The 30 Best Dogs for Seniors to Keep Older Adults Active, Social and Engaged

Low maintenance pups to keep Gammy company

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Just because getting older comes with plenty of drawbacks (why does everything hurt?) doesn’t mean it can’t have its perks (did someone say senior discount?). Many empty-nesters or folks who are aging into the next phase of their lives decide now’s the time for a dog. We couldn’t agree more. When it comes to activity level, size and health, the dog varieties below are the best dogs for seniors deciding to bring home a dog in this next life stage—or put one of the world's smallest dog breeds into place as their new plus one to the next family-friendly Europe destination.

And, in case you're thinking is a dog the right choice? What about another variety of companion animal? If so, you're barking up the wrong tree, because while a 2019 scientific study concluded that while all age groups including seniors benefited from having a variety of pets, not just dogs, other studies have drilled down to show that dogs' social natures are helpful in breaking through the isolation and loneliness that erode seniors' quality of life. In other words: get the damn dog.

How to Choose the Right Breed

Factors like lifestyle, environment, temperament and grooming needs are crucial when selecting a dog. Breed is actually just one consideration in this equation since each dog is different and there are exceptions to every breed (in fact, past trauma and socialization experience are better indicators of a dog’s personality than breed).

  • Activity Level: Right away, seniors should think about their activity level—and define “activity.” Seniors who are very active around the house but rarely go out to run errands might consider a playful indoor dog. If a person’s primary form of exercise is long walks, a dog with a low prey-drive who also enjoys tagging along on outdoor excursions is a good idea.
  • Home Environment: Environment plays a big role, too. Living in an apartment in a large retirement community surrounded by other seniors (many of whom the dog will consider strangers at first) is different than moving into an adult child’s suburban home full of grandchildren. Not all breeds are drooling over the opportunity to play with kids or be social butterflies.
  • Grooming Needs: Recently I came upon a senior woman with her jaunty King Charles Spaniel trotting next to her, and the dog’s attractively groomed coat caught my eye, The woman said she clipped him herself, and that while challenging at first, she had the time and attention free to devote to learning how to groom him. Had she not, there would have been regular grooming to pay for, which needs to be budgeted for—often a consideration on seniors’ fixed incomes. And long-haired dogs need more frequent brushing than sleeker breeds—a commitment any owner including seniors needs to be able to filfill.
  • Suitability for Travel: Another factor to consider is travel. The “environmental mastery” study found that seniors eager to spend their time traveling felt a greater sense of guilt at having to leave their dog behind. So, if traveling is a hobby, it’s wise to find a dog who can safely fly on airplanes. Otherwise, owning a pup may be more detrimental to mental health in the long run.

15 Types of Doodle Dogs Explained, by Experts, Trainers and Me (a Totally Non-Biased Doodle Owner)

Best Small Dogs for Seniors

best dogs for seniors maltese dog
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1. Maltese

  • Height: 7 to 9 inches
  • Weight: 6 to 7 pounds
  • Personality: sweet, elegant
  • Activity Level: Moderate
  • Shedding Factor: Low
  • Life Expectancy: 12 to 15 years

Basically bred to be a stunning lapdog, the Maltese is ready for long days lounging on the veranda. Oh, you feel like going for a jaunt? Sure, why not! As long as you get in a little daily exercise and a good brushing, this pup is happy as a clam. As a toy breed, they also travel well, even on airplanes.

best dogs for seniors border terrier
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2. Border Terrier

  • Height: 12 to 15 inches
  • Weight: 11 to 16 pounds
  • Personality: friendly, adventurous
  • Activity Level: moderate to high
  • Shedding Factor: hypoallergenic
  • Life Expectancy: 12 to 15 years

The Border terrier is really good at keeping its owner social. They need regular walks (lots of puppy energy when they’re young) and enjoy nothing more than meeting new friends along the way. Small enough for a tiny apartment, big enough for a comforting hug whenever you need one.

best dogs for seniors cavalier king charles spaniel
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3. Cavalier King Charles Spaniel

  • Height: 12 to 13 inches
  • Weight: 13 to 18 pounds
  • Personality: affectionate, friendly
  • Activity Level: low to moderate
  • Shedding Factor: low to moderate
  • Life Expectancy: 12 to 15 years

If you’re new here, know that the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel turns up on just about every “Best Of” dog breed list. Not only do they love routine (aka following commands), they enjoy snuggling, walking, calmly sitting on the sofa, adapting to their surroundings and a good brushing once a week. Truly an ideal pup for seniors, kids, workaholics, home offices and general companionship.

