There’s no question as to why the Labrador Retriever ranks number one in popularity, according to the American Kennel Club. Everything about the breed is desirable. This is why I chose one, and likely you are considering one, too. However, it is really important to make sure that the timing and situation that you find yourself in will suit owning this incredible breed. I have learned over the years that it is not only important from our own standpoint, but also from our Lab’s, too. This is why I wanted to spend a few minutes on an important topic when it comes to considering Labradors as apartment dogs. In my college years, I found myself tempted to adopt a Lab while I was still an apartment dweller. Boy am I glad that I didn’t!
Do Labradors make good apartment dogs?
Labradors are capable of apartment living, but it is not an ideal environment for them. Despite the advice from some, there are 5 primary reasons why Labs should never be kept in apartments if it can be avoided:
- Space limitations
- Lack of private outdoor space
- They can be loud
- It can be costly
- Health concerns
Throughout this article I will cover each of the 5 primary reasons in detail. I never would have considered some of these complications and inconveniences had I not lived through this period with another breed. It has left me only imagining how much worse it would have been if I had Molly during that time.
For some, I recognize that apartment living may be on the horizon after having already become a Lab owner. I would encourage you to take note of these reasons, and begin considering how you will be able to over come them in your new environment as you read through. I will also spend a bit of time giving some helpful advice for those that find themselves facing this challenge. Let’s dig in!
3 Must-Have Products for Apartment Labs:
Large dog pee pads for under the crate (save your security deposit)
Artificial grass for porches (great for upper levels where porch doors can be left open)
Supply of poop bags (don’t be THAT neighbor)
1. Space limitations
Size of the Lab
This is likely the most obvious of all of the reasons as to why Labrador apartment living isn’t the best idea. It’s no secret that Labradors are fairly large dogs. I wrote an article about how big they get here, so I won’t cover that in too much detail. Though I would encourage you to check that out so that you can get a sense of some of the specifics on sizing and timing.
However, the big takeaways are that Labs will likely reach upwards of 70 pounds and they grow very quickly. Much of their growth occurs in their first year. A dog of this size can make smaller spaces a challenge!
You have to consider that it’s not just the size of your Lab himself, but additionally the size of his toys, food containers, crate, bed and so on. If you will be living in a larger apartment, then this may not be as big of an issue.
Size of your household
Another big factor, no pun intended, is the size of your family. Your human family, that is!
When we first got Molly, we were in a smaller sized home and it was a real challenge. We were also a family of 5, so even though our home was bigger than most 3 bedroom apartments, it was still a problem.
I wouldn’t have thought that space would have been such a big deal, but given that we aren’t all stationary it becomes more important than one would think. When we think about having an apartment dog, we picture hanging out on the couch with our buddy by our side. What we don’t think about is moving around from room to room. Or, our kids playing and running across the house. Or even that our Lab will start out as a highly energetic puppy that also wants to run!
So indoor space, or lack thereof, is huge. If you live alone and your space will be under 1,000 square feet I would strongly consider a smaller breed. If your family consists of more than just you in that same space, I would wait.
2. Lack of private outdoor space
Apartment living almost always means that you will not have any private outdoor space. It certainly won’t be something that is closed off, so even if you land a unit that has a back porch with some open field – it’s not YOUR field! This is a problem for a breed such as a Lab.
Labs need open space to run
Labradors are working dogs and really need the room to run. Especially during their younger puppy years. Labs will have high, puppy-level energy for generally the first 2-3 years of their lives. Not having an ability to just let them run out back for awhile creates tremendous challenges.
This problem is compounded once you realize that it doesn’t stop there. Not only can you not simply open up the back door to let your Lab run free, but most apartment complexes won’t have any area on the property that will allow you to do this. The end result is a sporting dog breed that is unable to behave in a way that is natural to them for most of their waking hours.
Don’t forget the leash laws
I also found that most apartment complexes will have very strict leash rules. Even if you’re comfortable with your Lab taking a quick potty break leashless, they may not be! Plus, with the close proximity of your neighbors, and potentially other dogs, this could lead to even bigger trouble!
For me, this one is a deal breaker. Even if you’re fortunate to have a dog park nearby, it most likely wouldn’t be reasonable to make that trip daily. It just isn’t as convenient as having a yard of our own. This likely results in your Lab suffering, and in some cases can lead to destructive behavior as a result of reduced activity.
3. Labradors are loud apartment dogs
One of the greatest benefits of having a large dog is the security benefits. The loud bark will serve as a deterrent for any unwanted “visitors”, but of course can be a nuisance for owners on a daily basis. Herein lies the problem when it comes to considering Labs as apartment dogs.
