Is a smaller dog better for city living?

Is a smaller dog better for city living? Society might say so, but the truth of the matter is size has very little to do with it.

Think of a purse-sized designer pooch being toted around Paris Hilton style. It’s the city dog stereotype, but it doesn’t present a true picture. In reality, while many small dogs do well in the urban jungle, size has little to do with a breed’s suitability for city living.

Big dogs are okay

“Consider that wild dogs live in a den and therefore are okay with sleeping and living in a small space,” says Dr. Timothy Mann, a New York City veterinarian. Los Angeles vet Dr. Jeff Werber agrees, saying that energy levels and temperament are more important factors than size. “Many large dogs don’t need a big living space if you provide other opportunities for exercise,” he says. “Newfoundlands, great Pyrenees, St. Bernards and even great Danes can all live comfortably in the city. They just need to get out for walks or a run in a dog park. Then, when they’re at home, they’ll happily lie around. The quintessential surprise for many people about dogs that do well in the city is that greyhounds are high on the list. Sure, they’ll run when they have the chance, but most of the time they’re big, lazy couch potatoes.”

Small breeds have advantages, too, particularly for apartment or condominium dwellers. “Many people here in Los Angeles train their small dogs to use a litter box or fake grass on the balcony so they don’t have to worry about rushing downstairs or waiting for an elevator,” Dr. Werber says.

Active canines need space

On the flipside, certain popular breeds like golden retrievers and Labs often have problems in urban environments because they have a higher activity level. Hunting and working breeds such as many terriers, collies, Dalmatians and hounds need outlets like agility work, hunting, fly tracking, swimming or herding. “All these activities are available in the city or close by, but is the owner willing to enjoy them with the dog and have the time to do so?” says Dr. Mann.

Choosing the right breed depends a lot on the level of commitment a person is willing to make to ensure the dog gets enough exercise. “For some dogs, a daily walk is enough,” Dr. Mann says. “Others need three walks a day or else some kind of ‘job’ to do.”

Start socializing early

Regardless of breed, proper socialization is a must for any city dog because virtually every time he goes outside he will inevitably encounter other animals and people as well as cars, buses, sirens, crowds and general chaos. Controlled opportunities for play, such as visits to the dog park and play dates with other puppies, are great ways to socialize your dog.

“Originally, it was recommended that a puppy not be exposed to other dogs until he was 16 weeks old and had finished his first series of shots,” Dr. Werber says. “Now we know it’s much better to socialize them early. The optimal socialization time is between eight and 18 weeks, so if you wait, you only have two weeks left. A dog has a much greater danger of ending up at a shelter due to improper socialization than he does of getting a disease from other puppies.”

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Personality test

Socialization is essential for city dogs and is the great equalizer; slow, careful, positive exposure can help any breed become a city dog,” adds Grisha Stewart, a Certified Pet Dog Trainer. But she cautions that while any canine can live in an urban area, he needs a solid temperament to thrive in that environment. “Adaptability and being able to bounce back quickly are very important parts of a dog’s personality, and they either have it or they don’t,” she says. “Socialization will do a lot to make a dog comfortable, but for a natural city dog, look for one that’s adaptable, not fearful, but not over-confident. A puppy that hesitates to approach a stranger or cowers when he hears a noise won’t do well in a city without a lot of work.”

Cities aren’t just for small dogs. Any breed with modest energy levels and an outgoing personality can work. Add the right amount of exercise and socialization and you’ll have a happy dog who loves the big lights as much as you do.

City Slickers

Large breeds

Great Dane
Great Pyrenees
St. Bernard

Small breeds

Yorkshire terrier …and many others

Country boys and girls

German shepherd
Golden retriever Hound
Labrador retriever
Siberian husky
Many terriers


Barb Nefer is an Orlando-based freelance writer specializing in travel, pets, and personal finance.