8 min read

Here’s What It Really Means To Adopt A Senior Dog

“You’re not only welcoming a lifetime of love into your home, you’re also saving a precious life.”

Sweet, loving, grateful, playful — these are just a few adjectives dog owners use to describe their senior pets. People can get pretty passionate about their older dogs and cats, and some even dedicate their lives to adopting senior dogs.

But despite a steadily growing fan club, there are quite a few misconceptions about senior dogs still out there, and as a result, adult pets in the shelter system can have a difficult time finding families, explains Jorge Ortega, senior director of the ASPCA Adoption Center.

“It is a sad fact that senior pets are often the last to be adopted from shelters, putting them at an increased risk for euthanasia,” Ortega tells The Dodo. “When you adopt a senior pet, you’re not only welcoming a lifetime of love into your home, you’re also saving a precious life.”

If you are considering adding a new member to your family and giving a loving companion animal the home she deserves, here’s what it really means to adopt a senior pet:

“Senior” can mean many different things

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When talking animal ages, the term senior can be confused with geriatric — but these are two very different things.

The senior categorization isn’t tied to a specific age, and can vary greatly depending on the animal and breed, Ortega explains. “Smaller dogs tend to have longer life spans than larger-breed dogs, and it’s the same for most cats, too,” Ortega notes. “A large-breed dog as young as 5 years old may be considered a ‘senior.’”

Senior dogs are typically healthy or just beginning to show signs of aging, and have plenty of love left to give. A 17-year-old Pomeranian or a 7-year-old golden retriever are just as deserving of a loving home as any puppy.

Senior dogs are great for first-time pet owners

There is a lot to be said for a mature dog with an established personality and habits. The boundless energy of a puppy is not always the right match for every dog owner. “Puppies and adolescent dogs need continual training,” Ortega explains. “Adult dogs tend to have more manageable energy levels, making them a great option for first-time dog owners.”

Senior dogs have often already mastered house-training and the basic commands, so you can spend more time snuggling and less time cleaning up.

Age is just a number

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Some fear that adopting a senior pet will only lead to heartbreak, but worrying about how many years are left, rather than if the animal is a good fit for your household, could lead to missing out on the perfect pet. Potential pet owners should focus on the wonderful, fulfilling years they could have in store, Ortega recommends, as a senior pooch might surprise you.

“No one knows exactly how much time you’ll have with an animal, and when you rescue an older pet, they often thrive in a home environment and exceed the time you think you are going to have with them,” Ortega explains. Nothing is guaranteed, so it’s best to enjoy every moment with your pet, regardless of her age.

You can teach an old dog new tricks

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Think older dogs are stuck in their ways? Think again.

“Another misconception is that adult dogs are harder to train or come with behavior issues left behind from previous owners,” Ortega says. “While it’s true that adult and senior dogs typically have established personalities, older dogs are perfectly capable of learning, and the more consistent you are about working regularly with your dog, the easier it is for them to learn, no matter how old they are.”

A dog’s personality should make it pretty clear if she has the zest to play or an interest in expanding her vocabulary of tricks. Some dogs are truly eternal puppies at heart.

They’re already used to being pets

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Many senior animals wind up in shelters through no fault of their own, and have already had years of experience living in a household as a loving pet, according to Ortega. Animals who come into shelters after being surrendered by their owners, either due to relocation, health issues or financial hardships, are ready for a second chance to fit into a domestic routine.

When visiting a shelter, keep an open mind, and you might just be surprised by whom you choose to take home.