How Much Room Does a Dog Need ?

To those who worry that their house or yard "isn't big enough" to have a dog : you don't need a big house or a big yard to have a big dog. All you need is a big heart and a big commitment


by Pam Green © 1995

As A Rescue worker for a fairly large breed (Bouvier), I am sometimes consulted by prospective adopters who worry that their apartment/house and/or their yard "isn't big enough" to allow them to have a large dog. They assume that a big dog needs lots of room indoors and outdoors. They assume wrong.

You don't need a big house or a big yard to have a big dog. All you need is a big heart and a big commitment ---- which you need for any dog.


Adult dogs of most of the larger breeds of dog are relatively inactive indoors. Some are positively indolent and lazy indoors, prefering to lounge around 95% of the time, and getting more active only when they percieve that something exciting (dinner, a walk, a ride in the car, etc) is about to happen. This is definitely the case for the normal adult Bouvier, who prefers to lounge around in the vicinity of the favorite person when she/he is home or in a really comfortable spot (the sofa being ideal) when no one is home. So how much lounge room does a big dog need? Well I have found that a 24" to 28" shoulder height, 70 to 90 lb Bouvier can stretch out fully and luxuriously on a pillow or dog-mat ranging from 24" X 30" to 34" X 34". Thus if you've got 3 ft X 3 ft of floor space on your bedroom floor and a similar amount in the room where you spend most of your at home time, you have plenty of room indoors. If you allow your dog to share your bed and sofa, you don't need extra floor space at all.

Dogs can and will pack themselves into much smaller spaces. Right now as I write this, of my current 8 dogs 5 are lying packed together like sardines on the very limited floor-space of my little office room; of the other 3, one is confined to a crate for medical reasons (recovery from an injury, requiring minimizing all activity) and the other 2 are socially submissive dogs who usually choose to stay out of the way of the more dominant ones, thus are lying on favorite pillows in adjacent rooms. At night, my bedroom floor is carpeted in wall-to-wall living fur.

Puppies and youthful dogs of these same breeds do have periods of intense activity, indoors or out, though they too are loafing a great deal of the time. Such dogs if given plenty of outdoor exercise will be able to get along with fairly limited house-space. Whenever the pup does feel energetic, you have only to go outdoors to play with him and work the energy off.

Many of the smaller breeds are highly active indoors. These dogs can get a lot of exercise within a fairly small home, but the activity level involved may be very hard on your nerves.

In short, so long as you pick the right breed, preferably an adult, you can have a big dog in a small home --- unless you are living in something the size of an Apollo space capsule.


Room outdoors serves two distinct functions : (1) the toilet, which dog people often euphemistically refer to as "exercise" and (2) real genuine physical exercise, ie activity.

The toilet function can be satisfied in a very small area. If you have a patio or a tiny little yard, as little as 4 ft X 6 ft or (preferably) 6 X 10 ft (the size of many kennel runs), your dog can relieve himself comfortably. If this yard communicates with your house by a dog-door, so much the better as then the dog can use it whenever he needs to, without asking you to let him out. For male dogs, the addition of a small shrub or a post as target for leg-lifting will be much appreciated. Of course if your yard is this tiny, then you do have to be willing to scoop up (and, if paved, hose off) quite often. If you live on an upper floor apartment or condo, a small balcony can be used as a toilet yard if and only if it is fenced/barricaded in a way that absolutely prevents the dog from jumping off or falling off, consequences of which would be crippling or fatal.

If you have no private outdoor space at all, then all toilet functions must be satisfied by on-leash walks, which must be provided every day regardless of weather or your health and personal wishes. The absolute minimum of walks for a healthy adult dog would be first thing in the morning, last thing at night, and twice in between. (A puppy up to a year or an old dog need more frequent toilet breaks.) If you are away from home for 8 or 10 hours at a stretch, this means finding (and usually paying) someone to do a mid-day walk. The only alternative is indoor toileting : a "litter box" or "paper training" situation, with your kitchen or bathroom floor as the victim. In this case, the advantage of a small dog, preferably female, is obvious.

The exercise function does require more room, but it does not need to be room that you own or exclusively use. Off-leash play must take place in safe surroundings, which generally means fenced surroundings or else an area very remote from traffic and all other dangers -- and then only with a very well trained dog. If you do have a large & safely fenced yard, it is possible that your dog will use it for some of his more playful exercise needs, especially if you yourself go into the yard with him and play active games (eg fetch games) or if you have another dog who actively plays with him. I have found that my own yard of roughly 75 ft X 50 ft allows several Bouvs to race and romp quite adequately. But for many breeds, the Bouvier among them, the adult dogs don't really tend to use a yard for self exercise, though puppies do use it.

The real exercise for an adult dog is best supplied by you yourself taking the dog out for a walk or a jog or bike ride. Now really there are few human beings whose own personal health would not greatly benefit by an hour of moderate to brisk walking every day; and this is also an excellent daily basic exercise for your dog. Just grab your leash and go for it. Of course for the usual mature healthy dog, more exercise would be even better: longer walks or some faster intervals. Avoid th heat, as dogs don't have as good a cooling system as humans, largely because they can't sweat. Use some care in getting your dog gradually conditioned and fit if you are already accustomed to serious jogging. If your dog is well mannered on leash, it's fairly easy to get him to go along as you bicycle, for a longer and/or faster workout. (If your dog is not well mannered on leash, go to or go back to a good obedience class.) If you yourself are physically handicapped or infirm so as to preclude walking, consider getting yourself a motorized scooter or motorized wheelchair, so you can take your dog out (and for greater personal freedom). If your health totally prohibits any excursions, you will need to find a professional dog-walking service or choose a dog who is also older and not up to any real exercise to be your sedentary companion.

For additional exercise through off-leash play with other dogs, look for a fenced off-leash dog park in your area; many metropolitan areas have them. Get to know the other dogs and owners who are regulars and assess the dogs for lack of dog-aggression before you let your own dog join in. (Obviously don't join in if your own dog is at all dog aggressive.)

In short , you can get by without a private yard or with only a very small one. You don't need to possess vast acreage to have a happy and , in both senses of the word, well "exercised" dog. Your dog does need access to a fair amount of outdoor space however --- so don't sign up for a 5 year voyage on the Enterprise.


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site author Pam Green copyright 2003
created 4/12/03 revised ?/?/03
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