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‘Don’t bark in the elevator’: Urban dogs learn new rules

Rick Rodriguez and Gayle Saks, with Lola and Gronk, in their dog-friendly apartment.
Rick Rodriguez and Gayle Saks, with Lola and Gronk, in their dog-friendly apartment. (Nathan Klima for The Boston Globe)

In the old days, when people in condos or apartment buildings gossiped about the neighbors, the targets were typically fellow human beings.

But now? Let’s let Gayle Saks, a resident in a dog-friendly apartment community in Melrose, take it from here.

“There was a yappy Boston terrier upstairs and that dog was a jerk,” she said. A mutt she sees on the grounds also attracts her judgment. “He wears Patriots gear year-round,” she sniffed.

Saks, who has two rescue Labs, reflected on what she’s come to. “I’ve been reduced to gossiping about dogs.”

But with so many dogs in so many buildings, who isn’t whispering behind their furry backs?

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If you haven’t looked for an apartment or condo recently — especially in a new building — you may not realize how crazy things have gotten dog-wise. Over the past couple of decades, many developers and property managers have flipped from banning many or most dogs to wooing them.

Weight restrictions for allowed dogs — once set at 15 or 20 pounds — are ballooning, with some concierges now offering Irish setters and sheepdogs a treat as they head up to their units.

In glitzy buildings, “amenity packages” that long focused on yoga studios and roof decks now alsoplay up “yappy hours,” dog spas, portrait photographers, and on-site relief stations.

“We like to give dogs welcome gifts when they move in,” said Erica Beliveau, a regional portfolio manager with National Development.

The city of Boston doesn’t keep track of the pet-friendly housing trend, according to Amanda Kennedy, director of Animal Care and Control. But here’s one measure: In the Seaport, among the most dog-friendly neighborhoods in Boston, of the 610 apartments listed for rent on apartments.com recently, 435 take dogs.

A report by the American Veterinary Medical Association, released last year, said that about 38 percent of households nationwide have one or more dogs — the highest rate of ownership since the organization began measuring, in 1982.

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Many people, of course, don’t want to live near dogs. But such is the buying power of dog owners that even older buildings with longstanding no-dog policies are now in courting mode.

“Hot Diggity Dog,” read a recent e-mail blast from an older building on Mass. Avenue that’s changing its policy. “Church Park is happy to welcome your cat and dog to our apartment community.”

A dachshund rocking a pair of green, heart-shaped sunglasses and bandana is pictured.

The dog-owner market is heavy on millennials with dogs, empty nesters with dogs, and folks of all ages with emotional support dogs.

Emotional support dogs, by the way, have become so common — and controversial — that this is the advice attorney Richard Brooks now gives his condo association clients: “It is better to allow all dogs and regulate rather than . . . risk being sued if you deny a dog that should have been allowed.

“Once there is a support animal in the complex,” he said, “other owners feel that it is unfair that they can’t have one.”

Many buildings are now wooing dog owners.
Many buildings are now wooing dog owners. (Nathan Klima for The Boston Globe)

With dogs showing up in all sorts of places — the pool deck, say, or gym — the trend is a boon for dog trainers, many of whom are enjoying a growing revenue stream from owners in tall buildings.

“You are looking at dogs that need to be able to ride the elevator,” said Jenifer Vickery, owner of The Pawsitive Dog training center in Boston. “It’s tricky for a lot of them. It’s a very tight space, and you may have another person, or a person and a stroller or a person and another dog.”

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(One problem dogs don’t have in elevators: thinking of clever small talk.)

The lobby can also present a challenge. “They can see it as an extension of their home and have territorial issues,” said Olivia Whitton, operations leader at the Urban Hound in the South End.

In buildings where one fifth — or more — of the units may contain dogs, barking and aggression can be a significant problem.

“We have people who come in because their dog put their mouth on someone and the condo association has said if this isn’t resolved you will have to leave or relocate your dog,” one trainer said.

Do we even need to say the humans have behavior issues, too? A common gripe from building managers and residents alike centers on owners who are perceived to be disingenuously claiming their dog as a necessary “emotional support” animal. They do it to skirt breed restrictions — such as on dogs considered aggressive, typically Rottweilers, pit bulls, and Doberman pinschers — or to get out of paying a monthly pet fee that can hit $85.

Even tenants who don’t make a false “emotional support” claim try to game the system. One dog trainer told the Globe she has been asked to identify a dog as “mixed breed” in letters of recommendation rather than as a pit bull or a Rottweiler.

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“We’re not doing a DNA test,” the trainer said, building a case for plausible deniability.

Meanwhile, the challenges to train dogs for city life extend outside the building’s walls.

“You are looking at dogs,” added Vickery, of Pawsitive Dog, “that are going out for brunch.”


Beth Teitell can be reached at beth.teitell@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @BethTeitell.