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Life With Dog in Small Spaces

Congratulations! You’ve welcomed a new pup into your life. You bought a comfy bed, tasty treats, and all the toys she could want. She’s the perfect addition to your family. That is, until you enter your apartment building.

Seems like you’re always running into the rambunctious puppy from the third floor. The elevator is incredibly slow. The pigeons on the patio are fun to chase and bark at, even when it’s 11 p.m. And then there’s that weird smell on that one spot on the lobby carpet that she always has to stop to sniff.

City living with a dog can be stressful and overwhelming at times. The Big Personalities, Small Spaces: Apartment Living with Dogs seminar at the San Francisco SPCA can help. This humans-only class addresses these issues to set you and your beloved pup up for success.

Maureen Backman, who brings six years of dog training experience to the class, developed this one exclusively for the SF SPCA after hearing from private clients time and again how challenging living in an apartment with a dog can be.

In just 90 minutes, attendees of this free seminar will learn how to handle stress points of apartment living, including what to do when waiting for the elevator, how to handle your dog in tight spaces like hallways and lobbies when other dogs are around, and how to maneuver around blind corners.

This class, and all of the SF SPCA training classes, are science-based, force-free, positive reinforcement training. This is the most humane way to train, and it’s also the most fun way. Positive reinforcement training means reinforcing desirable behaviors and teaching new behaviors in a safe, enjoyable way. It enhances the human-animal bond, accelerates learning, and doesn’t have any negative side effects. To learn more about positive-reinforcement training check out

This seminar also helps you and your dog bond by teaching you how to anticipate the needs of your dog and improve communication between the two of you. You’ll learn coping skills, how to train your dog in a quiet setting to be better prepared during stressful moments, how to use the “turn and go” technique to redirect, and how to prevent behavior issues before they become a problem.

Other topics covered in this class include crate training, house training, and leash frustration, which make it a great fit for someone thinking of adopting a dog or puppy. “This class is ideal for anyone considering adopting a dog. It helps prevent problem behaviors and allows both human and dog to be proactive about training,” shared Backman.

Cyndi Kahn was one of 30 attendees at the first seminar, and she can’t recommend it enough for all dog guardians and those thinking of adopting. “I believe a vital part of being a pet guardian is learning how to be a good pet guardian. It was easy to put the training I learned into practice. I’m already regularly using techniques like ‘find it’ to distract and ‘turn and go’ to redirect my three-legged, adopted dog Matheson.”

Robert Holt recently adopted a second dog, and he attended the class to learn techniques to keep Lola, Pia, and all the other dogs and neighbors in his building safe and happy. “Even though I’ve had dogs my whole life, I learned a lot. Being home alone in an apartment can be stressful for dogs, so learning tools for keeping my dogs occupied, such as puzzle games and playing music for them, will improve their lives and keep them out of trouble.”

Another benefit of the class is that Backman shares all of the resources afterward, so attendees can reference and also pass along these tips and tricks to their neighbors and friends. Backman believes, “The more dogs and people who have this training, the better all interactions will be.”

The SF SPCA plans to offer this apartment living seminar again in the spring, so please check for upcoming class dates as well as other classes, seminars, and resources.

This is a special year for the SF SPCA, which is celebrating 150 years of saving animals and changing lives. SF SPCA provides care and services to homeless animals waiting for adoption and owned animals through state-of-the-art veterinary care, spay or neuter services, and training classes. Visit to learn more.

Sarah Gerrish is the proud guardian of two beautiful cats, Mochi and Neko, and foster mom to dozens of kittens every year. Gerrish works and volunteers at the San Francisco SPCA to improve the lives of dogs and cats in San Francisco. 

Each month, this column is written by a different trainer or dog professional. If you’d like to contribute, contact

Beagle dog looking at the snow outside the window

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