The more cautious answer might be, “It depends . . .”
I’m going to go out on a limb and say, emphatically, “Yes! Because dogs benefit seniors.”
The American Pet Products Association (“APPA”) conducted a survey in 2017-2018 which revealed that around 68% of American households (approximately 85 million of us) have a pet, so the more on-target answer probably is: “It’s entirely up to the Senior.” (https://www.iii.org/fact-statistic/facts-statistics-pet-statistics)
A dog is a good pet, but is it a good pet for a Senior?
For some of us, as we age, our field of interaction may shrink. You know, the kids (if there were any) have their lives, likely with kids of their own. Perhaps we are retired, so we don’t see that group anymore. Maybe we aren’t as social, in that we don’t “meet for dinner and drinks” as often as we once did. If that’s the case, adopting a dog can have fabulous benefits for Seniors: a great morale booster, a companion, undying affection, physical and mental stimulation, playmate (do Seniors have “Playmates”?) and, of course, joy.
Indeed, a dog offers Seniors health benefits that include lowering stress, lowering blood pressure and increased mental capacity.
Dogs are great pets because they give us the best of themselves. They are loyal, affectionate companions. They are playful , and they love us unconditionally. What more could you ask for? Whether a Senior should adopt a dog depends on at least three factors:
The age of the Senior
Clearly, each of us will age at different paces and in different ways, with different abilities and expectations. Generally speaking, most of us will probably not want the kind of rambunctious dog that might have suited a family with children, but will find that a smaller dog may be easier to handle, less demanding and require less effort.
The agility of the Senior
Of course, there are people in their 60s, 70s and beyond who love the idea of – and can handle – rough-housing with a high-energy Jack Russell or a daily run with a Border Collie.
When you own a dog – or any pet, really – daily chores and responsibilities just “come with the territory.” The elderly person has to be up for it.
The size and energy level of the dog
According to Meg Marrs, there are three factors to consider when choosing a furry companion: Energy Level, Size, and whether to get a Puppy or an Adult. (12 Best Dogs for Seniors: Top Dogs for Seniors & Elderly, by Meg Marrs, April 18, 2018,https://www.k9ofmine.com/best-dogs-for-seniors/). I would add Temperament and Health to those considerations.
According to Meg Marrs, there are three factors to consider when choosing a furry companion: Energy Level, Size, and whether to get a Puppy or an Adult. (12 Best Dogs for Seniors: Top Dogs for Seniors & Elderly, by Meg Marrs, April 18, 2018,https://www.k9ofmine.com/best-dogs-for-seniors/). I would add Temperament and Health to those considerations. We can look further at that in another post.
The amount of space inside and outside the Senior’s residence
If you live in an apartment or a senior complex, these dogs may not be for you: Working dogs, like German Shepherds and Siberian Huskies (the dogs that pull sleds), love to have plenty of space to “stretch out.” Labrador Retrievers have been America’s Favorite Dog for 26 years in a row (AKC), and they love to play (and retrieve!) any toy you throw! Greyhounds are bred to race, and Jack Russell Terriers are among the breeds that need room to run.
The Benefits of Having a Dog
- Puppy parents experience decreased depression and less loneliness.
- It’s easier to “break the ice” and talk with new people – create new friendships and enhance social opportunities in the community.
- Seniors who have a dog get help with staying active, because dogs have to be walked and played with, groomed, fed, “watered,” and cleaned up after.
Dogs Are Good for Seniors Because They Allow for Retained Mobility
According to an article by Kathy Kruger and Dr. Sandra McCune, Mars Petcare, on https://www.geron.org(The Gerontological Society of America):
“Maintaining health and physical mobility is an important component of preserving independence, and in a longitudinal study of 2,533 older adults (aged 71-82), dog owners were more than twice a likely to maintain their mobility over a 3 year period than non- dog owners, and they were more likely to walk faster and meet the recommended guidelines for physical activity. Pet owners over age 65 are also more likely to maintain their activities of daily living, such as climbing stairs, preparing meals, and bathing independently. Dogs, in particular, appear to help keep people active and provide a reason to get up in the morning.” (emphasis added) (The Roles of Pets In Physical, Emotional and Social Well-being, p. 15, https://www.geron.org/images/gsa/documents/TheRoleofPetsinHumanHealthyActive_Aging.pdf)
What Can Dogs Do?
