For seniors, especially those who live alone, the right dog enlivens a household with joy and companionship. But there’s a world of difference between a Yorkie and a Great Dane. How do you choose the right dog? “Start with evaluating your daily schedule and your overall energy level and lifestyle,” says Sue Bell, founder of Homeward Trails Animal Rescue, a pet adoption service which serves Virginia, Maryland and Washington, DC.
“Any calmer dog can be a fit for a calmer senior. And any medium-energy dog can be a fit for a medium-energy senior,” says Bell. It’s important to make sure that both the person and the dog do not feel overly taxed by the other. “A dog that requires hours of brisk walks, or might be a strong puller on leash, is not a good match for a slower walking senior person.”
Want a lapdog with low exercise needs? A French bulldog, Yorkie, Boston terrier or pug could be a good match. These are small enough to exercise in your house or yard. Keep in mind that purebred dogs generally have more health issues than mutts, due to inbreeding. So consider a mix between two or more breeds of lapdog.
Active seniors who want a bigger but still manageable dog might be happy with a boxer or a golden retriever. Both of these larger breeds are friendly, calm, and will get you out walking at least twice a day.
Seniors should consider a few size-related factors when selecting their companion. Snowbirds who winter in Arizona or Florida will appreciate a dog small enough to carry on a plane. There might be times when you need to pick up your dog, especially in case of medical emergencies. If you’re 65 now and get a young dog, will you be able to lift it in 10 years? However, tiny dogs are easy to trip over, especially if your eyesight is failing.
Puppies are adorable, but they can be costly and require a lot of work. An adult dog will be calmer, and it’s easier to see if your personalities jive. Older people might be better off with older dogs. If you’re over 75, consider a dog who’s seven or older and enjoy your golden years together. Older dogs are often overlooked at shelters, so you’ll be doing the dog a big service. And your dog will return the favor.
Some dogs love everybody. Others will just bond with you. Do you entertain a lot? Do friends and grandkids constantly drop by? If so, a sociable dog like a cocker spaniel is the right choice. But if you’re more concerned with guarding your domicile, a dog like a Chihuahua, who’s devoted to you but yaps at visitors, could help you feel safer.
Also consider your environment. Short-legged breeds like Corgis or Scottish terriers can find stairs challenging. Do you live in a small apartment? Larger dogs will probably feel cramped.
While breeds influence the dog, ultimately you’ll have to decide on a case by case basis. As Bell says, “Pure breeds, mutts, large or small, it’s really about energy and personality. We believe in evaluating every dog and person in their own right.”
Find Your Fur-Ever Friend
Virginia Beach SPCA
Animal Aid Society
Heritage Humane Society
Gloucester-Mathews Humane Society