As the caregiver to an older adult, sometimes companionship is more important than just about any other part of your job. Seniors who live alone and depend on a caregiver may need a lot of interaction every day, adding to the overall workload. For some seniors, adopting a dog can solve their sense of isolation and need for additional companionship.
Before deciding to bring a dog into your senior’s life, consider the options for what kind of dog would be best for your older adult. One crucial consideration is whether to adopt a puppy, which requires constant attention, training and patience, or to opt for an older dog that’s more likely to be housebroken and less energetic. You may also consider a senior dog (seven years and older), though they sometimes come with health issues and require special care—much like older people do.
Yet, no matter which option you choose, the benefits of dog ownership are plentiful, reports experts in an article in The Gerontologist: “Individuals older than 50 years who frequently walked their dog were more likely to report having a sense of community, more likely to get at least 150 minutes of physical activity per week, and less likely to be sedentary than those who did not live with a dog.”
How do you find the right dog?
Once you and your older adult have decided to adopt a dog, adoption services are the best place to start. Some organizations specialize in finding homes for purebreds and mixed breeds of just about any size. Petfinder is a great place to start searching for the perfect dog for your loved one, and they can refer you to a specific breed adoption service if you have a particular type of dog in mind.
If you opt for a purebred puppy, plenty of breeders are available, but be careful not to choose a dog from a disreputable puppy mill. Instead, ask people you know who have purebred dogs where they found their pup. Or if you see someone walking their dog and it’s a breed that would work for your loved one, ask where they found their companion. Most dog owners are happy to talk about their dogs and will be glad to help you with your search.
Dog breeds best for seniors
Unless your senior is exceptionally fit and active, the best option will be a dog that’s content to cuddle and relax at home for most of the day. If your senior lives in a small apartment or adult community, a smaller dog will be the best choice. If they have a backyard, you can choose a bigger dog, but keep in mind that bigger dogs mean bigger meals, bigger dog food bills, and bigger grooming expenses. Once you’ve figured out your budget, your space, and your older loved one’s ability to walk the dog comfortably two or three times a day, you can decide which breed (or mix) will work best for you.
Bichons are sweet, gentle and easygoing dogs that like nothing more than to snuggle up in your lap and keep you warm and cozy. Rarely getting larger than 12 pounds, they are also one of the most intelligent dog breeds. Bichons are hypoallergenic and don’t shed, which means they’re easy to keep clean and create less mess in your home, too. Bichons require grooming every four to six weeks to keep their coats from getting matted, but it’s worth the expense to have a sweet little companion like this.
Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
Like the slightly smaller Bichon, this beautiful breed is happy to stay by your side or in your lap all day long. If you opt for a puppy, their natural intelligence and desire to please make them one of the easier types of dogs to train. Their luxurious mane requires daily brushing, and unfortunately, they do shed quite a bit—but what’s a bit of dog hair compared to a loyal and adorable buddy?
If lots of attention and love are what’s needed, the social and friendly Havanese is an excellent choice for your older adult. Take a Havanese for a walk, and you’ll meet everyone who crosses your path. These little (13-pound max) dogs have big personalities and are the social butterflies of the dog world. They can do wonders for older adults on the shy side.
With a short coat that needs little grooming, Boston terriers are low-maintenance, easy-to-train, loyal companions who do well in small spaces. Their mild-mannered demeanor is perfect for seniors who may be more high-strung due to mild dementia or other issues. One concern with Boston terriers is their aversion to heat, so air conditioning is a must in hot weather!
If your senior wants a pup they can take practically anywhere, a toy poodle is the best choice at three to nine pounds. Poodles don’t shed, so they won’t leave any hair around, and they’re hypoallergenic, so anyone is safe with them. Toy poodles can be carried in a handbag or a tote bag to a restaurant, a grocery store, or other public places, and they’ll be perfectly content.
If your loved one has a yard, a beagle is a good choice. Beagles like to move around a lot, and they’re happy to run and play in an enclosed space. Beagles can get seniors moving who may be too sedentary and are suitable for seniors who are out and about frequently because they’re content to be alone sometimes. Beagles also require minimum grooming for their short coats. If your senior is leaning towards a beagle, it’s best to find an adult—younger Beagles need a lot of exercise, which can be challenging for many older people to manage.
Whatever type of dog your loved one decides to adopt, having a pet will be a good way to feel less lonely and give them a reason to get up each day and care for another living being. Dogs make wonderful companions for seniors in good health with a bit of extra money to spend – and, most of all, love – to give.