Disclaimer: No matter how large the yard, your dog STILL needs regular exercise: fetch, laps around the yard with you—even exercise within the walls of your home if you’re stuck inside during social distancing or a self-quarantine.
Dog breeds come in all sizes, and so do yards. The two don’t have to match, but when they do, your dog feels comfortable, and you don’t feel financially over-extended (yards can come at a premium, especially in Seattle).
But how to find that sweet spot? Know the dog breed. As a non-exhaustive primer:
Dogs that need minimal yards
English bulldogs are the biggest dog that’s comfortable with a minimal yard. Like French bulldogs, they prefer to lounge and relax, and they have low energy levels and exercise needs. Both breeds can easily enjoy apartment living. The Chinese Crested also fits this category. Its unique temperament means it will happily follow everything you do, whether you’re walking outside through the dog park or lounging indoors by the television.
Note: all these categories discuss the minimum size of your yard. If you can afford it, your dog will love a bigger yard with more space to run and explore, even if they don’t need the extra space.
Dogs that need small yards
Dogs that only need a small yard include (predictably) small dogs. But there’s more to it than that. Small-yard dogs divide roughly into two camps: (1) Dogs like basset hounds, bullmastiffs, and Great Danes that although large, have calm, easygoing natures. They’re content with sedentary life much of the time (although like all dogs, they still need periodic exercise). (2) Dogs that are moderately active, but are so small that a limited yard still gives them enough space to run around. These breeds include Maltese, Italian greyhound, Boston Terrier, Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, and Yorkshire Terrier. These animals all enjoy as much outdoor space as you can offer them, but you can fulfill much of their outdoor needs with just a small plot of land.
Another note: even dogs within the same breed have different needs. Pay attention to your dog’s specific requirements. If you see them digging, chewing on furniture, destroying things, or barking nonstop, they likely need more space or exercise.
Dogs that need big yards
Some dogs just aren’t made for cramped quarters. Herding dogs, hunting dogs, and many terriers fall into this category. These breeds have high energy levels and need to feel productive; if they don’t have an outlet, they’ll often get frustrated and unleash their energy in destructive ways. Some space-demanding herding dogs include border collies, Australian Shepherds, and Lancashire Heelers. For hunting dogs, make sure vizslas, pointers, Labrador retrievers, Brittanys, and spaniels have enough room outside. And although smaller than the other dogs in this category, some terriers that need plenty of elbow room include bull terriers and Jack Russell terriers.
Of special note: Huskies are notorious for escaping their yards. They were bred to pull sleds 50–60 miles each day, so they have strong natural urges to roam widely and explore new places. Making matters even more difficult, huskies also like to dig, and they’re very intelligent. Their homeowners need large yards and escape-proof fences if they want to let their dog roam outside unsupervised.
Regardless of breed or yard size, your dog needs regular exercise. Simply letting your dog outside will keep them active for a few minutes, but without someone to walk, play, or explore with them, many dogs will just take a nap or wait until you let them back in the house.