6 Reasons Adopting a Senior Dog Is the Best Decision You Could Ever Make

adopting a senior dog

Adopting a senior dog is one of the best decisions you could ever make, and we’re not being hyperbolic! Senior dogs are sweet souls arguably more eager for love and affection than rambunctious puppies. Sure, older canines present their fair share of challenges. Chances are vet visits will be more frequent and bills slightly higher. You may have to incorporate daily medication into your dog’s routine. It’s also not easy to see a senior dog struggle with mobility or cognitive issues. Keeping a senior dog comfortable and healthy in their final years is a time-consuming and emotional process. Yet pet lovers with the energy and heart to adopt a senior dog find it to be an incredibly rewarding experience. We couldn’t agree more.

When do dogs become seniors?

Generally speaking, a dog is considered a senior at age seven. Many large dog breeds don’t fully mature until age two or three. Laura Greaves, author of Extraordinary Old Dogs: Uplifting Tales of Remarkable Seniors, says, “Giant breeds such as Great Danes and Irish Wolfhounds tend to have shorter average lifespans, so five years old would already be approaching senior territory for them.” On the other hand, toy dog breeds who live long lives actually spend most of their time in what’s called the geriatric phase. Pups like Chihuahuas and Toy Poodles may not be considered seniors until age ten or older, depending on their health.

If you are considering adopting a senior dog, we commend you and highly recommend it! The ASPCA says senior dogs have a 25 percent adoption rate compared to the 60 percent adoption rate of puppies and younger canines. It’s easy to fall in love with cute puppies—we get it! The ASPCA encourages folks considering adding a dog to their family to enter shelters with open minds. Elderly animals are charming in their own ways and deserve just as much attention.  Here are six reasons why.

1. They’re active without the destructive energy of a puppy

Greaves says dogs love to stay active, regardless of age. “Dogs have an almost limitless capacity for learning and playing regardless of their age, and indeed need lots of physical and mental stimulation to keep them healthy and happy their entire lives,” she says. Unlike puppies, senior dogs burn energy in shorter bursts. People who have less time to exercise their dogs or can’t physically take their dogs on long walks or runs around the dog park are ideal senior dog owners. Older canines have also outgrown their biting, nipping and chewing stage.

Plus, senior dogs are always up for naptime. “I have a 14-year-old Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever who spends most of his time napping these days, but still enjoys a daily play session in the garden,” Greaves says. Sounds like a good day to us!

2. They come housetrained

Ask any new puppy owner about accidents in the house and they’ll list lots of recent mishaps. With senior dogs, you are way less likely to step in a misplaced poo or catch them peeing on the rug. They’ve been around a while and get it. Of course, some very old dogs might eventually experience incontinence, but more often than not, they know where to go and can alert you if their bladders are full. 

3. They can still learn new tricks

Senior dogs may be set in their ways, but they’re always able to learn and grow. ​Greaves says the thing that surprises her most about owning senior dogs is how much they’re still capable of. “That's exactly the reason I wanted to write Extraordinary Old Dogs,” she says. “To shine a light on those senior pooches that have not only not let advancing age weary them but have done amazing things in their later years. Dogs will learn and grow for as long as we give them opportunities to do so.” Some dog breeds are definitely stubborn and may be difficult to teach new commands to, but their maturity often means a more relaxed process.

4. Their personalities are predictable

Adopting a puppy, even from a breeder with specific information on a dog’s lineage, is a big leap into the unknown. Puppies are new and very impressionable. You have no idea who they are or what their personalities will be like in five years - or even in six months! Senior dogs, on the other hand, are predictable. You’re making a calculated risk based on information from shelter staff, previous owners and foster homes, on top of what you can deduce based on breed and age. Settling into a new home is also easier for a senior dog who has lived indoors with people before.

In a blog post for Old Dog Haven, Robert Pregulman, who runs Seattle DogSpot, says senior dogs also “develop behaviors that enrich and strengthen your relationship. Aging can smooth the rough edges of a dog with a hyperactive or dominant personality.” His own dog is about 16 years old and is much calmer and less reactive than when he was a puppy. “He no longer tries to dominate or challenge other dogs when he meets them. ‘Live and let live’ is his new motto.”

5. They can teach younger dogs the ropes

If you already have a puppy or add a younger dog to your family, your senior dog can be an excellent mentor. “Senior dogs can model good behaviour for the pup and correct them when they misbehave, the way a mother dog would do with her own puppies,” says Greaves. It works both ways, too. “Puppies can also help to give older dogs a new lease on life. My 14-year-old dog is a lot more active with my Border Collie-Kelpie than he might be if he didn't have an irritating little sister to badger him into playing with her!” As long as two dogs are introduced in a slow, steady and supervised manner, they can learn from each other over time.

6. The feel-good factor is beyond compare

Finally, adopting a senior dog is an especially rewarding experience. They deserve to live the last years of their lives in a loving home, surrounded by family members who care for them and won’t give up on them. Greaves says, “The last place a dog should spend its twilight years is a cold, frightening shelter. I can't think of a greater cruelty to an animal that only wants to love and please a human companion. Old dogs deserve a warm bed, a full belly, and all the cuddles they can handle.”

If you’re unsure about whether or not to adopt a senior dog, it’s worth reading Greaves’ book on the adventures of some of the world’s oldest dogs, including Maggie, a cattle dog from Australia. She died in 2016 at the ripe old age of 30. Then, visit shelters to get an idea of what senior dogs available to you are like!

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Sarah Ashley is a Chicago-based freelance journalist. She has covered pets for PureWow for six years and tackles everything from dog training tips to the best litter boxes. Her...