We can train dogs to do almost anything that will enable them to cohabitate with us. They will act appropriately with other dogs and around people who are not part of the family, if given the right training. “Potty training” teaches them to “hold” the call of nature until “our walks” or let us know if they urgently need to step outside for a minute. While it might be their most fun thing, dogs can learn to adapt to leashes (because using them keeps pet and parent safe).
What If You Have Grands?
Back in the “Dark Ages” when some of us Seniors were youngsters, nobody ever worried about kids playing with dogs. Then, somewhere around the 1990s, “experts” started saying that having a dog contributed to children’s allergies.
More recently, the opposite has been proven: Animals lower children’s chances of becoming allergic, AND they might even develop stronger immune systems, as a result.
Fewer Doctor Visits
Did you know that, if you are over 65 and a pet parent who walks her dog daily, it’s likely that you are healthier than people your age who have dogs, but don’t walk them? (The Washington Post: “Dog walking Seniors are healthier – but think hard before buying grandpa a puppy,” by Karin Brulliard, April 27, 2016)
That same article reports that, “Rebecca Johnson, a professor at the University of Missouri and director of its Research Center for Human-Animal Interaction, said . . . Seniors shouldn’t have to forgo pet ownership just because it can involve lifting heavy bags of dog food, changing litter or visits to the vet. Older people also have trouble changing light bulbs.”
Johnson went on to say (in the same article), “They need help, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have electric light,” Johnson said. “People say, well, it’s a burden for older people to have dogs because they need help. Sure, they need help. As they age, they need help with a lot of things.” (The Washington Post: “Dog walking Seniors are healthier – but think hard before buying grandpa a puppy,” by Karin Brulliard, April 27, 2016 – https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/animalia/wp/2016/04/27/dog-walking-seniors-are-healthier-but-think-hard-before-buying-grandpa-a-puppy/?utm_term=.ed4c97b59bf0)
10 “Best” Breeds for Seniors
There are literallyhundreds of different breeds of dogs; any number of them could be suitable for Senior citizens. It all comes down to a person’s activity level, home size, other pets and (most important) personal preference.
For example: If you are extremely active (e.g., long hikes, runs, outdoor camping and other such outings), a larger, sturdier breed might be more to your taste. If you live out in the country, an outdoor type might be a better option. Generally speaking, small dogs are meant to be kept indoors, except when it’s time to walk. When it’s time to walk, they should be on a leash so they can be protected from predators, traffic and bigger animals. (Remember Sandra Bullock, the dog and the eagle in The Proposal?)
After scouring the Internet and talking with personnel at my local animal shelter (not to mention my own preferences), I’ve compiled a list of possible 10 “best” breeds for Seniors. IMHO, there is no way this list could be conclusive, but it takes into consideration the energy level, noise level (small breeds seem to be more “vocal” than large and larger breeds), lifespan and “friendliness” of each breed.
So, in alphabetical order, here we go:
Originating in the U.S., these guys are small in stature (12-25 pounds, 15 to 17 inches tall), affectionate, gentle, love to cuddle and make an excellent urban pet. He barks and sheds very little. He is reasonably easy to train. A great companion, for 13 to 15 years, the lap of a Senior will be his favorite place. They also get along with other dogs very well.
Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
In the Toy Group. Do you want a friendly dog? Well, this breed is one of the friendliest! You’ll never be lonely with a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. They grow to about a foot tall, weighing in at about 13 to 18 pounds. Their lifespan is around 12 to 15 years. These dog are often used as therapy dogs. Training can be more easily accomplished with positive reinforcement, and they are always very sweet. While they don’t need Jillian Michael/Biggest Loser-type exercise, they do have a tendency to gain weight. The one issue that may come up is potty training. They need structure and regularity which, can in turn, help structure their owner’s time as well by holding them accountable. Not much of a guard dog here (remember: Friendliest!), and she does shed seasonally.
