Life changes as we get older. We raise kids, they grow up, and then they move away. Nurturing and providing for a family gives many of us our sense of purpose. But what about after that? Retired with an empty nest, lots of seniors naturally gravitate toward canine companionship. Dogs can help seniors maintain active, independent lifestyles while reducing stress. Plus, seniors and retirees often have the time to be more attentive to their furry friends. So, what are the best dogs for seniors? And what are the worst breeds?
If you’ve been thinking about bringing home a loyal furry friend, it’s essential to learn about breed characteristics. Some people look for loyalty, while others seek playfulness. Some lean toward high-energy outdoorsy dogs, while others aim for a more relaxed lapdog who will enjoy watching soap operas all afternoon.
Best Dog Breed for Apartments
Many people like empty nesters or retired people plan to downsize to smaller homes. Sometimes apartments and condos have size and breed restrictions. Consider one of these smaller dogs (under 20 pounds) with moderate energy for apartment-living seniors.
Pomeranians weigh an average of three to seven pounds, with a majority of their adorable mass being fur. These fluffy pups are affectionate and happy. They make fantastic lap dogs. Poms can be very social, so plan for extra time during walks because people will want to stop and bask in this dog’s cuteness. Their long thick coats will also need to be brushed regularly.
Shih Tzus average about nine to 16 pounds and are one of the best dogs for seniors. Their name means “Little Lion.” Though they can sometimes exhibit a stubborn streak, you can train these small but sturdy cuties with ease; they are naturally playful and friendly. Their long flowing coats come in a rainbow of colors such as white, black, brindle, liver, gold, silver, red, and more. Shih Tzus have sensitive skin and must be groomed often.
These fluffy lapdogs weigh about seven to 12 pounds. They tend to have a joyful temperament and get along well with children and other dogs. One of their best features — besides resembling cotton balls — is that they have a non-shedding coat that produces less dander. This is an ideal pup for allergy sufferers.
Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
This affectionate dog gets an A-plus in snuggling and companionship. Sweet. Gentle. Equally willing to serve as your royal second-in-command or hang in the backyard chasing squirrels. They have an easy-going temperament and are easy to train. This breed typically weighs 11 to 18 pounds. Because of their long hair and long floppy ears, they need regular brushings and ear cleanings.
Best Medium or Large Dog Breeds
Sometimes a senior has space in their home for a larger dog (over 20 pounds). Word of advice: Consider an older dog. They will have a lower energy level and be easier to handle. Here are some of the best dog breeds for retirees.
Featured in movies like Air Bud, Homeward Bound, and You’ve Got Mail, it’s no surprise that the golden retriever is one of America’s most popular dog breeds. They are loyal and affectionate. Despite their size (weighing between 55 to 75 pounds), they will snuggle like any other lap dog. Golden retrievers need lots of exercise and work best in a home with seniors who enjoy the outdoors.
Pembroke Welsh Corgi
If you’re looking for a medium-sized dog that can thrive in an apartment, the corgi is a perfect choice. They weigh 24 to 30 pounds. These sturdy dogs with short legs capture people’s hearts with their adorable waddle. Queen Elizabeth II is obsessed with corgis (fun fact — her first corgi was named Dookie). The breed needs routine daily walks but conveniently needs little grooming.
Gentle, noble, and sweet. Greyhounds love to chill out on the couch. Weighing 60 to 70 pounds, they do not crave more than their daily walks. They are one of the best dogs for seniors. These graceful hounds are prone to separation anxiety but easily trained.
Coming in at 20 to 30 pounds, beagles are an energetic and manageable medium-size breed. The beagle works very well for retirees who love adventure and want a curious canine that’s full of life. These hunting dogs love to be social and explore the outdoors. They will get along great with grandchildren.
Worst Dogs for Seniors
Some of the worst dog breeds for seniors make the list because of their temperament, size, or exercise needs.
These dogs are confident, protective, and affectionate. However, they often don’t know their own strength. They can range from 40 to 70 pounds, and their general temperament is usually more excitable than most. This can prove to be a massive challenge for a senior with balance issues. Though typically low maintenance, these dogs aren’t suitable for apartment living.
Border collies are agile, energetic, and intelligent… all traits that lean to needing lots of space. They can easily use their high energy to rough up the inside of a home. Border collies range from 30 to 55 pounds and require a lot of grooming. For these reasons, this breed is likely too much for a senior to handle.
Here’s another high-energy breed not suitable for seniors. Though Disney portrays dalmatians as cute and cuddly, they are actually very stubborn and difficult to train. They require A LOT of exercise, and like the border collie, their indoor behavior can turn destructive if their needs aren’t met. Even larger than the border collie, they range from 45 to 75 pounds.
This breed may look cute, but they are incredibly strong — they weigh 70 to 130 pounds — and protective. Though an asset for security purposes, it means they have a tough time socializing and can become aggressive with strangers and other animals. These double-coated fluffy pups need regular grooming to keep homes free from massive amounts of hair.
Don’t get us wrong, pugs are so cute, but they can be a challenge for an older adult. They shed a lot and pass gas quite a bit. Pugs are also tough to housebreak, which means more work and effort on the senior’s part. They are also prone to health issues and may need to go to the vet often. The point is, they’re a lot of work and can quickly turn into another child for a senior.
Where to Find Dogs for Seniors
Whatever breed you decide, consider adopting a dog through a large organization like the ASPCA or breed-specific rescue groups. The older person in your life gets a loving companion and helps do a service at the same time. Many rescue organizations will let seniors foster animals on a short-term basis based on availability and needs.
Questions to Consider Before Getting a Dog (For Seniors)
- Is your senior family member disabled or physically limited?
- Have they had a dog before?
- Can they meet a dog’s grooming, exercise, and healthcare needs?
- Is there enough space in their home for a dog?
- What size and temperament work best for this person?
- Do children visit often? How important is a kid-friendly breed?
- Are they allowed to have pets where they live?
- Do they have everything for the arrival of their new dog?
- Can you afford a dog?
- Has a vet been selected?
- Do they have the patience necessary for dog training?
- What will their life be like in five to 10 years?
- When was the last time the dog had a wellness exam with a veterinarian? Does the dog currently have any medical issues?
- Is the dog neutered/spayed?
- Is the dog taking any heartworm and flea/tick preventative medicine?
- Does the dog have any allergies?
- Does the dog suffer from separation anxiety?
- Is the dog a chewer?
- Has the dog ever been around a cat before? If so, how does it behave?
- Do you want a puppy or an older dog?
- Are you familiar with common pet hazards?
*Keep your cleaning solutions and medication up high. You also want to keep chocolate, coffee, and caffeine away from your dog as it can cause death, irregular heartbeat, or seizures.