Five Dog Breeds for Older People
“We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.” – George Bernard Shaw
One of the only faults a dog has is the fact that his or her lifespan is shorter than ours, their pet parents. For many people, age is a state of mind. I have friends who are in their 60s and have more energy and vitality than their counterparts of the mid 30’s age range. There are specific dog breeds for older people…or to paraphrase, dogs for golden oldies of the human variety.
Fidose of Reality fan, Cindy Romero, asked us to write a piece about the best breeds for older folks, so in writing this piece, I was repeatedly stuck on the word “older.” Generically speaking, we are all getting older; however, a more sedentary 75-year-old senior might not want a very active Border Collie. There are some younger folks who shouldn’t have an active dog who doesn’t get to channel his energy properly, but that’s another blog post.
What makes me qualified: My life and career are in, of, about, and for dogs. I read, I talk to experts, I travel and I meet the dog breeders, the rescuers, and the folks in the know. Twenty plus years of doing this makes me comfortable enough to write this piece.
Questions to ask yourself when selecting a breed to grow old along with you:
Think less about the “breed” and more about your lifestyle, limitations, and time commitment.
Are you more the active or sedentary type? Are you financially able to support another living being? Do you spend a lot of time at work, volunteering, and/or involved in other activities? If you’ve given yourself the go ahead, the next step is a lot of fun.
In general, it takes about 4-6 weeks for a dog to acclimate to a new home; for puppies, of course, that process is much longer. Do you want to start with a new kid on the block, a mature adult, or a super senior?
Does size matter? Are you more the pocket pooch, perky mid size, or big breed type? Once you’ve narrowed it down to the age and the size, the decision of pure bred or pure mutt and where to get your new BFF (best furry friend) enters the picture.
ALL dogs need some form of exercise, both physically and mentally, so if you are seeking a dog who will sit around and be content to do nothing all day, he or she does not exist. Please do not get a dog if you do not have the time to devote to providing healthcare, love, time, attention, physical and mental stimulation, and to make the dog a priority in your life.
Two points we ask that you consider before making any decision:
- Check with your local shelter for the dog of your dreams.
- Consider adopting an adult dog. Puppy training requires its own focus of time and patience, which many adult dogs are long past.
Remember, patience is key with any dog, any breed, and at any age.
If your heart is set on a purebred dog, we highly recommend checking with local breed-specific rescue groups and/or your favorite shelter. Here are five dog breeds for older people, aka those in their “golden years:”
Cardigan Welsh or Pembroke Welsh Corgi: Originally bred to herd cattle, two varieties exist today: the one with the tail (Cardigan) and the tailless version (Pembroke). Loveable, playful, and adaptable to many living situations, the Corgi is happiest with his family. He learns quickly, is enthusiastic, and the average life span is 12 to 15 years. They do need brushing and grooming to maintain a thick double coat. Due to their low-to-the-ground status, the Corgi should be watched for disc problems. Males can be as much as 38 pounds, with females maxing out between 25 and 34 pounds.
Small does not mean no energy. In fact, some of the smaller breeds are tiny pistols in a furry body (i.e., the Jack Russell Terrier).
Greyhound: Indeed, they are larger in size but they adapt quite well to a variety of living arrangements and are dubbed “couch potatoes” by some of the folks I’ve met at the dog park who share life with a Greyhound. ALL dogs need some form of exercise, but the Greyhound is a breed that wavers on the low-to-moderate exercise spectrum. A 20 or 30 minute walk once a day along with indoor play time is fine for this regal breed. Though they do love running, they are generally docile with a fun sense of humor. Average life span is 10 to 12 years and they require minimal grooming.
Maltese: This small dog packs a large personality. A member of the toy group, the Maltese is happy to spend time with his pet parent, and happy to play with toys indoors while engaging in daily walks. Their coat is long and does require professional care, and many folks opt for a “puppy cut” instead of the traditional long, flowing coat seen in the dog show ring. With an average life span of 15 years, the Maltese was bred on the island of Malta as a comforter and companion for people.
Pug: With their heritage stemming from China, the Pug is a well-rounded dog in a tight package, wrinkles and all. Clever and mischievous, the Pug should not be exercised strenuously. As one of the brachycephalic (flat-faced) breeds, care must be taken not to overheat the breed. According to the American Kennel Club, “The Pug’s reason for living is to be near their people and to please them, and their sturdiness makes them a family favorite. They are comfortable in small apartments because they need minimal exercise, but the breed can adapt easily to all situations. The Pug sheds, but its short coat requires little grooming.” His life span averages 12 to 15 years.