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4. Pomeranian

  • Height: 6 to 7 inches
  • Weight: 3 to 7 pounds
  • Personality: lively, adaptable
  • Activity Level: moderate to high
  • Shedding Factor: moderate
  • Life Expectancy: 12 to 16 years

Active, furry little Pomeranians will keep anyone young. After training (a cinch) and grooming (brush a few times a week), this pup is down to clown in a yard, a small bedroom or a dog park. They also look like they’re smiling all the time, which is a sign they are eager to please and ready to love.

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5. Pug

  • Height: 10 to 13 inches
  • Weight: 14 to 18 pounds
  • Personality: adaptable, charming
  • Shedding Factor: high
  • Activity Level: low to moderate
  • Life Expectancy: 13 to 15 years

The gentle pug is all about basking in and sharing the love. This is another adaptable breed; kids and adults, big homes and small apartments, other dogs and strangers are all welcome in the eyes of a pug. One bad habit to avoid is overfeeding. Pugs get thick real quick (as anyone with a dwindling metabolism can appreciate), so a healthy diet and regular walks are imperative.

best dogs for seniors japanese chin
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6. Japanese Chin

  • Height: 8 to 11 inches
  • Weight: 7 to 11 pounds
  • Personality: mellow, regal
  • Shedding Factor: moderate
  • Activity Level: low to moderate
  • Life Expectancy: 10 to 12 years

Described as cat-like dogs, these pups are quiet, doting animals with a stubborn side. Japanese Chins think very highly of themselves, which gives them an irresistible charm. Though their coat can grow to elegant lengths, it’s relatively simple to maintain. Remember when we said cat-like? They may be wary of strangers and respond only to their favorite human.

best dogs for seniors coton de tulear
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7. Coton De Tulear

  • Height: 9 to 11 inches
  • Weight: 8 to 15 pounds
  • Personality: charming, social
  • Activity Level: moderate
  • Shedding Factor: low
  • Life Expectancy: 15 to 19 years

Coton de Tulears are active, playful animals with big personalities. Their size—and their preference for indoor playtime—makes them manageable for seniors. Cotons enjoy frolicking around the house just as much as comforting their families with warm snuggles.

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8. Miniature Schnauzer

  • Height: 12 to 14 inches
  • Weight: 11 to 20 pounds
  • Personality: friendly, obedient
  • Activity Level: moderate
  • Shedding Factor: hypoallergenic
  • Life Expectancy: 12 to 16 years

These pups resemble tiny generals and may even appear mean at first (pointy ears, furrowed brow). However, this may simply be their history as proud guard dogs coming out. Today, they make great family pets due to their high intelligence and friendly nature. Grooming may require some professional services every now and then.

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9. Chihuahua

  • Height: 5 to 8 inches
  • Weight: 6 pounds
  • Personality: charming, independent
  • Activity Level: moderate
  • Shedding Factor: low
  • Life Expectancy: 14 to 16 years

Chihuahuas are all about entertaining—and napping once the fun is done. Oozing with loyalty and sass, they’ll happily follow you from room to room but won’t necessarily come when you call. Very low maintenance when it comes to grooming, the Chihuahua is ideal for seniors who appreciate bold personalities and a sense of humor. Plus, these tiny pups can handle hot weather well, which is great for retirees in Arizona or Florida.

best dogs for seniors Shih Tzu
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10. Shih Tzu

  • Height: 9 to 11 inches
  • Weight: 9 to 16 pounds
  • Personality: cheerful, loving
  • Shedding Factor: low
  • Activity Level: moderate to high
  • Life Expectancy: 10 to 18 years

Perfect for seniors with limited mobility, Shih Tzus enjoy prancing around the home and sitting near or on their favorite person. Firm training, with lots of positive reinforcement, is the key to winning over a Shih Tzu and instilling good habits. If you want to let their hair grow long, you’ll need lots of grooming and brushing time. Otherwise, have a groomer trim it short for easier maintenance.

a biewer terrier.
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11. Biewer Terrier

  • Height: 7 to 11 inches
  • Weight: 4 to 8 pounds
  • Personality: smart, loving
  • Activity Level: moderate
  • Shedding Factor: low
  • Life Expectancy: 14 to 16 years

One of the newer breeds to the American Kennel Club, Biewer Terriers are similar to Yorkshire Terriers in that they are tiny balls of love and devotion. They get along well with kids and other pets and really enjoy play sessions. Trimming their coats short makes grooming a cinch.

