Dogs can bring companionship, health benefits, and a little extra joy to seniors and retirees. Whether your loved one is at home or in an assisted living community, there are many dog breeds that can lower stress, prevent loneliness, provide purpose and routine, and lead to better heart health by encouraging them to exercise.
Many factors influence which dog breed is best for senior citizens. Just like people, dogs vary greatly in personality, size, exercise needs and general care requirements.
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Finding a four-legged sidekick to match your loved one’s lifestyle is important. Would they benefit from a more active dog to keep them on their toes? Would they mesh better with a calm, affectionate lapdog?
It’s equally as important to consider the animal’s personality, hair, size and costs. Here are some of the top dog breeds for seniors based on information from the American Kennel Society.
Boston terriers are top dogs for seniors because of their manageable size, friendliness and ease of grooming. Quiet, charming, and easy to train, they’re known for their boundless energy and fun-loving ways, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA).
Poodles come in three sizes — toy, miniature, and standard. They’re active and intelligent dogs, and rank seventh on American Kennel Club’s most popular list of dog breeds. They’re easy to train, enjoy a variety of activities, and can adapt to different kinds of living environments. Poodles are hypoallergenic, but their coats require regular grooming.
Miniature schnauzers come in three sizes: miniature, standard, and giant. They’re energetic, playful, and good with children. Their alertness, devotion, and sometimes vocal nature makes them an excellent watch or alert dog, says the American Miniature Schnauzer Club. Although they can be protective companions, they’re not aggressive. Instead, they’re obedient, eager to please, and want to be your best friend.
Pugs are adaptable, charming, and eager to please. They require less exercise, yet remain affectionate and playful. They’re small companion animals, and although they can be stubborn at times, they tend to be extremely social and devoted to their owners.
French bulldogs are great for seniors because they’re extremely kind, easy to groom, adaptable, and do not require excessive walks. (It’s no wonder they’re one of the most popular dog breeds in the United States!) French bulldogs are entertaining, and love nothing more than their owner’s company.
Pomeranians are intelligent, perky, and overall people-pleasers. They’re energetic and love attention, but don’t require a lot of work or exercise. Their thick coat needs to be brushed regularly, but otherwise their grooming needs are fairly straightforward. Pomeranians may bark more than other breeds, but not excessively, and make excellent alert animals.
While the options above are excellent choices for seniors and retirees, there are plenty more loving breeds to choose from. Here are some more top picks:
Yes! More and more assisted living communities are allowing pets, including dogs. Our guide to Pet-Friendly Assisted Living features a sampling of pet-friendly senior communities listed by city and state. Here are three factors to consider when looking:
When talking with a senior living advisor or on your community tour, ask about their rules regarding dogs. Many communities have size limitations and some charge an extra fee to pet owners. You may need to have your dog pre-approved, show that they’re house-trained, and/or provide a statement of veterinary health.
Some communities offer dog-walking services. Others have a pet-care coordinator who ensures vaccines are up-to-date and pets are groomed, fed, and taken care of. Some communities host or plan events for pets and pet owners and even offer pet therapy.
Does your loved one have mobility issues that may prevent a dog from getting proper exercise? Do they have oxygen tubing that could tempt a puppy who loves to chew? Consider who will assume ownership if your loved one’s health changes.
Besides breed, age is another factor to think about when deciding on the best dog for a senior. While an older dog’s calm temperament may be a good match for seniors, you’ll want to consider all the pros and cons.
Many animal shelters allow seniors to adopt senior dogs at reduced costs. For example, PAWS Seniors for Seniors adoption program in Washington State matches senior dogs (typically 9 years or older) with adults 60 or older for $50.
Here are some benefits of older dogs, from the ASPCA.
The biggest challenge with older pets, including dogs, is health issues, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association. While there are treatments for certain conditions, the medical or prescription drug bills could be costly Some cons of older dogs include:
No matter which four-legged friend you choose, spending time with a dog and asking questions about their medical history can help guide you.
Merritt Whitely is an editor at A Place for Mom. She developed health content for seniors at Hearing Charities of America and the National Hearing Aid Project. She’s also managed multiple print publications, blogs, and social media channels for seniors as the marketing manager at Sertoma, Inc.