Schipperke: Years ago, I was privy to help place a Schipperke from a woman who was clearly overwhelmed by the breed into a more suitable home: One where he would be doted on, exercised, but live his life with a less active family. Though he is energetic, alert, and curious, the Schipperke (aka “little captain”) is a devoted family dog who is interested in everything happening in his world. Willful but eager to please, the Schipperke is happy with moderate exercise, walks, and plenty of TLC indoors with his pet parent. Living 13 to 18 years, he is a unique member of the non-sporting group.
Regardless of the age or pedigree, all dogs need some form of exercise best suited to them. They all need love, care and attention, vet care and maintenance. If you are anti-slobber, avoid the dogs with larger jowls. Does snoring bother you? Best avoid a Pug or Boston Terrier. And the good ole American mutt can be identified these days, too, thanks to DNA testing. A simple sample from the dog’s inner facial cheek and 6-8 weeks later, breed identification delivered to your mailbox.
Don’t let celebrity dogs from the movies or television determine your choice—those dogs are highly trained and nothing like the “real” dog would be at home. It’s important to determine what your expectations for the dog are before you bring them home so you don’t end up wondering what you’ve gotten yourself into. Many dogs end up at shelters because the owner didn’t do their research before they committed to a specific breed. Also remember that cute puppies do grow up into bigger dogs. Understanding the nature of a dog and how to raise one is critical.
If your life is ready to accept the responsibility and years of love, fun and zest a dog will bring to it, go forth and seek the furry friend of your dreams. Be realistic in your expectations and goals, but most of all remember your dog’s life and well-being depend on you.
Did we miss your favorite breed you might recommend for folks in their “golden years?” Let us know in the comments below.
There is one HUGE factor you forgot to mention, albeit a sensitive one: what will happen to your dog when you die? I now know two very responsible dog lovers who have chosen to live out their golden years without dogs (despite having spent their whole lives with dogs) because a dog that will live even five years is too much of unknown for someone who is 75. I breaks my heart every time I think of living any sort if life without a dog but I also believe that these responsible dog lovers are a shining example of putting the dog first. And I cannot leave without saying that anyone who doesn’t have at least 2 hours a day of massive energy and training time should absolutely NOT get a corgi. They are herding dogs, CATTLE herding dogs, with even more energy than their sheep herding border collie class mates which you suggested an “older” person not get. Corgis need TONS of running and training. TONS! Rescues are FULL of corgis who were bought by older or apartment dwelling people misled by articles like this- without many hours of exercise and training/herding stimulation, corgis can be very aggressive and destructive. I know, I have one and my mom has one that once belonged to an “older” person (on oxygen and using a walker) that thought it was a cute dog…
Hi Bethany and thanks for weighing in, as your input and feedback are most appreciated.
I intentionally skipped the “what happens to my dog if I die” information because this is geared specifically at folks in their golden years and dogs that are not necessarily high energy. All dogs need exercise, as stated in the piece repeatedly. However, we have written about the topic you mention and it is a valid and good one. Anyone at ANY age should have plans in place, present company included (and I do). Thanks to your inspiration, it is probably time to update that topic, so stay tuned for an in-depth piece on that. I know that folks at any age should have plans in place and a “will” doesn’t always measure up.
I do beg to differ on the Corgis. I am associated with several folks who have rescued Corgis. These are “over 60” folks who are semi-active. I am very familiar with the herding drive of Corgis, but beg to slightly differ that they do not need hours of exercise each day. If they are mentally stimulated indoors as well as outdoors, they are fine. Each dog is different and so is each person, so I definitely state that all dogs need exercise.
I have heard that Pembroke Welsh Corgis can be more couch potato-ish than Cardigan Welsh Corgis, Carol. I don’t personally know much about Pembrokes but I do know A LOT about Cardigans. And no one who cannot briskly walk or run them for over an hour a day and get them A LOT of socialization with all types of dogs and people should have one. My cardi and my moms were both very well socialized and they are well trained but they are both leash reactive and need several hours of daily exercise. Many breeders in our club have had cardis returned that should have had excellent farm lives but didn’t get enough socialization and became destructive and mean. Now I will admit that I surround myself specifically with very athletic and high drive Cardigan corgis and their people, and some Cardi breeders breed for looks instead of athleticism (which means smaller bones and more fragile dogs,) but I don’t think that slight personality chance (or poor health of the dog) is something someone with a more sedentary lifestyle and fixed income should risk.