I have lived in several apartments throughout my younger years. Apartment living teaches you a lot about common courtesy. You are literally surrounded by others, on all sides, at all times. At some point, you will likely be on the delivering end as well as the receiving end of excessive noise.
Having Labradors as apartment dogs would probably skew this, and there’s a good chance you’ll wind up being “that” neighbor.
It doesn’t take much
I found through my experience with Molly that it really doesn’t take much to get her going. Whether it is a simple doorbell on a commercial, to an unexpected knock, and even the sound of dogs nearby – she goes absolutely bananas. Oh, and heaven forbid we struggle in the slightest to get the key in the door after a grocery run! Sound all the alarms!
Having this occur multiple times per day will create havoc with your neighbors. Bear in mind, these are all natural reactions from a fully grown adult Lab. Consider the possibility that whining and crying might occur overnight or while you may be away during the puppy phase. This is asking for trouble.
Additionally, with their large size simply running and playing across the room can be disturbing as well. Remember, your Lab will have that built up energy as a result of having no outdoor space. It is not reasonable to expect them to not try and exert anything, so playtime will likely occur indoors quite often.
Don’t be that neighbor.
4. Labradors in apartments can be costly
Depending on your town, apartment hunting in and of itself can be challenging. Trying to find one in the right location and at the right price for your budget can at times be a daunting task. Once you throw in additional complexities, like trying to accommodate pets, it can be an even bigger headache.
I have found that many apartment complexes choose to place restrictions on the type of dogs that they will allow their tenants to have. Many times the restrictions they place are on specific breeds, but I have also seen size be one of the factors that they use to exclude within their lease agreements.
You will need to be aware of this and clarify with your leasing office ahead of time. It would be an awful scenario to find yourself in if you were forced to choose between finding a new home in 30 days or giving up your Lab – all because you failed to abide by the lease agreement.
Assuming that you find an apartment that will allow Labs, you will likely be faced with a sizeable security deposit. In many cases, these deposits are the equivalent of one months rent! This is common practice, and is not unique to Labs. However, you have to consider the likeliness of losing your deposit.
While the temperament of Labs is generally very good, you may be at a greater risk of losing your deposit depending on how long you stay in the apartment. The lack of room to run often leads to dogs finding alternative ways to exert energy. Sometimes, this comes in the form of destruction.
In my experience it has started with the ripping apart of toys. Then, it proceeded into destroying a doggy bed. What finally drew the line was when our furniture became the next target!
Also, we have to address the concerns around pet stains. Pets have accidents. No matter how careful you are, you will likely have pee, poop, and vomit to clean up at some point during your stay. Things happen. A couple of episodes of this can be the end of a security deposit. Remember, it’s management’s discretion as to whether “additional care” needed to go into cleaning your carpets.
5. Health Concerns
Last, but certainly not least is the negative effects on health. While some things aren’t specific to apartment living, others are.
Being locked up all day
Often, apartment living is attributed to specific lifestyle situations. Many of these are situations where owners live alone and are gone all day. The result in these scenarios is a Labrador who more often than not feels neglected. This can lead to lethargy and loss of appetite with simultaneous weight gain due to no activity.
None of these are good for your dog’s physical and mental well-being.
Labradors can feel separation anxiety, as I wrote about in this article: Ease Your Dog’s Separation Anxiety, and as you can imagine this can take a toll on their mental health. This is a problem regardless of whether or not you crate train your dog.
I recall being forced into this situation with another dog that I had in the early years of college. After a couple of months of a hectic school schedule, I was forced to make a choice that I didn’t want to. Ultimately, it was in my dog’s best interest to no longer live with me. The schedule I had to maintain just didn’t make sense, and I recognized that I was not able to be there for him. I had to give him up for his own good.
Trust me when I tell you that this is not a situation you want to find yourself in.
Eating something dangerous
In situations where your dog is left alone all day and they are not crate trained, this is a big concern. Couple the potential feelings of anxiety with the lack of proper exercise and energy exertion and things can go very badly.
I had a friend who had this very situation. When his wife returned home from work one evening, she found her kitchen floor covered in trash. The dog had gotten into the trashcan, and had consumed 3-4 chicken bones.
I’m happy to report that the dog ended up being okay. That is, after a $3,000 surgery where they had to remove blockage as a result of the bones.
This could happen from destroying toys, clothes, furniture – you name it.
Again, if your living situation will be different and someone will be home quite often, then this shouldn’t be a factor for you in determining if Labradors will be good apartment dogs.
