damn, I never should have gotten this husband. There simply isn’t room for him.”

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Legs for days.

Also, I don’t know if you realized this, but dogs have legs. And they move. Occasionally, they even move where you ask them to. When living in our tiny apartment—where we only had room for one meager love seat, my husband and I often wanted to sit on it together. When our dog was already lying on it, we did not throw up our hands in helpless disbelief and think “What have we done! This dog is too big!” We pointed at the ground, or at the dog bed, and said “Chara, get down.” And then we tossed her a treat to assuage our guilt over stealing her spot. 

Common supporting arguments to the “we can’t have a big dog in a small space” belief are: that big dogs are noisier, and that they require more exercise. Both of these are patently untrue or nonsensical.

First, it is common knowledge of dog lovers that small dogs are the yappiest. Even those of us that love them will admit it. Large dogs tend to be raised to have more confidence and to feel more comfortable in the world. They are also held to higher standards of behavior, because they can’t be picked up and put in a purse. For that reason, they feel less of a need to shout at every passerby.

Second, all dogs require exercise, and size isn’t necessarily an indicator of how much. For example, the greyhound is a medium-large sized dog that likes to spend its time lounging on couches. However, even if you wanted to adopt a gigantic, high-energy husky mix, having a small apartment shouldn’t stop you. Exercising your dog does not take place in your apartment. Having a small apartment doesn’t restrict you from walking an extra three blocks, or for going for a jog around the park. It’s not like dogs who live in giant houses spend their time doing laps.

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A photo of the two of us, so you can see how gloriously large she is.

So the next time you find yourself telling someone that your house is too small for a large dog, take a step back and examine the true reason you don’t want a large dog. Maybe it is that you think small dogs are cuter. Or that you are an inherently lazy person and so want a dog that will be happy sitting upon your couch with you (in which case make sure you get an old dog, because small dogs also go stir crazy).

Or maybe you just had always heard that large dogs shouldn’t live in small places, and had never stopped to think it through yourself. In which case you should go out today and adopt yourself the biggest dog you can find.

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