Apartment-dwelling is a fact of city life. Just take the Big Apple: Two thirds of New York City residents live in rental units, which is more than twice the national average. And while living in a small home without a yard can be relatively tolerable for a human with a gym membership, many dogs are unlikely to thrive in smaller spaces, especially if there’s no dog park nearby.
In fact, many of the most common reasons why people return adopted dogs — like aggression and destructive tendencies — can be symptoms of inadequate exercise and stimulation. Some of the most popular dog breeds, like Golden Retrievers and German Shepherds, need as much as two hours of exercise per day. So if you live in a small space and you bring a high-energy breed into your home, you’d better be committed to giving them daily doses of vigorous outdoor exercise.
Here’s the good news: A number of breeds are perfectly adaptable to apartments and small homes, wanting nothing more than to lie around and bask in the proximity of their similarly sedentary pet parents. And some mutts are welcome to join the small-scale party as well. Knowing which breeds are right for your living situation will help you avoid a whole lot of heartburn.
Here are some of the best dog breeds for apartments and small living spaces.
Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
The Cavalier King Charles Spaniel is a gentle and affectionate breed that’s ideal for apartment living. They’re small in stature (12-14 inches and 9-22 pounds), easy to train, and they don't require a lot of exercise. Cavaliers are also known for their love of human companionship, which makes them an excellent choice for city dwellers who want a loyal and loving roommate. It’s no surprise they were the American Kennel Club's 14th-most popular breed in 2022.
The Shih Tzu is a small breed (8-12 inches and 9-18 pounds) that’s well-suited for smaller dwellings. Not only are they affectionate, loyal, and fairly easy to train, but their exercise needs are on the low end. The only potential challenge for a busy city dweller? Be prep-HAIR-ed. Shih Tzus are prized for their beautiful flowing coats, but their hair grows quickly and they require frequent grooming.
The Bichon Frise is a small (8-12 inches and 4-13 pounds) and friendly breed that’s well-suited to apartment living. They’re intelligent dogs who are eager to please and quick to learn, making them a perfect choice for first-time owners. Bichon Frises are also hypoallergenic, so they’re great for people with allergies, or folks who’d simply prefer to avoid breeds who constantly send their owners scurrying for the vacuum cleaner (looking at you, “German Shedders”).
Pugs were the winners of the 2023 ManyPets Madness tournament (check out the final bracket if dogs playing basketball sounds interesting to you). Back here in reality, Pugs are champions of city living. Their exercise needs are fairly minimal and they make excellent lapdogs. What they lack in size (10-16 inches and 13-22 pounds), they make up for with their playful personalities — many Pug owners affectionately refer to them as “clowns.” But do be aware: For such small dogs, Pugs are surprisingly heavy shedders, and they’ll need regular grooming and bathing. .
Dachshunds, also known as "wiener dogs" thanks to long bodies that seem to be screaming out for some Dachshund-sized hot dog buns. They come in two sizes: Standard and miniature, ranging from 8-10 inches and from 13-35 pounds. They’re friendly, outgoing, intelligent, sweet, and loyal — and fortunately for apartment-bound humans, their exercise needs are minimal. The one notable challenge for apartment-dwellers: Dachshunds love barking, which can be an issue when you’re sharing walls with neighbors. You can nip this problem in the bud with consistent training starting from puppydom, according to Marianne McCullough, whobreeds Miniature Long Haired Dachshunds and is an AKC Breeder of Merit (Gold). “Train them from the start not to bark,” she says.“Too often, people inadvertently reinforce the behavior.” McCullough notes that obesity is another common problem with Dachshunds, so even though vigorous exercise isn’t necessary, make sure you don’t neglect their daily walks.
You knew this one would be on the list, right? The Chihuahua is a teeny tiny breed whose style won’t be cramped by a handbag, let alone a studio.They don’t need too much exercise. And, while not hypoallergenic, Chihuahuas are fairly low-maintenance when it comes to grooming (especially short-haired Chihuahuas). Now for the hard part: Chihuahuas are notorious for their barking. Like Dachshunds, they require patience and consistent training to ensure they don’t earn your neighbors’ wrath. On the plus side, Chihuahuas are also known for their LOYALTY — and yes, we put that in all caps for a reason. These diminutive doggos can become so attached to their family-members that they’ll become aggressive and defensive toward outsiders. But properly socializing them as puppies should help.
Yorkshire Terrier (Yorkie)
The Yorkshire Terrier, AKA the "Yorkie," is a small breed with lots of personality. (Are you sensing a trend toward smaller breeds yet?) Yorkies are a popular pick for apartment and condo dwellers, and for good reason. Not only are they small dogs with manageable exercise needs, they’re also hypoallergenic. According to Crystal Messersmith, owner of Paradise Yorkies (an AKC Breeder of Merit - Silver), Yorkies are best for owners who plan to be around to train and interact with their dog. Bored Yorkies can be destructive, chewing on cords, wooden furniture, and even (gulp) sheetrock. Overall, they’re very devoted to their humans, and “most people tend to stick with the breed once they’ve had one,” says Messersmith.
…And a surprise option emerges on the homestretch! 7 pint-sized pups with modest energy levels — and now suddenly a mid-sized breed that can keep pace with a galloping racehorse. Believe it or not, Greyhounds can thrive as apartment-dwellers under the right conditions. They’re fairly calm, with low to moderate energy, most of the time. Many Greyhound owners refer to them as “couch potatoes.” (Hitting a 45 mile-per-hour stride, apparently, requires a lot of energy-conservation.) Another plus: Thanks to their extremely thin coats, Greyhounds don’t shed very much and they’re very easy to groom. But do keep in mind that Greyhounds were built to move; it would be a shame not to let them stretch their legs at a park or dog-friendly beach on a regular basis.
Adult or Senior Mutts
If you’re not looking to spend a fortune on a purebred dog, or you’re looking to do a good deed and rescue a pup from a rough situation, it shouldn’t be too hard to find an apartment-friendly mixed breed dog at a local shelter. Try to find a lower-maintenance pup with a manageable energy level. Maybe you’ll even find one that counts one or more of the breeds on this list amongst their parentage.
Adopting a senior dog is another option. Older dogs — even those breeds that tend to be bundles of energy in their youth — may be calmer and more apartment-tolerant in their golden years.
While you’ll notice this list is dominated by smaller dog breeds, keep two things in mind:
Even larger, high-energy dog breeds can thrive in apartments IF (and this is a big if) you still have the time, and energy, and means to meet their needs. So if you have a high-energy Australian Shepherd or Labrador Retriever and you’re truly able to provide them with two hours of vigorous outdoor exercise every day, there’s a solid chance they’ll be calm at home — even in a small space.
Smaller breeds still need some exercise and stimulation. Do your research and learn your dog’s needs — our dog breed guides are a great place to start.
By the way, if you and your furry roommate live in a big city, vet care is bound to be pricier than it would be in a suburban or rural locale. Dog insurance can help you afford unexpected expenses.