The Best Dogs For Older Adults
Here's how to find your new best friend.
If you’re an older adult looking to adopt a dog, you’re about to make a really, really big decision: choosing a new best friend.
The goal is to find a dog who fits in with your lifestyle — for many years to come. That way, your new dog can get the care she needs and you can have the benefits of peaceful companionship.
So, what exactly should you be looking for in a potential new pup?
The Dodo reached out to Amy Shojai, a certified animal behavior consultant in Texas, to talk about the qualities and personality types that make a dog perfect for seniors.
Small in size
Dogs who are small in size tend to require less exercise and are easier to tote around, which are pretty desirable traits for dog owners of any age. Large dogs can be difficult to manage, which might be a challenge for older dog parents, Shojai explained.
“Larger dogs and especially youngsters may prove too much for even healthy, active seniors,” Shojai told The Dodo.
Not only does a large dog typically need more exercise, she will also require more food and space, and might be difficult to handle out on walks — especially if she pulls on the leash.
“Smaller dogs are more portable, and a better fit for laps and for apartments,” Shojai said. “Even high-energy [small dogs’] exercise needs may be satisfied by tossing a ball down a hallway rather than trekking through the woods.”
Of course, some large dogs, especially older ones, are perfectly content to be couch potatoes most of the time, and plenty of seniors like staying active by getting out on walks with their pups. So it’s most important to go by an individual dog’s personality, rather than size or breed alone.
Rescue groups or shelters can help match you with a dog of the right size and energy level.
Past the puppy stage
Puppies are adorable, but they can be exhausting, too.
High-energy with basically zero common sense, puppies really can’t be expected to be on their best behavior. You can expect lots of chewing, jumping and indoor accidents.
So if you adopt a new puppy, you’ll need to take the time to train her.
While it’s definitely hard work to train a puppy, it’s certainly worth it. But it might not be the ideal choice for someone who just doesn’t have the energy or patience for that.
There are so many great adult dogs available for adoption, and they’re often given up only because of lifestyle changes in their previous families. Some are just a year or two old, while others need a place to live out their golden years. “A settled adult dog may be a wonderful fit,” Shojai said.
You can speak to an adoption coordinator or counselor at your local shelter to help match you with an adult or senior dog. Or, you can add age-specific filters when searching for a dog to adopt on adoption sites online.
Low-energy dogs are obviously the best choice for older adults who just want to relax. You won’t need to do much other than a few walks around the neighborhood a day (plus some indoor playtime), which is manageable for most people.
“Highly intelligent, driven [dogs] usually need a job to do, and may demand more activity and training than a senior wants or is able to provide,” Shojai said.
Low-energy dogs aren’t as easy to spot, though — especially online.
You shouldn’t ever commit to a dog before meeting her in person, so make sure you arrange a meet-and-greet to get to know her first. That way, it’ll be easier to take her for a walk and evaluate her personality and energy needs.
And if you’re browsing a shelter, take the time to play with the dog one-on-one outside of the kennel, which will offer a better glimpse into how she’ll act at home.
But do keep in mind that a dog’s personality can change once she’s adopted and fully transitioned to a new home. So while it’s recommended to spend time with a potential new dog before adoption, it won’t always provide an accurate picture of your future life together. To be extra careful, you can speak to rescue staff about how the dog usually behaves in different environments.
“[Dogs] with cheerful, happy dispositions — and what’s called a ‘biddable’ attitude — make ideal pets for seniors (or anyone for that matter!),” Shojai said.
“Biddable dogs want to please, and often are happy simply keeping a beloved human company,” she added.
Meeting with the dog beforehand and/or speaking with an adoption coordinator or counselor who is familiar with the shelter dogs’ personalities can give you helpful insight on a dog’s behavior.
Minimal grooming needs
“Also, consider the amount of grooming needed and whether the person can manage the gorgeous coat ... that requires regular grooming,” Shojai said.
Long-haired dogs are beautiful, but it takes a lot of effort to keep them that way.
As a rule of thumb, dogs with long hair should be brushed daily. Long hair is prone to knots and mats, so it’s super important to keep up with a regular brushing routine.
Besides brushing, long-haired dogs will need a bath and a haircut about once a month, which can be done at home or at a groomer’s.
Not to mention the regular nail trimmings, ear cleanings and teeth brushing that all dogs need as well.
If you’re exhausted just thinking about it, consider adopting a dog who might be lower maintenance.
Again, in this case, an adoption coordinator or counselor can help pair you with a dog who fits the bill.
Is there a best dog breed for seniors?
Some dog breeds are associated with the qualities above, but the truth is that every dog is different.
A lot of a dog’s personality depends on how she was raised. So while you might expect a dog to act a certain way because of her breed, you might be surprised when some behaviors seem out of character.
That being said, there are a few things you can reasonably expect with purebred dogs based on purely physical attributes, like how much grooming they’ll need, how big they’ll get and what health conditions they’re predisposed to.
On the other hand, you might not know a mixed-breed dog’s ancestry, but on average they’re less susceptible to certain genetic conditions compared to purebred dogs.
If, for whatever reason, you really want a purebred but think you need to buy one, think again! Purebreds can definitely be found at shelters, especially if you’re using search tools online that can search for specific breeds from several shelters in your area.
But remember, you absolutely don’t need a purebred dog to find the perfect match for you. All dogs have unique personalities, no matter their breed, and personality is so important!
If you’d like your dog to have specific qualities, an adoption coordinator or counselor at your local shelter can help guide you through the adoption process and help you find the perfect match.
Benefits of dogs for seniors
Dogs have this special ability where they immediately improve the lives of everyone around them — and this definitely includes older adults.
“Dogs provide unconditional love, companionship and a reason to get up in the morning and exercise — if only to walk the dog in the backyard,” Shojai said.
One of the major benefits of owning a dog as an older adult is all the new friends you’ll make. “Dogs also help seniors stay connected with other people,” Shojai said. “It gives folks something to talk about with each other, a reason to go out (to pick up dog food or toys!) or to gather at the dog park.”
Owning a dog can also improve your health.
“A dog also helps relieve stress [and] lowers blood pressure, and that can positively impact health,” Shojai said. “A furry Rx often works wonders for both physical and mental health.”