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Companion Dogs for Seniors

Getting on in years, becoming empty nesters, or losing a spouse doesn’t have to mean living in isolation. The companionship of a dog can help fill the void for seniors who crave company. While a pet is no substitute for a person, studies show that companion dogs can provide health benefits to the elderly, too. A companion dog can help seniors:

  • Feel less alone.
  • Lower their blood pressure.
  • Alleviate stress and anxiety.
  • Cope with crises.
  • Get moving and be more physically active.
  • Be more social.
  • Have a sense of purpose.
  • Improve their cognitive function.

As advertisements for most products and services emphasize, individual results may vary. In the case of “man’s best friend,” how an owner fares with a dog depends in large part on their respective temperaments, health conditions, and other traits unique to them.

Not all dogs are meant for all people. The right match between dog and owner can be particularly important for seniors who have mobility issues and are not equipped to train a puppy or keep up with the demands of a high-energy pooch, for example.

Generally speaking, seniors are going to want a dog that is adaptable to their lifestyle, requires minimum maintenance, and exhibits characteristics and behaviors that complement rather than conflict with their own.

Purebred dogs display consistent characteristics, which means owners can be assured that they can depend on their purebred dog being as “advertised” throughout its lifetime.

Considerations When Choosing a Companion Dog Breed

There are many things aging adults should consider when choosing a companion dog, including:

  • Activity level: Some dogs need a lot of playtime and exercise; others do not. Seniors with physical limitations may want a breed that tends to be lower energy, more laidback, and sedentary. But physically active seniors may want a dog that accompanies them on walks, runs, swims and other activities. Then there’s the matter of quiet versus loud dogs. If seniors prefer more sedate dogs, then they definitely don’t want a chronic barker. That can be a real issue for seniors with sleep issues or neighbors who aren’t tolerant of yapping dogs.
  • Size: Small dogs are generally easier to handle than large dogs when it comes to grooming, transporting and walking. A small dog companion may be most practical for seniors living in condos, hotels or other residences where space is an issue. On the other hand, some smaller dogs can be hyper, which may not be a good fit either. Some large dogs tend to be docile couch potatoes, which could compensate for space issues.
  • Age: Most seniors want a mature dog as a companion pet rather than a puppy for the simple reason that an older dog is presumably socialized and housebroken, whereas a pup needs to be trained. Generally speaking, the younger the dog, the higher the energy and activity level the senior must adjust to. It’s important to know a breed’s life expectancy so seniors can determine if they are likely to outlive the dog or vice versa. Seniors who have experienced the loss of family, friends and pets should consider whether they are up to losing another companion. If seniors calculate that “Spot” will in all likelihood outlive them, then they need to plan who will care for their dog once they are gone. The age span of dogs varies by breed and the individual dog, but most live 12 to 15 years.
  • Compatibility: Before bonding with and adopting a dog, seniors should research what to expect and spend quality time with whichever dog they are interested in to see if personalities and lifestyles mesh. It’s better for seniors to discover potential problems before rather than after bringing their new best buddy home with them. The more obedient a dog is, the better for seniors who are not inclined to put the pet through obedience school.
  • Temperament: While some seniors prefer a gentle, placid dog, others want an assertive one. Part of the equation in what kind of dog to get is whether it’s intended to be more of a companion or a protector. Seniors should consider who else will be around the dog, such as grandkids and home caregivers. If a dog has aggressive tendencies that require it to be leashed or kenneled, then it may not be a good fit for seniors who often have visitors and others coming into the home.
  • Maintenance: Seniors who will be primary caretakers for their dogs will probably want a breed that requires minimal bathing, trimming and clipping. Large, heavy dogs can pose a real challenge when it comes time to maneuver and control them during grooming. For some owners, dogs that shed or slobber or tend to chew on things would not be a good fit because of all the extra cleanup and precautions that need to be taken to protect floors, furniture, curtains, and other household items.
  • Ongoing costs: For seniors living on a fixed income, getting a dog licensed and vaccinated, keeping it well fed, and having its health problems treated by a veterinarian can be a financial burden. Some breeds are known for certain health problems or require specific veterinary care that can be expensive.

Researching the Right Dog Companion for You

Do a little research online to identify dogs with the characteristics you are looking for in your pet. Investing that time and effort is important if you expect to be happy with your new best friend. Check out profiles of these large and medium dog breeds that experts say are good options for seniors:

  • Greyhound
  • Basset hound
  • Labrador retriever
  • Golden retriever
  • Poodle
  • Pembroke Welsh corgi
  • Vizsla
  • Beagle

Check out profiles of these small dog breeds recommended for seniors:

  • Boston terrier
  • Maltese
  • French bulldog
  • Shih Tzu
  • Bolognese
  • Bichon frise
  • Pug
  • Miniature schnauzer
  • Maltipoo
  • Chinese crested
  • Cavapoo and cockapoo
  • Cavalier King Charles spaniel

Therapy and Service Dogs

Last but not least, seniors may want to consider a therapy dog. These dogs have been specially trained to offer comfort and therapeutic support at hospitals, nursing homes, assisted living facilities, retirement villages, hospices and rehabilitation centers. They have friendly, stable temperaments and may be a perfect fit. Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers, poodles, pugs and Cavalier King Charles spaniels are well known for being emotional support dogs for owners with anxiety and stress.

Another option is a service dog. Service dogs undergo extensive training to wake up their owners, fetch medicine, retrieve dropped objects, lead owners with impaired vision, and prevent dementia patients from wandering. Due to all their specialized training, service dogs can cost tens of thousands of dollars, thus putting them out of the reach of many seniors.

How Right at Home Can Help

If you are struggling with the day-to-day and would like a companion who can also help with household chores, meals, getting to appointments, or even dressing and hygiene, Right at Home can formulate a care plan unique to you and your needs. Call your closest Right at Home office and ask for a FREE in-home consultation. Right at Home also has a free Adult Caregiving Guide that offers tips and advice for families who are on the aging journey.

Author Leo Adam Biga

Leo Adam Biga is a veteran freelance journalist and author who writes stories about people, their passions and their magnificent obsessions. The Omaha native and University of Nebraska at Omaha graduate is the author of “Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film.” Follow his work at

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Adult Caregiving Guide

Adult Caregiving Guide

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