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Dogs make fantastic companions no matter who you are. The unconditional love they provide can bring a lot of joy and happiness into any household.
However, as we get older, the companionship that dogs can provide becomes more important. Our senior years are often characterized by loneliness, and dogs can do a lot to alleviate that feeling.
We also need to be realistic; if you aren’t as active as you used to be, you may not be able to take your pooch on daily hikes or battle a larger dog who is not keen on bath time.
Seniors do better with dogs that have the right kind of temperament to share their lives in their twilight years.
For that reason, we have come up with a list of the 10 dog breeds best suited to act as companions for senior citizens.
Spoiler Alert: We love Labs! Guess what our beloved Labrador Retriever did not make our list. We realize as great as Labs are they are not great for everyone and we must concede that Labradors are not the best dogs for seniors.
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Old Age And Canine Companionship
Loneliness is a major risk factor as we get older. Human beings are social creatures and we thrive off interacting with others.
However, as we get older, we are more prone to social isolation. Around thirty percent of older adults in the United States live alone.
Children have not only left home but may have moved to the other side of the country or even the world, and be occupied with pursuing their own families and building their careers.
As we retire, we can also miss the daily interactions that we found through work. We might lose our spouse, often our main companion in older age, through death or divorce.
Research has shown that loneliness and social isolation increase the risk of physical and mental medical conditions, including high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, a weakened immune system, anxiety, depression, cognitive decline, and Alzheimer’s.
In contrast, those who continue to engage in meaningful social activity in later life, including owning a dog, tend to live longer, and be healthier and happier.
There are a number of ways in which owning a dog can be great for an older person’s health. The first is obviously diminishing loneliness, as a dog can offer companionship where it is lacking.
In older age we also have a tendency to become more sedentary, and with mobility, it is a case of use it or lose it!
Getting out to take a dog for a walk every day can be a great way to maintain a moderate level of activity.
Owning a dog has also been shown to lower blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglycerides. They also improve mental health by raising levels of serotonin and dopamine in the brain.
Research has also shown that seniors who care for a pet also tend to take better care of themselves.
Caring for a dog can add routine and responsibility to a person’s life, which may feel like it is lacking once children have flown the nest and work responsibilities have become a thing of the past.
As well as this long list of benefits for seniors of owning a dog, it is good for the dog as well!
Many people who work all day only get to spend time with their dog in the morning, at night, and on the weekend.
Even dogs in family households can feel neglected as everyone is rushing around between school, work, and an ever growing list of extracurricular activities.
Older people generally have more free time, which means more time to give their dog the companionship that they need in return.
Characteristics Of A Good Dog For Seniors
There is certainly no such thing as the perfect dog for older people, as it depends very much on the individual.
- Is the older person active and able to take the dog out, or are they mostly house-bound?
- Do they live in an apartment or a house with a pretty generous yard?
- Are they on their own or regularly visited by family and friends, including children?
These all make a big difference to which breed of dog is best. But here are a few things to consider to help make the right choice.
While walking the dog can be a great way for older people to remain active, seniors should generally avoid dogs that need a lot of exercise.
Some dogs can become frustrated and destructive if you aren’t feeling up to take them on their daily one-mile hike.
Elderly people that do have mobility issues and can’t realistically take their dogs on regular walks should look for smaller dogs that don’t need as much exercise and are generally happy pottering around the house.
These types of dogs also generally prefer snuggling up with you when you are reading or watching TV.
But remember, it is worth not just considering your activity levels now, but also in the future.
Dogs generally have a life span of 10 to 15 years.
While most dogs are considered senior from around the seven year mark, this might not mean that they become much less active.
Consider whether you will still be able to take your dog on their daily walk in five or ten years when they haven’t slowed down, but you might have.
Large dogs not only tend to need more exercise but can also pose an accident risk.
Many larger dogs don’t seem to be aware of their own size and weight, and they might jump up on their owner or accidentally knock them over during play.
This is always problematic, but becomes a particular issue when bones are more brittle and muscles less sturdy.
Small dogs are also easier to maneuver and control when it comes to things like bath time and grooming.
Seniors are often advised to adopt older dogs as you already know their temperament, and they are already house trained.
Puppies can represent a lot of work in terms of training and exercise and may end up being too boisterous when they grow up.
Some dog breeds are more docile and need less exercise, and therefore, make good companions for older people.
But whatever characteristics you are looking for in a dog, it is best to consider a pure-breed. This is because the character traits of pure-bred dogs are more predictable, and therefore, are more likely to meet expectations.
