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Senior woman with poodle in park

Fluffy or Fido: Finding The Perfect Dog For Your Senior’s Lifestyle

Beyond the fluffy coats, doe eyes and playful spirits, dogs provide a companionship for human beings throughout every stage of life, especially the golden years. Studies have shown that four-legged friends help combat a number of natural issues seniors can face including stress, high blood pressure, memory loss, loneliness and depression. It’s no wonder so many of Capital Senior Living’s Independent Living, Assisted Living and Memory Care communities welcome residents and their dogs to enjoy these benefits on a full-time basis.

“Dogs have no hidden agenda, yet the physiological and emotional improvements they can provide us are undeniable,” said Patti Shanaberg, Director and Founder of Angel Paws, an Ohio-based animal assisted therapy organization. “Even just the tactile stimulation of petting a dog can brighten a person’s spirits. Senior citizens have been caregivers their entire life, so when they see the animal’s response to their affection – a tail wag, a lick on the palm – they feel needed and helpful again.”  

Best dog breeds for seniors

Just like human beings, each animal comes with his or her own personality and background, so it’s important to note that there are no guarantees on the temperament or characteristics of a dog simply because of its breed. However, looking at the lineage and DNA of specific breeds, you can often get a better idea of common physical and behavioral traits, as well as any preexisting health issues, you can expect from certain dogs. So, if your senior loved one is looking for a pet, here are a few recommendations of breeds that would bring joy to them and their fellow neighbors:     

King Charles Spaniel: Also referred to as Cavalier Terriers, King Charles Spaniels are gentle companions that love being around their owners as much as possible. Loyal lap lovers, these adorable canines don’t require extensive workouts on a daily basis, making them a great accomplice for seniors who prefer to spend their days engaged in a good book from their well-stocked library or completing puzzles in their community’s activity center with games and entertainment. 

Maltese: Similar to the King Charles Spaniel, a Maltese is most content when curled up in your lap. And with an average weight of just 6 to 8 pounds, you’ll rarely want to put down that fluffy white coat. They rank highest for being affectionate and adaptable to apartment living, perfect for aging adults seeking company while transitioning to a senior living community.   

Shih Tzu: Don’t let the silly name fool you. Shih Tzus mean serious business … at least when it comes to snuggling and kisses. Loneliness is never an option when this furry friend is awake, as they are known for following their owners around from room to room.

Pug: Known as the clowns of canines, Pugs bring plenty of humor to life – from their deep wrinkly faces to their playful spirit. But that’s not the only thing they bring to the table. Originating from royal China, Pugs were designed to be companions and are one of the only dogs that was actually bred to be a pet, making them true lapdogs from day one.  

Poodle: Underneath the fluffy curls and best-in-show reputation are friendly family dogs looking to be loved. Due to their intelligent nature, Poodles are often easy to train and love to learn new tricks, a great fit for seniors looking for a new hobby to keep them active and engaged.

Bichon Frise: While often mistaken for Poodles, Bichon Frises are small, friendly canines with their own personalities. Seniors aren’t the only ones who benefit from their love, though. Bichon Frises are known for greeting strangers with a wagging tail and kiss, so they don’t need to be cooped up when grandchildren or neighbors stop by. They are also hypoallergenic and shed less frequently than most canines, so they are perfect for dog lovers who are prone to allergies.

“While there are always exceptions, breeds that are likely unsuitable for a senior living situation include most sporting breeds (e.g. Labradors), herding dogs (e.g. German Shepards, Border Collies) and other working breeds (e.g. Pit Bulls, Dalmatians),” said Dr. Lore Haug, Owner and Lead Veterinary Behaviorist of Texas Veterinary Behavior Services (TVBS) in Sugar Land, Texas.

Additional tips for senior dog owners

Choosing the right breed is only part of the fun. Seniors and their adult children should also consider:

Size: Size is definitely a factor when it comes to choosing the right pet for a senior. In addition to ensuring the animal meets their community’s size requirements, it’s important to consider the owner’s mobility and capability to handle the dog’s weight. For this, small dogs are usually the best option, especially for apartment-size living. However, it’s important to note that some small breeds have a higher energy level than larger dogs, so always do your research.

Age: No matter how cute and cuddly they may seem, puppies are not a good idea for aging adults. More mature, even senior-age dogs, are a better option as they are usually already house trained and have less energy than younger pups, perfect for a more sedentary lifestyle. Plus, senior dogs often have difficulties finding homes, so the companionship is mutually appreciated.

“I cannot reiterate enough that the major factor in choosing a dog is to choose one whose energy level is appropriate for the situation,” Dr. Haug said. “Owners who obtain dogs that require training and exercise/stimulation that exceed their ability or circumstance stand to have a relationship with a dog that causes more stress and anxiety – for both the dog and the owner.”

Training: No matter the age, size or breed of the dog, it’s important to invest in proper training. This will not only be an advantage to the canine’s behavior but provides mental and physical stimulation for aging adults. For owners looking to train their dog by themselves, Shanaberg recommends clicker training. “It’s great for seniors’ hand-eye coordination and allows them to learn new skills while bonding with their pet.”

Moving into an Independent Living, Assisted Living or Memory Care community doesn’t have to mean giving up the companionship of man’s best friend. Contact the community where your senior loved one lives or is planning to live to see just how pet-friendly the environment is.

This website contains information, facts, opinions and recommendations of various individuals and organizations regarding senior care, health, nutrition and exercise. Capital Senior Living and its affiliates, agents and licensors cannot, and do not, guarantee the accuracy, completeness, timeliness, merchantability or fitness for a particular purpose of, or otherwise endorse, any opinions or recommendations, nor does Capital Senior Living constitute the giving of medical, health or fitness advice. Users of the website must consult their physicians regarding the applicability of any opinions or recommendations with respect to their conditions.