I think it is important to consider that if you won’t be living on the bottom floor of an apartment, stairs could be a real challenge for your Lab. As we know, hip dysplasia is a common problem among Labradors as they age. Having to repeatedly climb stairs throughout the day can exacerbate any problems your Lab is already having.
I also would think this added stress to an otherwise healthy Labrador could take it’s toll over time.
What you can do to overcome the challenges
As I explained above, I recognize the fact that while I do not think Labradors make good apartment dogs, there may be times where a situation is unavoidable. In those cases, I wanted to share some ideas that I think could make the best of an unfavorable situation.
Size limitations tip
I thought for quite some time about how you reduce the size of your Lab. Unfortunately, I was unable to come up with any workable solutions!
However, I spent some time thinking about some of the other things that I mentioned above with size, and it reminded me of something I saw on Pinterest.
One of the biggest items you’ll have to carry with a Lab is the Extra Large dog crate. I saw some pretty neat ideas on how some people created a DIY crate enclosure. Essentially, this allowed them to use the top of the crate for another purpose. This could come in handy with limited space! There are also crates that you can buy that come as dual-purposed. See my Recommended Products for an example.
Lack of outdoor space ideas
Overcoming the fact that you don’t have a private back yard is a challenging feat. Simply put, nothing will replace the benefit of having that space. However, for the purposes of simply making sure your Lab is able to get the needed exercise I have a few key recommendations:
Find a local dog park – Membership dog parks are a great option, especially if you can find one nearby. While I recognize that the additional cost might hurt the wallet, it is my experience that in the long run these are better.
Too many problems occur at parks where anyone can just show up. Often times owners will allow their dogs to run rampant while they browse social media. This can be extremely frustrating. Additionally, you don’t have any sense of security that all dogs in attendance are healthy with up to date shot records.
Paid parks typically collect your information and provide you with an access key. The one I use will shut down my access if you don’t provide updated health records.
Run with your Lab – Labs can be great running partners. If you’re into running at all then this is a no brainer. If you’re not, but could stand to get a little more exercise than you do, then you’ve got a live-in workout buddy!
Choose the right toys – Make sure the toys that you keep in the apartment are stimulating for your dog. I have found that toys that make a dog think can help in these environments.
The best example is utilizing a Kong with a treat inside. If the right size combination is used, this can serve as a strategy game that lasts for hours on end. While I am no expert, I’ve seen Molly completely exhaust herself trying to solve the problem!
This is the one area that I think would cause the most trouble, even with mitigation tips. A Labrador’s bark is loud. Period.
I would never want to see anyone even attempt to condition a dog to never bark under any circumstance, nor do I think it’s a reasonable strategy. So in my estimation, the best thing we could do is train our Labs to halt their barking with a specific sound or signal. This will work wonders when you are home. However, the biggest challenge we face in the apartment living scenario is how often we won’t be home. No amount of training will stop a barking fit if nobody is there to give the command!
Nonetheless, I would recommend establishing that command for when you are home. There is nothing more frustrating than constantly shushing your Lab, only for her to give another single bark or growl in defiance! Ask me how I know!
For this, I would recommend Adrienne Farricelli’s Brain Training for Dogs online training program. Adrienne spent over 10 years developing her program, and eliminating the uncontrollable barking is one of the many objectives in the program!
Here is a link to her program: Brain Training for Dogs
A big part of mitigating the headaches and costs that you may find yourself dealing with is doing proper research up front.
You must be completely transparent about your household when looking into apartment living. It should be crystal clear to the property management that you have a large dog before you ever sign a lease. In fact, given that most complexes charge application fees you should ensure this is understood and discussed before wasting money on an application. The last apartment I lived in charged $40 just to apply!
After having checked the box to ensure having your Lab there is within the rules (this includes actually reading the Pet Policy in the lease agreement), it will simply become mitigation tactics. For this, I recommend overloading on chew toys and household cleaners. See my Recommended Products page for specific favorites of mine!
Keeping that in mind, if you have an opportunity to rent an apartment that has tile or wood floors I would definitely go with that option!
I hope I have helped you in assessing whether or not Labradors are good apartment dogs. Clearly, my opinion is that there are too many reasons that you should not willingly enter into this situation.
It is important to remember that patience is a virtue! You want your experience as a Lab owner to be a good one. If this means that you might need to wait a couple of years until you have a home of your own, so be it.
If it is too late, and you are now trying to figure out how to handle it the best way possible, I hope I’ve given you some things to investigate!