In mix-breed dogs, character traits can combine in unexpected ways to produce unpredictable behavior that may become a problem further down the line.
Just like humans, dogs develop health problems later in life. Some breeds are more prone to serious health problems than others and will need more care as they get older.
Again, it is probably best for older people to avoid these breeds, not just because of the cost involved, but the extra work that may be required to care for them.
10 Best Dog Breeds For Older People
While which dog breed is right for any individual depends on a lot of factors, these 10 dog breeds all make pretty good companions for older people.
If you are looking for a dog that will be at your side day and night, then Maltese make a great choice.
Generally weighing between four and seven pounds, they are pretty much happy spending the entire day beside their owner or curled up on their lap. They are very attentive and snuggly.
While Maltese do enjoy a daily walk, you won’t be breaking your back to meet their exercise needs. They are also easy to scoop up and take with you whenever you need to.
The long white hair of Maltese does require regular grooming and pretty frequent trips to the professional groomer.
However, a daily grooming routine can be a great way to bond with your pet and build up your rapport. They are also hypoallergenic dogs, so they shouldn’t set off asthma sufferers.
Maltese tend to live longer than most dogs, at around 15 to 18 years, so prepare for a pretty long commitment to the love and care of this pooch.
Pugs are gentle and affectionate breeds that are also happy to spend all of their time at the side of their owner. A bit larger than Maltese, weighing fifteen to twenty pounds, they are still highly manageable for most people.
A pug’s exercise needs are pretty much limited to a daily walk, so they will keep their owner active without wearing them out.
In fact, the breathing issues associated with their flat nose means that long walks are pretty much out of the question.
In the evening, there is nothing they like more than snuggling up on the couch. Thankfully, they are short haired, so they won’t leave too much debris behind.
Despite their breathing issues, they don’t tend to suffer from serious health conditions in later life.
The one problem they may encounter is obesity, as they do love their food, but this can be managed with a good diet.
3. French Bulldog
French Bulldogs are another small breed, standing at only around 12 inches talk, but they are sturdy and compact and can weigh between 20 and 30 pounds, so can be a bit heavy for more fragile elderly owners.
But the thing that sets French Bulldogs out as a good choice is that they are extremely happy dogs and never fail to bring joy into the home.
They can be quite energetic, but their stamina is pretty low, so a quick fun game is exactly that. They won’t be pestering you to play catch for hours on end.
French Bulldogs tend to have pretty minimal grooming needs, which is great if you aren’t inclined to spend a lot of time on those types of things.
However, they can tend to develop health issues as they get older, in particular, skin conditions and breathing problems, as is common with flat faced dogs. Don’t be surprised to hear them snoring.
4. Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
Cavalier King Charles Spaniels are a smaller breed, generally measuring around 12 inches in height, and weighing between 13 and 18 pounds, so they should be relatively easy for an elderly owner to manage.
Their exercise needs are pretty limited and are well-suited to apartment living. They only really need short walks a couple of times a week.
They much prefer cuddling up in the house. This also makes them a great choice for anyone who likes affectionate dogs.
Their long hair does mean that they do need to be groomed quite regularly, and you will probably need to fork out for professional grooming pretty regularly.
However, daily hair brushing can also be a nice bonding experience for your and your pooch.
Poodles are one of the smartest dog breeds, which means that they are also highly trainable. This makes them great companions for older people as they will learn the rules of the house quickly.
With poodles, you can also choose what size is right for you based on your living conditions.
Standard poodles stand at about 15 inches tall and can weigh up to 75 pounds, but miniatures are much lighter at less than 20 pounds, and toy poodles are less than 10 inches tall and can weigh as little as five pounds.
You poodle will need regular professional grooming, at least every other month, but poodles are also low shedding, which means that they won’t be leaving hair all over your home, making less work for you to clean up.
Chihuahuas are another small lap dog with weights at only three to six pounds, and you will often see people carrying them around on public transport.
They are cuddly and affectionate and will prefer to share your bed with you. But they also tend to be quirky and have weird personality traits that are a joy to discover.
While their small size means that Chihuahuas need pretty limited exercise and are easy to manage, it does also mean that they have very small bladders.
You will probably want to teach them to use an indoor dog litter tray, as if they have to wait for you to let them out, there will be accidents!
Also be aware that they can be a little bit prone to barking and can struggle to get on with other animals that they have not been properly socialized.
Chihuahuas tend to have a long lifespan, living around 18 years, so they make great companion pets as we all start living longer. They generally remain pretty healthy right throughout their lives.
