Dogs provide us with entertainment, companionship, love and security. Caring for a dog can ease loneliness, stress, and pain, and this is especially true for the elderly. The devoted companionship of a dog has been shown to encourage senior citizens to become more physically active, emotionally responsive and cooperate better with caregivers and doctors, all of which can provide a better quality of life. Even shared pets living in nursing homes offer these benefits to the residents.
Many breeds make good pets for senior citizens. Small or toy breeds are often preferable because they tend to be “lap dogs” which thrive on attention. Smaller dogs are also easier for seniors to carry if a trip to the vet become necessary. Large, rambunctious dogs are not usually a good choice. A large dog may be more intimidating to strangers, but little dogs may also be extremely protective of their owners.
Smaller dogs also tend to need less exercise which will be less taxing on a senior whose physical abilities are compromised. Consider the capabilities of the elderly pet owner before choosing a dog; some senior dog lovers may need a family member or friend to help with the basic care, exercise and grooming requirements of the dog.
Miniature or toy poodles are the breed of choice for owners who want to pamper their dog. Poodles love attention and company of people, and are easily trained. They need a moderate amount of exercise. Their curly coats can be clipped short for ease of grooming; longer coats should be brushed every day. Poodles do not shed and are a good choice for allergy sufferers.
Chihuahuas are small dogs with a natural instinct to bark at strange noises and people. The owner will know when someone is at the door! Chihuahuas have spunky personalities and tend to bond with one adult. Their tiny size, usually under five pounds, makes them easy to handle.
Boston Terriers have natural guardian instincts although they usually get along well with strangers and other pets. They are gentle and friendly dogs who are easily housetrained. Their adult weight is between 15 and 28 pounds.
Shih Tzus have a sweet, gentle disposition and love the company of their humans. Their long coats require high-maintenance grooming, or they can be trimmed in a “puppy cut” which requires less upkeep. Adults weigh between 6 and 10 pounds.
Pugs have an entertaining, clownish nature and love attention. They tend to be high-energy dogs but also love to cuddle. They tend to shed quite a bit which can be controlled with regular grooming. Adults weigh 14 to 18 pounds.
The Maltese is a tiny, docile breed that is extremely affectionate and loves to be pampered. Easy to train, they love to play fetch and learn tricks. They do not shed but require regular brushing to keep their coats from matting. Like other non-shedding dogs, they are a good choice for allergy sufferers. Adults weigh between 3 and 7 pounds.
Yorkshire Terriers are petite dogs that love human companionship without being clingy unless they are very pampered. They are bold, self-confident and sometimes don’t realize they are a small dog! Yorkies are independent and can be more difficult to train than some breeds. They are energetic dogs but because they are so small they can often get enough exercise running around an apartment. Their long hair coat can be trimmed to a shorter length for ease of maintenance. They do not shed and are good low-allergy dogs. They usually weigh between 5 and 7 pounds.
Pekingese also have less need for exercise. They are affectionate but have independent personalities. Pekingese usually get along well with other dogs and people, but may be wary of strangers. They need regular grooming and weigh 8 to 14 pounds.
Pomeranians usually prefer adults to children and get along well with other pets. They are intelligent, spunky dogs and have a low need for exercise. Although they have fluffy coats they do not need much grooming. They weigh 3 to 7 pounds.
Adopting a new puppy may be a bit overwhelming for senior citizens whose physical energy is limited. Rowdy puppies require lots of patience, training, and socialization to become good companions. Mature or senior dogs are generally calmer and more even-tempered, and usually already housebroken. These older dogs may be a good choice for seniors who would prefer a medium to large dog.
There are many dogs in shelters waiting for a good home. Some shelter dogs have behavioral problems because the previous owner did not take time to train the dog properly, but many are there simply because their family could not keep them any more due to moving, allergies, or other reasons that had nothing to do with the dog’s behavior. Some of these may be larger breed dogs, or even mixed breeds, and would make excellent pets. Most shelters will evaluate the behavior of dogs in their care and try to match the dog with the owner. Consider this option when choosing a dog!