Best Medium-Sized Dogs for Seniors

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12. West Highland White Terrier

  • Height: 10 to 11 inches
  • Weight: 15 to 20 pounds
  • Personality: playful, social
  • Activity Level: moderate to High
  • Shedding Factor: hypoallergenic
  • Life Expectancy: 13 to 15 years

One of the most popular terrier breeds, the West Highland white terrier is a goofy ball of cheer. These dogs are definitely independent, which can make training tricky, but with practice, commands become routine. Regular walks and brushing is all it takes to keep them happy otherwise.

best dogs for seniors cocker spaniel
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13. Cocker Spaniel

  • Height: 13 to 16 inches
  • Weight: 20 to 30 pounds
  • Personality: gentle, intelligent
  • Shedding Factor: moderate
  • Activity Level: moderate
  • Life Expectancy: 10 to 14 years

Great with kids and seniors, Cocker Spaniels can be trained to fit well into any household situation. On a brisk walk, they might stop to greet as many other dogs and people as they can. But don’t worry, they are loyal as can be and will follow you to the ends of the earth. Despite their long, luxurious coats, they only require a daily brushing.

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14. Scottish Terrier

  • Height: 10 inches
  • Weight: 18 to 22 pounds
  • Personality: affectionate, independent
  • Activity Level: moderate
  • Shedding Factor: hypoallergenic
  • Life Expectancy: 12 to 15 years

Another hypoallergenic breed on our list, the Scottish terrier is a sensible dog. Scotties enjoy walks, not runs. They’ll train but can be stubborn (treats help). Excellent watchdogs, Scotties also enjoy playtime. They aren’t needy, but they aren’t afraid to show affection. The only high-maintenance aspect about them seems to be their finicky coat, which requires regular brushing (and ideally, hand-shedding).

best dogs for seniors beagle
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15. Beagle

  • Height: 10 to 15 inches
  • Weight: 15 to 30 pounds
  • Personality: friendly, doting
  • Activity Level: moderate
  • Shedding Factor: moderate
  • Life Expectancy: 10 to 15 years

Always down to play, Beagles are solid companions. They really love their owners, to the point where they may develop separation anxiety if you’re not careful! Yes, they train well, but since they’re bred to be hunters, they’ve also got strong independent streaks. Train ‘em early and give ‘em as much love as possible.

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16. Shiba Inu

  • Height: 13.5 to 16.5 inches
  • Weight: 17 to 23 pounds
  • Personality: affectionate, protective
  • Activity Level: high
  • Coat Type: double, short length
  • Life Expectancy: 13 to 16 years

As devoted companion animals, Shiba Inus take a while to warm up to strangers, kids and other pets. Beyond that, they are lovey-dovey dogs who enjoy daily walks and can adapt to a variety of locales. Crate training will help avoid separation anxiety in adulthood.

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17. Whippet

  • Height: 18 to 22 inches
  • Weight: 25 to 40 pounds
  • Personality: calm, playful
  • Activity Level: moderate to high
  • Shedding Factor: low to moderate
  • Life Expectancy: 12 to 15 years

Whippets thrive in both small apartments and large homes, ideally with a fenced-in outdoor space where they can blow off steam on a daily basis. After a few quick laps (and beware their high prey drive, so keep them on a leash when not in a fenced-in space), these dogs are content to nap next to you as you read a book. Puppies can be mischief-makers, so keep an eye on them until they mature and learn their commands.

best dogs for seniors corgi dog
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18. Pembroke Welsh Corgi

  • Height: 10 to 12 inches
  • Weight: 28 to 30 pounds
  • Personality: playful, affectionate
  • Activity Level: moderate
  • Shedding Factor: high
  • Life Expectancy: 12 to 13 years

