One of the questions I get asked most about living in San Francisco is “Is it hard to have such a large dog in such a small apartment?” To which the answer is a resounding “Yes!” It is. And also, not so hard at all. It’s both because, when you’re dealing with a puppy with a fighting weight greater than most sixth graders, everything is more about maintaining the appearance I am the one in control. If I stick to a routine and we keep a little order in Clayton Abbey, Buster finds a sunny spot by the windows and keeps it company. However, if I am off by 15 minutes, it’s very much like having a rabid badger as a pet.
Upon moving into our place I was very concerned about the neighbors liking our dog. A few pointed complaints about a barking puppy caused some close friends of ours to have to choose between eviction or giving up their pet to a new home and we live in a very cool but very old house with wafer thin walls. Having totally drank the pet parent koolaid, I would be mortified to have to search for an apartment in this impossible rental jungle again and so I have spent the past few months on neighborly public relations.
I have found a few simple relationship builders and intentional conversations have really helped us out. I am sharing them for anyone else navigating a giant animal in a sweet one-bedroom, no-closet apartment here in the city.
- Meet your neighbors: This is just general good advice even if you don’t have pets. Getting to know the people you are sharing a street address with makes such a difference in your daily life. While I can’t guarantee you’ll have super awesome neighbors like ours, taking the time to exchange emails, phone numbers and put a face to an apartment number has alleviated the fear of a brooding angry neighbor sending complaints to the landlord.
- Let them meet your dog at his very best: Though I see some benefit in my neighbors (points upstairs to the 16 squatters) thinking I have a pet akin to a ferocious lion, I’m much better off if they think I have a giant Golden Retriever under my voice control. If they see that we’re working on training and have a chance to enjoy his cuteness for a hot minute, they tend to have more grace when he headbutts their legs just to say hi the following week. Referencing back to the appearance of control, my neighbors have all met Buster when he was wiped out from a long walk and therefore said things like “What a sweet dog.” Or my favorite,”He’s so well behaved for his age.” Hook. Line. Sinker.
- Ask them for feedback:While I don’t necessarily want to hear how to train my dog -because yes, I have heard of “The Dog Whisperer,” thanks- I always ask my neighbors if they’ve heard Buster bark when we’re away. I know they have and I have found giving them the chance to say so in a non-confrontational setting has helped them explain what would make it better for them, thus helping me address it as best I can. More importantly, it opens up the line of communication with us and they don’t feel they have to complain in order to peaceably enjoy their home again. This has been a big help for us because we also know what sets Buster off and can make sure he isn’t tearing through the house marking or chewing everything in sight. (Thankfully, he’s still kennel-bound, but you get the idea.) Additionally, our neighbor noticed him barking and crying way more than usual one evening and texted us that she was concerned he was sick. He wasn’t. He was being a big old baby. But it was very nice to know she was looking out for us.
- Finally, train your dog. That’s all. Nothing helps dog-neighbor relations quite like training your dog. I’ve met a few people who apparently haven’t latched onto the concept, and well, they’re kind of jacking the system for the rest of us. And looking at me googly-eyed saying “I’ve never seen Bowser do that before!” doesn’t help either. Sell that crazy somewhere else, lady. On a related note, stay tuned for my inevitable follow-up wherein Buster does something horrible I’ve never seen him do in public before.
There are many nuances to having a pet in an urban setting and I’ll be sure to share some gems when I come across them. But now it’s time for my walk… I mean… Buster’s walk. Who are we kidding? Get that leash around my wrist. Can’t wait to see where we’re going today.