Best Dog Breeds for Assisted Living
Big or small, noisy or quiet, active or calm — choosing the right dog breed is important when you plan to be a pet owner in an assisted living community.
Moving into assisted living does not mean you have to give up the benefits of furry companionship. With the increasing numbers of pet-friendly assisted living communities, which recognize the positive health outcomes that can be conferred by dog ownership, more seniors than ever are able to keep their longtime companions with them in the next stage of their lives. If you or a loved one is in assisted living and wants to own a dog, there are numerous breeds that are especially well suited to seniors and fit the pet requirements of senior communities.
The Benefits of Dog Ownership for Seniors
Research studies have repeatedly found that pet ownership has significant benefits for seniors’ mental, physical, and emotional health — in other words, pets are good for your body AND soul. Dogs in particular are great for providing physical exercise, socialization, and overall day-to-day companionship. Getting out for a daily walk, or even simply playing with a dog indoors, is an enjoyable form of activity, and seniors can choose a dog whose exercise demands are commensurate with their own needs and physical limitations. Even more profound, perhaps, than the fitness benefits of dog ownership are the enhancements to quality of life that a canine companion can provide. Pets can be downright therapeutic, promoting the flow of feel-good hormones in the brain and body, and thereby lowering stress, heart rate, and blood pressure. Over the long run, pet ownership has even been correlated with lower risks of heart disease, stroke, and depression.
Tips for Owning a Dog in Assisted Living
If you or a loved one are trying to decide on the perfect dog to bring into an assisted living community, there are various individual considerations you must keep in mind before making your choice. Not only is the breed of the dog an important factor, you should also consider your own needs and the regulations of the assisted living community. Here’s a list of points to keep in mind as you research:
Breed: As we age, a large dog or a very active one might not be the right choice for us, especially if the dog owner has physical limitations that could cause safety concerns. Different breeds also have different requirements for grooming, different levels of trainability, and — particularly important for residents of a shared community — different levels of noisiness. Some breeds are also more susceptible to health issues.
Age of the Dog: A senior dog often makes a great companion for a senior human — they may already be trained, and they are usually less active and demanding than a puppy. Another age-related consideration is a dog’s overall life expectancy; small dogs generally live longer than large ones.
Temperament: The temperament of a dog (and how it meshes with the owner’s temperament) is extremely individual, even taking breed into account. Any potential dog owner will want to take the opportunity to interact and play with an animal before deciding if it’s a match made in dog heaven.
Owner’s Medical Needs: Consider carefully your own physical limitations. If you have mobility issues, will this pose a problem for a dog that needs daily walks? Do you have oxygen tubing, which might present a playful puppy with the temptation to chew?
Care Resources: What resources are available to help care for the dog, in the event the owner is not fully able to handle the responsibility? Can you afford to pay for grooming, veterinary visits, supplies, or pet sitting when you’re traveling? What resources are provided by the assisted living community? Do they have a Pet Care Coordinator?
Community Requirements: Be sure to carefully check the regulations of the assisted living community regarding pets: many communities have size limitations (for instance, the Emeritus at Kirkland welcomes pets under 25 pounds, while the Merrill Gardens at Tacoma welcome dogs up to 50 pounds). You might need to get your dog pre-approved, prove that it is house-trained, and/or provide a statement of veterinary health.
Top 10 Dog Breeds for Assisted Living
We’ve scoured the web for advice from dog lovers and dog experts alike, and these 10 breeds that are consistently mentioned again and again as great choices for seniors — and, more importantly, they possess many of the traits necessary for a successful, happy life with their human companions in assisted living.
Pugs are known as adaptable, charming, and eager to please — affectionate and playful without requiring a lot of exercise to maintain their health. They are small, so they generally meet the size requirements of assisted living communities. They can be a bit mischievous, and they tend to shed quite a bit, especially in warmer climates.
Schnauzers come in various sizes, including miniature, so they offer a lot of choice to a senior trying to meet a community’s pet size requirements. They are energetic, playful, trainable, and good with children, although they can have strong guarding instincts. They can be quite active; the AKC notes that they have a medium energy level, so playtime with your schnauzer can help keep you active as well.
3. Cocker Spaniel
Cocker Spaniels tend to be medium-sized (about 20 pounds) so they might not be suitable for every AL community, but they have enjoyed ongoing popularity as a breed with an even temperament — happy, affectionate, loyal, and charming. Bear in mind that they tend to be energetic, and also require a bit more grooming.
If you live in a small assisted living apartment, why not consider one of the smallest dogs there is? Chihuahuas have a ton of personality for their size, and love being showered with affection; on the flip side, they are so loyal and protective that they might need a bit of training before dealing with children, and some Chihuahuas bark a lot. They can be active, but being small, they can often get sufficient exercise by playing indoors.
5. Boston Terrier
Boston Terriers often make the list of top dogs for seniors because of their manageable size, friendliness, ease of grooming, and love of spending time with their owners. “Boston Terriers are bred to be companion dogs,” says Dane LaJoye, president of the Boston Terrier Club of America, in an article on PBS’s NextAvenue. “They like nothing more than to be with their owner, on the sofa watching TV, or curled up next to their owner in bed. The breed is happy-go-lucky and playful, yet attentive to their owners’ needs.”
6. Shih Tzu
Though Shih Tzu dogs might have a tendency to bark, they are also known for their friendly, playful, and alert nature. They are also small, which is ideal for apartment living; bred to be companions, with daily walks and indoor playtime, they tend to be healthy and long-lived, and enjoy sitting on their owner’s lap. Their long, luxurious coat does require a bit of time devoted to grooming, however.
Beagles are cute (think Snoopy), funny, loyal, and friendly, enjoying the company of other dogs and humans. They love to play and are excellent family dogs. They can also be independent, which may make training a challenge, and they do need plenty of exercise – which is great for fitness-minded seniors. They shed a lot, but their coat is relatively easy to care for with regular brushing.
Coming in different sizes from large to tiny, there’s a poodle out there for everyone, even if you live in a small apartment. Smart, proud, and active according to the AKC, it’s no surprise that poodles are the 7th most popular breed overall. They’re easily trained and enjoy a variety of activities, which makes them very adaptable to different-sized living situations. Their coats require regular grooming, but they are also hypo-allergenic.
9. Yorkshire Terrier
Though a Yorkshire Terrier (or Yorkie) has long hair that requires a lot of grooming, they are small and adaptable, making them a good option for assisted living. They’re intelligent, loyal, and lively, and usually get enough exercise with a daily walk. With a long history as companion animals, they enjoy daily interaction with their people; they can get a bit bossy, though, says the AKC.
Another tiny dog that will easily fit within most communities’ size limitations, the Pomeranian is an intelligent little people-pleaser and (though, as a former Pom owner, I might be biased) one of the cutest dogs you’ll ever see. Being small and lightweight, they are easy to handle, and, though energetic, don’t require a lot of exercise as long as they get their allotment of attention. Besides regularly brushing their thick coat, their grooming needs are fairly straightforward. They can be a bit noisy, though. Of course, as any dog lover will tell you, every dog is an individual; so, while rule-of-thumb descriptions of specific breeds can serve as a useful guideline, being able to observe and interact with a specific pet before making a final decision will help you pinpoint the perfect dog with a personality that’s compatible with yours.
Attention dog lovers: what do you think is the best dog breed for seniors in assisted living? We’d like to hear in the comments below.
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