Partnering up with a Pembroke Welsh Corgi is like choosing a BFF who laughs at your jokes, challenges you to get outside before you watch a fifth episode of Jeopardy and isn’t afraid to give you some alone time (because they need it too!). Plus, they’re surprisingly astute watchdogs.

best dogs for seniors french bulldog
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19. French Bulldog

  • Height: 11 to 13 inches
  • Weight: 22 to 28 pounds
  • Personality: affectionate, even-tempered
  • Activity Level: low
  • Shedding Factor: moderate 
  • Life Expectancy: 10 to 12 years

French bulldogs are becoming some of the most popular dogs for city folks because of their ability to settle into a variety of routines and environments. Calm and content to relax indoors, they do have a playful side that will keep seniors moving. Grooming is a cinch with their short coats. Unfortunately, they can cost a small fortune as they are one of the more expensive dog breeds available right now.

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20. Dachshund

  • Height: 8 to 9 inches (Standard), 5 to 6 inches (Miniature)
  • Weight: 16 to 32 pounds (Standard), up to 11 pounds (Miniature)
  • Personality: curious, affectionate
  • Activity Level: moderate
  • Shedding Factor: low
  • Life Expectancy: 12 to 16 years

Surprisingly, Dachshunds have big barks and love to protect their humans. Though they have a tendency to be a bit stubborn, they are happy to follow a set of commands once learned and will keep owners active with jaunts around the neighborhood. They’re super alert, but once they recognize friends, it’s time to play.

Best Hypoallergenic Dogs for Seniors

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21. Bichon Frise

  • Height: 9.5 to 11.5 inches
  • Weight: 12 to 18 pounds
  • Personality: cheerful, adaptable
  • Activity Level: moderate
  • Shedding Factor: hypoallergenic
  • Life Expectancy: 14 to 15 years

If bichon frises were people, they’d be student body president. Super smart and incredibly playful, they love to please their owners and are up for anything. Exercise is a must, but that can include jumping around a city apartment. They do require regular grooming to maintain that perfect coif (or a nice trim every few weeks to keep their coats in check).

best dogs for seniors poodle
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22. Poodle (standard)

  • Height: 15 inches (Standard), 10-15 inches (Miniature), <10 inches (Toy)
  • Weight: 40 to 70 pounds (Standard), 10 to 15 pounds (Miniature), 4 to 6 pounds (Toy)
  • Personality: intelligent, active
  • Activity Level: high
  • Shedding Factor: hypoallergenic
  • Life Expectancy: 10 to 18 years

Poodles of all sizes (standard, miniature and toy) are incredibly smart, which means training comes easily and sticks. They love activity, so living in an area with space to run or a dog park is good. The only major drawback is they require a lot of grooming. Ergo, these pups are ideal for seniors who love to drive and have the time and funds for trips to the groomer’s.

Best Large Dogs for Seniors

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23. Irish Wolfhound

  • Height: 30 to 34 inches
  • Weight: 100 to 120 pounds
  • Personality: calm, brave
  • Activity Level: moderate
  • Shedding Factor: moderate
  • Life Expectancy: 6 to 8 years

Easily the largest breed on this list, the Irish wolfhound is a gentle canine eager to demonstrate his loyalty. The American Kennel Club labels them dignified dogs, though they can definitely be destructive as puppies if left alone too long. However, as adults, they are incredibly calm and even well-suited to be around children.

best dogs for seniors golden retriever
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24. Golden Retriever

  • Height: 21 to 24 inches
  • Weight: 55 to 75 pounds
  • Personality: friendly, devoted
  • Activity Level: moderate to high
  • Shedding Factor: high
  • Life Expectancy: 10 to 12 years

It’s impossible to walk down the street with a golden retriever and not feel like a celebrity because these beautiful, friendly and proud dogs exude charm. They’re also incredibly dedicated to their owners. Training comes easily and response to commands is consistent. Get ready for long walks and strangers constantly asking if they can pet your dog. The only drawback? Golden puppies can be very destructive (aka they’ll chew anything).

best dogs for seniors greyhound
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25. Greyhound