7. Shih Tzu
Like the Maltese, Shih Tzus make great small, lap dogs for older people. They are usually only 10 inches tall or less, and weigh 10 to 15 pounds.
This makes them easy to handle, which can be a good thing, as they can tend to have a stubborn streak. Nevertheless, they are still trainable when it comes to the important things.
Shih Tzus do need pretty regular grooming, as they have hair like humans rather than other dogs. But this can be a great bonding exercise for you and your pooch.
However, be aware that they can have health issues later in life, in particular, skin and breathing issues.
As a small dog, Shih Tzus don’t need much exercise and are generally happy as long as they have space to roam around the house.
Be aware that when you do take them out frequently, they will also need to be groomed more frequently as they have a tendency to pick up dirt in their coats.
8. Scottish Terrier
It is worth getting a Scottish Terrier just to name them after Scottie on Star Trek.
A small breed weighing only around 20 pounds, they aren’t hugely fond of running, but they do still need their daily exercise to keep them fit and healthy.
However, their daily exercise shouldn’t include going in the water as they are one of the few dog breeds that can’t swim!
Terriers are smart breeds, but they can be difficult to train as they will do almost anything to trick a treat out of you.
It is important to watch their diet as they can have a tendency to overeat if left to their own devices. They will adapt quickly to any household situation, even if they do it in their own unique way.
Socttish Terriers are another low shedding animal, which means that they won’t leave a lot of hair around the house.
This means that they won’t set off asthma or create a lot of clean up work. Their hair does need to be combed out once a week, but take this as an opportunity to bond with your pal.
9. Pembroke Welsh Corgi
Pembroke Welsh Corgis are a great medium-sized dog for seniors. Standing 10 to 12 inches tall, they generally weight between 25 and 30 pounds. So, they aren’t tiny, but they aren’t too big to handle.
Combine this with the fact that they are intelligent, and therefore, very trainable, and they make the ideal pet.
They don’t need much exercise as they have adorably short legs that tire out quickly. They also have minimal grooming needs, so you won’t need to be brushing their coat on a daily basis.
Corgis love being around people and can actually get a bit depressed if left alone for too long. They are great with strangers and children. If they nip at ankles,they are just exercising their herding instinct as part of play.
Many people will be surprised to see Greyhounds on the list. But while these dogs are ideal for racing, they aren’t actually high energy pets.
While a Greyhound does need a daily walk, for the rest of the day, they will probably be happy just hanging around the house and probably flopping down on the couch.
Greyhounds are great for older people that aren’t keen on small dogs. They are usually between 25 and 30 inches tall and can weigh between 60 to 80 pounds. They are highly trainable, which means that they are easy to handle despite their weight.
Adopting an older Greyhound from a race team can be a great choice for seniors. These dogs are already well-trained, and you can feel good about helping a pooch that might otherwise be put down for lack of a home.
Older people can gain significant benefits from introducing a dog into their lives. Not only can dogs provide companionship and protect against the social isolation that often emerges in our twilight years, but they have also been shown to improve physical and mental health.
They provide structure to life that can encourage older people to take better care of themselves and be more active.
Older people should choose their companion dog carefully. They need a dog that they will be able to look after with their lower energy levels. And an older person should consider not only a dog’s energy levels now but in the future.
You can expect your dog to be with you and require your love and care for at least 10 years. Will you be as active as you are now in 10 or even five years?
We have pulled together a list of dog breeds that make great pets for seniors. These are small dogs that are easier to handle and tend to need less exercise but will still get their owner out of the house.
These dogs also tend to be affectionate and happy to spend every moment at the side of their owner.
Our list includes only smaller dogs because the size of a dog is a big consideration for seniors. My mother always told me after our last dog passed she would only get smaller dogs because if the dog fell ill she wanted to be able to lift him into the car.
How about you guys?
What dog breeds do you think are best for seniors?
Tell us about your dog and your experiences in the comment section below.
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Top Picks For Our Dogs
- BEST PUPPY TOY
We Like: Snuggle Puppy w/ Heart Beat & Heat Pack - Perfect for new puppies. We get all of our Service Dog pups a Snuggle Puppy.
- BEST CHEW TOY
We Like: KONG Extreme - Great toy for heavy chewers like our Labrador Retrievers.
- BEST DOG TREATS
We Like: Wellness Soft Puppy Bites - One of our favorite treats for training our service dog puppies.
For a list of all the supplies we get for our new service dog puppies check out our New Puppy Checklist on the PuppyInTraining.com blog.