Two in five Australians live with a dog and as apartment living becomes more common – especially in high-density areas – our furry friends are increasingly becoming a part of strata life.
About 10 per cent of Australians live in apartments but in inner Sydney the proportion is about 38 per cent, and in inner Melbourne it’s 26 per cent.
In these expensive areas, apartments are a more realistic option for buyers after affordability.
If you own a dog or plan to get one, it adds a layer of complexity to the apartment-buying process.
Not all buildings allow dogs, and for those that do, it pays to choose a property that makes living with your pet easier, not harder.
Check the by-laws
Apartment hunters should ensure the complex they’re buying into allows dogs, according to Kerin Benson Lawyers principal Allison Benson.
“The first thing a potential purchaser should do is check the by-laws,” she says. “I would do this before you even exchange contracts.”
Benson says vendors are legally required to attach by-laws to contracts, but these are often outdated, or omitted altogether.
“If you want to be 100 per cent foolproof, you should get your conveyancer or solicitor to do a search on the common property certificate of title to see what the by-laws are,” she says. “I wouldn’t buy a strata property without doing a strata search.”
In NSW, the latest model by-laws have two options – allowing pets with notice, or allowing pets with permission.
The Victorian model by-laws have no clauses permitting or banning animals, and pets are generally permitted by default.
Approved assistance animals such as guide dogs are always permitted in all states.
Strata schemes don’t have to adopt the model by-laws. Some choose to ban pets altogether, while others limit the type, or size of pets allowed, according to buyer’s agent and Buyers Domain principal Nick Viner.
“Sometimes it’s cats and small dogs, sometimes it’s up to a certain weight limit,” he says. “They can get quite technical.”
He says prospective buyers should look for a precedent when inspecting the property,
“A good indication when you’re walking around the building is to see if anyone else has got any pets,” he says. If pets are allowed with permission, approval can’t be unreasonably withheld. But it’s worth investigating further, Benson says.
“Not unreasonably withholding consent is a really grey area,” she says. “What you should be doing is making inquiries with the vendor, or asking the vendor to make inquiries with the strata committee or strata manager about what type of animals are in the scheme already.”
Choose the right apartment
Buyers should select an apartment that makes living with a dog simpler and easier.
Certain features make some apartments more suitable than others, according to dog behaviour specialist Nathan Williams.
“It would be a good idea to have hard floors in living areas,” he say. “If you do get accidents, it’s an easy clean-up and less expensive.”
Tiles, bamboo and scratch-resistant vinyl are more durable than carpet or polished floorboards.
Williams says dog doors are a good way to allow independent access to outdoor areas. For apartments with balconies, a dog toilet with real grass makes toilet training easier.
Pick the perfect pooch
Williams says relaxed breeds that are confident on their own are more suitable to apartments. He says “lazy” dogs such as bulldogs are ideal.
“One of the best dogs for an apartment is a greyhound,” he says. “They don’t get clingy, they typically just lay in their own bed and receive affection, so they’re less likely to get separation anxiety.”
But both owners and dogs will benefit from proper training, regardless of the breed.
“If you control them and relax them, the rule is you can have any dog in an apartment,” Williams says.
Tips for living in an apartment with a dog
1. Provide exercise and stimulation
While some dogs are content to laze about in the apartment all day, others may become anxious, bored or destructive.
Dogs that get appropriate exercise and stimulation are less likely to exhibit behavioural problems. Most dogs need to be walked twice daily, and should ideally be exposed to other dogs from an early age so they become socialised and learn how to interact properly.
If there are other dogs in the apartment building, try and organise for them to play together on common lawn areas (if allowed) or at off-leash dog parks. If you won’t be home all day, consider leaving behind puzzle toys, which require the dog to work for a food reward. Also consider dog day care every now and then, so your pet can play with other dogs while you’re at work.
2. Allow access to outside
If your dog is able to access an outdoor space with a designated toilet area, it reduces the chance of accidents inside the house when you’re not home.
Dog doors are a great idea, but in some apartments, the owners corporation actually owns the doors to your apartment, and may not allow dog doors. Even if the doors are your property, check with the building manager before making any modifications.
Leaving a balcony door open is another option, providing the dog won’t be able to escape and injure itself, but this may create a security risk.
3. Maintain good relationships with neighbours
This may come as a shock to dog lovers – not everybody likes dogs. Some people are allergic, while others, often children, are fearful of dogs.
But the one thing that will unite all neighbours in opposition to your pooch is the mess that dogs — or more accurately, their owners — leave behind.
To keep the peace, always keep your dog under control in common areas, train them not to jump on strangers, and when taking the dog for a walk, always carry plastic bags to clean up their droppings.
4. Pet-proof your apartment
If your dog is curious and loves to explore, you may find it beneficial to create a sanctuary in your apartment that your dog can’t access, such as the bedroom. Baby gates can be temporarily installed on doorways so your dog learns boundaries but access between rooms remains easy for humans.
When bringing a new dog home, consider leaving it in a small area of the apartment to begin with, such as a laundry or bathroom if it’s large enough, then over time allow access to the rest of the apartment as your dog learns the ropes. This can minimise damage to furniture and belongings.
5. Train your dog
Selecting the right dog makes living with your pet easier, but all dogs will benefit from regular training, regardless of their breed or age.
Well-trained dogs will follow commands, learn what behaviour is appropriate and not appropriate, and generally will be easier to manage in the confined space of an apartment.
If you’ve never owned a dog before, or even if you have, consider getting professional help from a trainer or animal behaviourist right at the beginning to learn the basics. Continue reinforcing good behaviour and commands as your dog grows older.