Big Dog in a Small Apartment Survival Guide

About a week ago we welcomed our German Shepherd puppy mix! We really took a chance on going through with the adoption ad that a family friend sent us. Although we had our hearts set with a German Shepherd breeder (a deposit was put down and everything), after meeting our pup at the Berkley Humane shelter I knew she would do great with us and vice versa. She is such an affectionate sweetie. It’s been only a little over a week with her but I really can’t imagine our days without her! Yeah yeah yeah, I know I’m dramatic.

My sweet Hilo wilo!

Meet Hilo (HEE-LOW)! Our 4-month-old pup weighing in at 37.5 lbs! I myself am a first-time dog owner so I really didn’t know what to expect. Not only am I a first-time dog owner but my first dog is a German Shepherd. A dog breed that is known to be one of the smartest working breeds out there. On day 1 Hilo learned where her crate was, what it was for and how to sit, and it took us 5 days to potty train her. I knew she was going to be the type of dog to outsmart me and if she really wanted to, get into trouble! Any German Shepherd dog owner will tell you that a bored German Shepherd is a reckless one. Nonetheless, Our family is ready to start this new journey!

1. Toys

LOTS AND LOTS OF CHEW TOYS! Puppies are chewers. Their chomps don’t feel too nice either! Think of their bites like a mild baby shark. So get a lot of toys with different range of textures because you never know what your puppy may favor. Hilo loves plush animal squeaker toys. She didn’t really pay any attention to the rope and tug chew toys. Since I had only bought her three stuffed squeaker toys, she decided to steal some toys from my daughter so I had to make a run to the pet store to get more. She also loves any type of ball that she can carry around and chase after.

Her favorite is a platypus squeaker and the sheep ball!

But my absolute favorite and versatile dog toy is the classic Kong dog toy. You can throw it, your dog can chew it, stuff it with treats, or use it as something to keep your puppy busy while you’re gone. It’s perfect! I love the fact that you can find recipes online to make something called a “kong stuffer”. Hilo’s favorite kong stuffer recipe is a mix of frozen bananas, kibble, and low sugar peanut butter. If I know I am going out and leaving her in her crate for a couple of hours, I will prepare her favorite kong stuffer the night before and freeze it.

2. Crate

Crate training is an important process for any new dog coming into a new home. Your puppy will gain a sense of stability knowing that this crate is their den. Their den is their escape for when they feel anxious, stressed or not feeling well so it’s important for them to know that they have their own space. This does not only give stability to the dog but to the owner as well. Knowing that your dog is safe and not soiling your home while you are away, gives you a peace of mind. There are many positive benefits to crates so make sure you buy one of the appropriate size.

Her sleepy corner

3. Cadwell Potty Training Bells

In an apartment, I don’t really have the luxury of a front or backyard for my fur baby to relieve herself. For the past couple of days, the Cadwell bells have made potty training so easy for me and my apartment floors. I ordered my set of bells from and was pleased to find a training manual included in the packaging. My smart pup was able to get the hang on it after the second day of having the bells. I hang it on the front door handle and she is able to “boop” the bells with her nose with her fixed gaze on me to let me know she needs to go. If your dog is on a larger scale, I would encourage you to teach your dog to hit the bells with their nose rather than their paws scratching the door.

One issue I did come across with this method is that Hilo associated the bells mainly with going outside but not really with going to the bathroom. So for two days straight I heard ringing every five minutes. I fixed this problem by taking her out every time she rang the bell. Yes, I took her every five minutes outside because if I ignored the bells, it would defeat the purpose. As annoying as that was, I found it was important for her to go out to her designated spot to use the bathroom and when she was done, go back inside. No playing, no sniffing, no walking around. Straight to her spot then back inside. I wanted her to disassociate the bells with going outside to play.

4. Indoor Games

Mental stimulation is just as important as the physical workout. Now that we’re in the rainy season, walking is not too ideal because of the wet dog smell Hilo brings back with her. During times when we can’t go out, I come up with DIY brain games and ‘smart’ toys to entertain her and tire her out. Here are some of the things I’ll do to keep her mentally stimulated:

• During her meal times, I’ll sprinkle her food around the apartment so she can sniff her food out.
• Teach her new tricks
• Fill her Kong with treats
• Brain toys DIY
• Brain games DIY
• DIY Tug-o-war toys made out of old t-shirts

There are so many ideas you’ll find online!

5. Time

Keeping a dog breed that is huge, smart, and energetic in an apartment is not easy but it’s not impossible. If you live in an apartment or a small home, I suggest you make sure you have a lot of time in your schedule for this breed. Lucky for us, my schedule alternates with my boyfriend’s schedule. So Hilo and our daughter are never alone. One of us, if not both, are always at home with them. Leaving a breed like a german shepherd by themselves for more than 3 hours will only lead to an over-energetic and destructive dog. Training is another important factor. When my daughter is napping, I use that time to train and exercise! Keeping your dog on a schedule could keep her “zoomies” at bay.

Having a dog is like having another child. I feel like I am taking care of two toddlers!

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