Top Ten Dog Breeds for Seniors
by Marissa Steingold
Congratulations! You’re ready and able to care for your very own dog! Dog owners enjoy healthy exercise, socialization, lower blood pressure, and a reduction of stress, anxiety and depression. Though we can’t predict the future, most dogs live 12-15 years. So be sure to select a dog that will fit your lifestyle down the road. Here are the top breeds for seniors:
- Bichon Frisé
Belying his fancy French name, this goofy cotton-ball actually worked as a circus dog after the French Revolution. He hardly sheds, loves short romps, and gets along well with other pets and humans. On the flip side, he can be a bit of a yapper, and is notoriously difficult to housebreak.
- Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
Named after the Stuart monarchs who bred her (Kings Charles I and II), the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel is also an incredibly sweet and loyal companion to us plebeians. With her soft wavy coat and expressive brown eyes, she glides through the air with an elegance befitting royalty. She loves to make the rounds in society, but is not overly active. Hence, obesity is a concern. Her long furry ears should be checked regularly for infection.
- Toy Poodle
Lithe and athletic, the toy poodle springs in the air like a cat. This curly-haired friend is practically hypo-allergenic, though his tight curls require periodic trips to the groomer to avoid hair matting. Poodles are affectionate, lively, and infinitely trainable, but this intelligence comes at a price: poodles can become destructive if left to their own devices. Larger poodles (mini=10-15 inches, standard=15+ inches) also make wonderful companions to seniors, provided owners can handle their size.
Who could forget Snoopy’s long, velvety ears and kohl-rimmed brown eyes? Affable, happy-go-lucky and devoted to her owner, the 13 or 15-inch beagle is also a great choice for those with young grand children. The beagle may be compact, but she’s no lap dog; this curious, fun-loving guy needs a fair amount of exercise and stimulation. Like most hunting dogs, the beagle can be stubborn as a mule, but her pack animal tendencies also promote companionship. With a short, sleek coat, she can easily be bathed at home (that is, if you can convince her to get in the water!).
This little “lion” with an underbite will steal your heart. Outgoing and goofy with a silky double coat, the diminutive Shih-Tzu was bred to frolic in Chinese palaces. But even if your digs are a tad humbler, the Shih-Tzu will be thrilled to cuddle and relax with you in front of the boob tube. As a short-legged toy, she won’t need too much exercise—just a few daily spins around the neighborhood or indoor playtime. Her gorgeous coat does require some serious brushing time, but most Shih-Tzus enjoy grooming. For lower maintenance, a shorter “puppy trim” will alleviate the need for constant brushing.
Queen Victoria’s favorite pup of Chinese origin is a crowd favorite: eager to please and intensely affable. The pug is sturdy enough to withstand children’s attention, and enjoys socializing with other dogs. Due to compressed breathing passageways, she is prone to some respiratory problems, as well as eye prolapse and skin irritations from her many wrinkles.
- English Bulldog
Another lovable squashed-nose dog, the English Bulldog is a robustly built breed. Weighing in at 50 pounds or so, he’s an oversized couch potato who loves to snooze and cuddle. A dependable friend, this “people person” is excellent with children. Some bulldogs even skateboard! His small snout complicates breathing, so he should stay in the AC on hot days. His short coat requires little maintenance, aside from wiping his adorable wrinkles often to avoid skin irritation.
So speedy a bus service was named after her, she’s surprisingly well suited to apartment living. Sadly, racing greyhounds are still treated abominably, but rescue organizations have re-homed these gentle, noble animals to great success. If you adopt a greyhound from the track, she will probably be well socialized to boot. Despite her towering height, she moves carefully and elegantly—with little damage to your belongings. The greyhound rarely barks, preferring a calm, peaceful environment.
- Labrador Retriever
The number one dog breed in America is not just man’s best friend; he gets along famously with kids, other dogs and pets (but not squirrels!). Outgoing and athletic, the handsome labrador retriever always wants to join the fun. This larger pup with a velvety “wash and wear” coat is ideal for active, physically fit seniors who can handle a spirited 50-80 pounder. Exercising him only requires a tennis ball and an open space, but he also loves swimming, hiking and family outings. Since labs are particularly exuberant puppies, seniors might also consider adopting an adult.
- Rescue dogs
Lots of wonderful, loving shelter dogs need a home. Due to their genetic diversity, mixed dogs tend to be healthier than pure breeds. Without knowing the lineage of mixed breeds, their behavior cannot be predicted before birth. The good news is that many of these dogs can be fostered through adoption organizations. Not only does this allow you to “try before you buy,” but fostering saves an animal from a bad living situation (or euthanasia). Through fostering, you can learn whether this particular dog is right for your lifestyle. Also consider adopting adult dogs, typically left behind at shelters. Most people want puppies, but older dogs make great pets—particularly for seniors, who may enjoy an adult dog’s calmer disposition. What’s more, adult dogs—whose personalities are already developed—are less of a behavioral gamble. They may even come pre-trained.
Rescue organizations also exist for practically every pure breed under the sun—even pricey “designer” ones. But if you decide to go with a breeder, make sure that that organization is responsible.