Won’t You Be My (Dog’s) Neighbor?
Dog trainer Robert Haussmann gives a masterclass on pet parent etiquette for apartment living.
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There’s a reason that, nearly two decades after his death, Fred Rogers remains a revered cultural icon — and it certainly has nothing to do with the confidence to regularly rock a bright-red cardigan (though, respect). Most of us just admire the effort he put into being a decent neighbor. We appreciate the sentiment because we’ve all had negligent or abrasive neighbors cause serious stress in our lives. Add a dog to that equation and the results can be even more annoying — especially when living in the same building.
Of course, most pet parents aspire to a more Mister Rogers-esque impact on their community — colorful sweaters notwithstanding. To get you there, The Wildest enlisted the help of our friendly (neighborhood) dog trainer and co-founder of Dogboy NYC, Robert Haussmann, for seven tips on how to be a more pleasant and respectful pet parent to those who share your apartment building.
Always have your dog leashed.
Whether it be walking through the lobby, onto the elevator, up the stairs, or even toward your door, you should have your dog on a leash. “A lot of time, people do a great job socializing their dog and they feel like it’s a happy-go-lucky experience. They want the dog to be able to socialize and play, but it’s important to realize that not all people and not all dogs are going to be jazzed about that,” Haussmann explains.
Personally, I welcome all and any contact with essentially every dog I meet; however, not all people are as inviting. Maybe they don’t want fur and slobber on their clothes, maybe they’re allergic. Or maybe they’re cat people (that’s fine, too). Regardless, engaging with your dog should be their decision and respected as such — even if some individuals (read: me) believe they’re missing out on one of the greatest joys life has to offer.
Approach other dogs with caution (and consent).
Similarly, if you see someone else in the building with a dog, don’t assume they are willing or able to interact. Haussmann notes that if you’re approaching someone with a dog, permission should be your No. 1 priority because while your pup might be perfectly sociable, others may not be so lucky. If a dog has behavioral issues or is reactive, blindly introducing them could be a disaster.
“Even dogs that your dog knows when at the dog park could have issues in their apartments. They might feel guarded or have some territorial issues in and around the building. So, it’s always better just to keep them leashed and keep your space,” Haussmann says.
Not to mention, a bad interaction could erode your previously sociable pup’s excitement and comfort with other pets. Let’s say you and another dog owner in the building do want to intro your pups; Haussmann advises doing so on a walk together. This will minimize the risks of territorial reactions.
Be cautious in the public spaces of your apartment building.
Beyond teaching me that I’m attracted to angelic men with long blond hair, The Lord of the Rings trilogy showed me that there are always several different ways to arrive at one singular destination. And while riding giant birds is unlikely outside of Middle Earth, you should still keep options in mind when making the trek from the lobby to your apartment door.
If your dog is reactive or easily excitable, give them and yourself extra space between the elevator door. In fact, Haussmann suggests calling the elevator and taking a step back. “Give yourself and the dog some more room to make sure that you can be successful and have control over the situation,” he says.
When dealing with jumpy dogs, treat training and a solid walking kit can pay huge dividends in taming their energy. “Make sure that you’re using treats or a harness — something that’s going to make it less successful for the dog to jump,” Haussmann says. If it’s an especially busy time of day, and there’s a lot of foot traffic, consider the stairs. As long as it’s not a steep walkup and your dog can handle the extra workout, the stairwell should be much less crowded. Plus, it technically counts as exercise, so you can use it as an excuse to skip the gym that day (and every day).
Invest in a thick rug.
Dogs are going to run around and play. They’re going to get the zoomies. It’s kind of their whole deal. For this, a big ol’ rug is your best move to limit how much the people below you hear paws bounding across the floor. And besides — it’ll probably tie the room together. It also helps that a lot of buildings are now encouraging or flat-out requiring renters to do some form of this even if they’re not pet owners.
“Even without dogs, they want you to have some carpeting down so that it’s a bit of a sound absorber for your neighbors,” Haussmann explains. He adds that dogs who frequently get the zoomies could benefit from additional walks or trips to the park for extra exercise.
Do your best to minimize barking.
This is the big one and probably what you’re most likely to hear complaints about. Unfortunately, it’s a complicated issue. Dogs bark for any number of reasons, and Haussmann explains that deciphering the motivation behind the action is crucial in tempering it. A likely scenario here is barking for attention, though combating that is not as easy as saying, “No.” According to Haussmann: “A dog who’s being scolded for barking is still getting your attention.”
Instead, you must remove the attention altogether by either leaving the space or taking your dog out of the room. If that doesn’t work, Haussmann suggests another option that will give you flashbacks of elementary school: “You can utilize timeouts, but that’s only fair if the dog is having their physical exercise, mental stimulation, and environmental enrichment needs met.”
It’s also important not to reward this behavior. For example, if a dog barks for food and you immediately give them kibble, they’re going to continue barking whenever they want something.
Help them enjoy their alone time.
We have to leave our apartments eventually. Haussmann explains that when dogs are uncomfortable being alone, they may fear they’ve lost access to food, water, or the bathroom and panic-bark. Plus, thanks to us all recently spending months locked up inside, separation anxiety in pups is at an all-time high. For these dogs, Haussmann recommends pairing your absence with something exciting or fun to create a positive association.
He suggests having a certain toy you only give to your pup when you leave. “So, you’re purposely giving them some time to entertain themselves when they’re all by themselves, even in your absence,” he says. The most effective leaving-the-apartment toys are ones that are mentally stimulating, such as a lick mat or Kong. These will also help occupy their attention while you’re out attending to your silly human responsibilities.
If all else fails — apologize with gifts!
Look, I love my dog more than anything, but she is a wild animal. I can’t permanently keep her from running around, barking, or having a full-blown mental breakdown every time there’s thunder. In situations like this, Haussmann has a simple solution. “You might want to send your downstairs neighbor a bottle of wine and a letter from your dog saying, ‘Hey, I’m a puppy; this is going to happen. We’re working on it,’” he says.
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Sean Zucker is a writer whose work has been featured in Points In Case, The Daily Drunk, Posty, and WellWell. He has an adopted Pit Bull named Banshee whose work has been featured on the kitchen floor and whose behavioral issues rival his own.