  • Height: 27 to 30 inches
  • Weight: 60 to 70 pounds
  • Personality: independent, sweet
  • Activity Level: high
  • Shedding Factor: low to moderate
  • Life Expectancy: 10 to 13 years

Greyhounds are a bit of a conundrum, but can be ideal big dogs for seniors with ample living space. First, they’re noble creatures who will insist on climbing into bed with you so they can sleep for ten hours on your comforter. Second, they also need to sprint around a yard or dog park every day to burn energy. Adopting a retired racing greyhound is a terrific route if you’re considering one of these gentle giants.

best dogs for seniors finnish lapphund
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26. Finnish Lapphund

  • Height: 16 to 21 inches
  • Weight: 33 to 53 pounds
  • Personality: calm, friendly
  • Activity Level: low to moderate
  • Shedding Factor: moderate to high
  • Life Expectancy: 12 to 15 years

Finnish lapphunds thrive with fellow homebodies. A walk here and there is enough for them—just please don’t leave them home alone for long stretches of time! Bred in the Arctic, they do enjoy colder weather. If you’re looking for an empathetic companion dog, look no further than these sensitive darlings.

best dogs for seniors great pyrenees
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27. Great Pyrenees

  • Height: 25 to 32 inches
  • Weight: 85 to 110 pounds
  • Personality: calm, sweet
  • Activity Level: low
  • Shedding Factor: high
  • Life Expectancy: 10 to 12 years

If you’re looking for a big cuddler, try the patient, sweet Great Pyrenees. This is an excellent breed alternative to the Golden retriever, if Goldens prove too energetic. Their bright white coat may shed a bit but won’t tangle or collect dirt. A weekly brushing suffices. These dogs are great with kiddos, but would be difficult to travel with, unless you’ve got a vehicle with a big backseat.

best dogs for seniors bernese moutain dog
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28. Bernese Mountain Dog

  • Height: 23 to 28 inches
  • Weight: 70 to 115 pounds
  • Personality: calm, friendly
  • Activity Level: moderate to high
  • Shedding Factor: high
  • Life Expectancy: 7 to 10 years

Another large breed on this list is the Bernese Mountain dog. Known for their calm dispositions and undying devotion to their favorite person, these fluffballs make affectionate companions for seniors. Gentle with kids and keen on daily walks, they’re up for short hikes but really love cozy nights indoors.

best dogs for seniors adopted mutt from a shelter
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29. Adopted Dogs

It’s worth considering adopting an older dog rather than buying a young puppy. Puppies require tons of extra work that adult dogs do not (house breaking, teaching commands, hours of playtime, to name a few). Older dogs are often overlooked at shelters, so there’s likely a greater need and more opportunity to adopt these animals. Plus, adult dogs have more even keel temperaments that may better suit seniors. Shelter staff members will be able to confidently describe the personalities of any dogs who have been living there for a long time. This takes the guesswork out of choosing a dog.

best dogs for seniors retired greyhound
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30. Retired Dogs

Hey, you’re not the only one transitioning into a new phase of life. There are many incredible programs for highly trained dogs who are retired from their old gigs or looking for a career change—Seeing Eye dogs who didn’t necessarily make the cut, for one, or racing track greyhounds that need a loving owner.

How Dogs Can Benefit Seniors

Adopting a dog may be the best decision a senior citizen can make. We’re not being hyperbolic! According to studies from the American Heart Association, Harvard Medical School and James Cook University, owning a pet can lower blood pressure, increase activity and ease anxiety or depression. A study published by BMC Public Health says older adults who have dogs walk an average of 22 minutes more per day than those without pups. Plus, if rom-coms have taught us anything, walking a dog is a great tool for meeting people and staying social.

One unique and recent study published in Scientific Reports dug deep into the multi-faceted world of dog ownership and found that owning a dog improves “environmental mastery.” Basically, dog owners who participated in the research had more consistent daily routines because of their pets, which then gave them a greater sense of control over and comfort within their environment. “[Feeding the dog] gives me something to do, otherwise I would skip a few meals,” one study participant told researchers. “They have their own dinner, they have their own routines so I need to keep my routines as well... One of the dogs has tablets, so it reminds me of my tablets as well.”

Canines provide companionship, too. Studies suggest seniors who live alone may feel less isolated with a dog in their home.

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Freelance Writer

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...