Tips for Seniors Considering Dog Ownership

tips-for-seniors-considering-dog-ownership1If you have reached retirement age or beyond, you are at a wonderful time of life to welcome a companion animal into your home. Now you may have more time to spend with a dog, and dog ownership can benefit you in several ways.

Research has shown that owning a dog benefits both your brain and your body. When it comes to dog ownership, those benefits appear to be primarily due to dog walking. Walking a dog has been associated with a lower body mass index and fewer visits to the doctor. Dog walking can also provide social benefits since you may talk with your neighbors while you are out on a stroll. A dog provides an instant topic of conversation. Staying socially connected not only provides feelings of well-being, but it’s also been shown to help boost memory.


Other Life-Enhancing Things to Do with a Dog:

  • Take your dog with you on a trip. They love car rides and exploring new places.
  • Bring your dog with you to visit friends who aren’t feeling well. A visit from a cute dog can help improve their mood.
  • Sign your dog up for group obedience or agility training class
  • Stay mentally active by learning about your dog’s breed and finding tasks your dog would enjoy doing that are particular to his breed.

Even if you are not able to walk much due to physical limitations or illness, you can still benefit from owning a companion dog. Dogs can reduce your stress level and your chances of developing depression or feeling lonely. Having a living creature to care for can add new meaning and purpose to your life. Feeding and grooming help you stay active. If you can’t walk your dog on a regular basis, you can exercise them indoors by training them and teaching them to play fetch or other games.


What Kind of Dog is Right for Seniors?

Energy level. Size and personality are the most frequently cited factors to consider when you’re looking for a dog. However, according to dog behaviorist Cesar Millan, anyone, regardless of their age, should choose a dog that has the same energy level that they have or lower. As we get older, we tend to slow down, and lower-energy dogs make for better matches with our lifestyles. Dogs that tend to have lower energy levels include:

  • Basset hounds
  • Bulldogs
  • Greyhounds
  • Cavalier King Charles spaniels
  • French bulldogs


Size. If you live in assisted living or an apartment, a smaller dog makes sense. Typically, smaller breeds are more suitable for older people. They consume less food than larger dogs, so they’ll be less expensive to maintain, but also, they’ll leave less waste for you to clean up.

When you own a small dog, you can groom them in the sink instead of having to place them in a bathtub to wash them, so you won’t have to stoop over. It’s easier to transport a small pet when you need to take him to the veterinarian or for other travel. A smaller dog with a lower energy level is going to be less likely to pull on a leash and knock you off balance, possibly risking a fall. However, very small dogs may be more liable to get underfoot and create a tripping hazard.


Age. Older dogs can make an excellent choice for a senior. Senior dogs are calm, have lower needs for activity, and will typically already be housebroken. And contrary to popular belief, you can teach an older dog new tricks! To sum it up, when you’re choosing a dog, look for one that’s affectionate but not too high-energy.


Dog Behavior Considerations

tips-for-seniors-considering-dog-ownership2Whether you bring home a puppy or an older dog who needs a home, you can train them for better behavior. For example, you can teach the dog the command for quiet, which will be helpful if you live in an apartment setting. Of course, if you do live in a communal setting, your neighbors will appreciate if you choose a less “yappy” dog in the first place. The lower energy dogs listed above also tend to bark less often than more high-strung breeds, such as Yorkshire terriers.

For seniors, especially those at risk of a fall, it’s a good idea to train your dog to stay out of certain areas where they may get under your feet (Click here to learn about medical alert systems with automatic fall detection alert). For example, many household accidents occur in the kitchen. Keeping them out of there can be a smart preventative measure. You can teach your dog to stay in a particular area or use baby gates if your dog insists on trying to follow you into the kitchen.

Even if you are at home a lot, it can help your dog if you sometimes leave him in a room alone. That way he can learn to be comfortable on his own. Otherwise, he may suffer from separation anxiety and stress when you do go out. Crate training is helpful in this regard because being in a crate can help even an anxious dog to feel secure even when they’re by themselves.

If you’re looking to bring home an adult dog, consider breed-specific rescue groups so that you can have an idea of the way the dog will be likely to behave based on their breed. Otherwise, mixed breed dogs can be very healthy and make excellent companions. All dogs can provide good company at home and help you to meet new people, get some exercise and learn new things.


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