In the Toy group. It has ben said that Chihuahuas comes from the ancient spiritual Toltec society and were revered as mystical healing creatures by the Aztecs – but they were originally discovered in Chihuahua, Mexico, and named after that city. It is one of the smallest breeds known. Their lifespan is around 10 to 18 years. An adult stands about 6 to 9 inches tall and weighs only 3 to 6 pounds. Usually very smart, they can be trained easier than other small dogs. Chihuahuas love to run and play, and they have big personalities. This little dog will follow you around the house, ride with you to do your errands, and make an excellent watchdog. Their coats come in many colors, with long or short hair. If you have grandkids, be aware they have to be trained to socialize with small children.
In the Toy group. The Maltese has been around for over 2,000 years. With their long, silky hair, they remind one of the Shih Tzu. They usually live 12 to 15 years, weigh around 7 pounds and only get to 7 to 9 inches tall. At that size and weight, they won’t be a hazard to a Senior, and they won’t be jumping on people and knocking them down. The intelligent Maltese make good watchdogs, and will bark at strangers and other dogs. On top of all that, they are playful, charming, extremely well-mannered and loving. If they are not properly trained, however, this beautiful creature can bark a lot and snap at strangers. Maltese are essentially hypoallergenic and shed very little.
In the Toy group. In his 12- to 16-year lifetime, this adorable little dog usually only grows to be 3 to 7 pounds, and he will usually stand about 7 inches tall. They make a great indoor dog for older folks. They love to take walks, but they are independent and can be by themselves at times. If you train him consistently, you can teach him not to bark. They make excellent watch dogs. Soft and cuddly, not too high maintenance, and you can brush him regularly, while he’s in your lap. Unlike some other dogs, they are not likely to chew on furniture or destroy carpet.
Non-sporting group. Poodles are one of the smartest breeds on the planet. Are you looking for a great companion? Here he is! Their life expectancy is 10 to 18 years. They are not “hyper,” so you can have a dog you can pet as well as one to take a walk with. While the most common colors are black and white, they come in many colors and color combinations. Also, they come in three sizes: toy, miniature (10-15 pounds), and standard (40-70 pounds (male or female)). AND they don’t HAVE TO have that fancy haircut!
This little dog stands at about 10 inches tall and weighs 18 to 22 pounds(male or female). The Scottish terrier can be a bit of a stubborn breed. That may be, but he is actually one of the best companions for a Senior citizen. They are known for their short legs, which make them an ideal companion for walking in the morning and for keeping play to a minimum – perfect for any active Senior adult! Scotties may not seem intimidating, but she will alert you to intruders – and even passersby. With positive and reward-based work, they can be trained to “selective” barking.
In the Toy group. This adorable little dog hails from China. They bring to mind the Maltese, except the Maltese is white, and the Shih Tzu coat can be different colors. She stands 9 to 10½ inches high, and she weighs 9 to 16 pounds. Her lifespan is 10 to 18 years. She is well mannered and very friendly, and not aggressive. While she’s sitting in your lap, you can brush her every day. Though she is loving, she is also stubborn, so training can be a challenge. Worth it!
West Highland White Terrier
In the Terrier group. This friendly – and adorable – dog looks kinda like that one in the dog food commercial that eats all his food before the guard even sits down.
Westies stand about 10(female)to 11 inches tall(male), weighs around 13 (female)to 20 pounds(male), and has a life expectancy of 13 to 15 years. Westies don’t get big enough to knock someone over. They have a good temperament and can entertain themselves, so no worries about excessive barking when you’re gone. Because they are intelligent, your Westie will bark if he suspects danger – so he is a good watch dog. He is a quick learner, too, and not a big shedder (so, low maintenance). A couple of walks a day, and he’s happy. NOT an outside dog!
Exploring the “What breed is best for me? idea – IMHO – is a fairly important question, so we will undoubtedly be talking about breeds again – a lot.
FYI on Barking
Important: Barking is an issue with almost all toy breeds. Right from the start, you must teach them early on not to bark incessantly, as well as to stop barking when you tell them to stop. As with most breeds, you must establish yourself as the pack leader and your dog as the follower.
In the meantime, what do YOU think? Should Seniors adopt a dog?