The folks I talked to have both types of Corgis and I talked to a few of the handlers at the Westminster Kennel Club shows over the years in reporting duties. I was surprised at how the Pembroke, in particular, is a dog that is more couch potato-ish, as you said. I definitely believe ALL dogs need some form of exercise daily, no matter their age, but being cognizant of limitations. I even have a friend whose dog is immobile, but they take stroller rides daily. I definitely would not recommend a highly driven Corgi (or any dog) for someone who lives a more sedentary life; on that, I totally agree.
Thank you Carol! I think it is wonderful that you make it clear that there is no dog that can just sit inside all day. And my cardi, Brychwyn’s, sire and his sister have been at Westminster and the National Dog Show several times (they also both have herding and agility titles.) I wonder if you met them! It’s such a small world!
Are you serious? That would be a small world. I wish I knew some of your dog’s line was represented there! Darn, I might have met some canine rock stars and didn’t know it. I generally don’t like categorizing a certain breed for a certain person, but I like to give folks who are insistent on a “breed” a few options from which to choose. If I were in the market for sharing my life with a Corgi and living a more sedentary lifestyle, I would opt for the Pembroke over the Cardigan for sure. I really appreciate your feedback, Bethany.
As a quickly approaching “vintage” human, I have to decide which breed i want to be Bentley’s best friend when Pierre goes to live with his mom again. It will be hard for me to decide since I am absolutely smitten the Basset Hound. It is definitely not a spur of the moment decision!
Good point Bethany
Most But not all larger dogs are hard for a senior to handle on a leash
so a lot of thought should be given how the dog walks on leash
I have an 86 year old friend that owns 2 cockers and walks them every day weather permitting so its a win win for every one but she chose them because she could handle them
You can read her own words here>http://seniors4seniors.yolasite.com/news.php
It is true the number one reason Senior people don’t get a dog is they are afraid it will out live them
But sadly they are missing out on one of life’s blessings
Thanks for the info, Terry. I started with 50 breeds on the list and narrowed it down to 5. There are many more, but these are five who appeared consistently in expert reports and with whom I am very familiar. The Cocker is my breed of heart, but there is a grooming factor indeed.
Also, smaller dogs can pull as much as bigger breeds, Terry. For me, it is about training and not so much size.
I’ve had both types of Corgis–the highly driven Cardigan (spastic even early in the morning), and a more laid-back Cardigan. I definitely prefer Barkly’s laid-back attitude to the wild-child that we had in Sharkly. But I’ve seen both of them around Pembrokes, and they’ve ran circles around the Pems. Cardi vs. Pem wasn’t up to me though. My youngest son loves Cardis, and the love rubbed off on their dad. It’s definitely a take-what-you’re-given-and-deal-with-it case with me and Cardis. I much prefer Airedale Terriers and the Black Russian Terriers like Vlad (probably harder than most Cardis). Barkly and Vlad are a true odd-couple that get along fabulously, and Barkly got along like a house on fire with my Airedale, Dannyboy, when he was alive. To any senior wanting a Cardi, I’d definitely suggest making sure one was submissive around other dogs. Ask many questions of the puppy/dog’s temperament. It’s going to make life easier on a human when they’re submissive rather than dominant, since some of the more dominant ones are exactly as Bethany described. Love that first photo of you! Could have been Vlad as a puppy before his fall grew down.
I really like the five breeds you selected for older people. I must say I’ve owned a corgi and a pembroke. My senior parents have a corgi today. In addition, I also belong to a corgi playtime group. A previous poster said you need to provide at least two hours of intense exercise every day for a corgi. That is so far from the truth. A corgi ABSOLUTELY does not need two hours of intense, daily exercise. They definitely need exercise to maintain their weight and for physical benefits and because they have more stamina than some other breeds, a couple of daily walks is perfect. In addition, mental stimulation games are often played by my parent’s corgis. Corgis make perfect companions for older people!
I think Cavalier King Charles Spaniels should’ve been added to the list. Minimum grooming and they’re such happy dogs and seem to be a lot more calm than most spaniels in my opinion. Poodles can also be a great addition to a family and there’s three sizes to choose from (though I think standards are a bit more “lab like” in personality so may be a bit too much energy for an older individual).
Also buying from a responsible and reputable breeder (one that’s sire and dam are health tested and will take a puppy back should it work out) is a wonderful option as well.
I owned a Pembroke Corgi who was the best dog I ever owned. He passed 3years ago. They are very faithful, loyal and loving dogs. He was a couch potato if I let him be one. He did not destory my home and he was left daily while I worked. I made sure he had lots of toys to play with. He also loved to chase a ball, play fetch and go for a walk in the park. He never left my side and always looked to me aws his pack leader. My neighbors could not believe when I moved into a new house in a new neighborhood that I did very little to train him to stay in the yard without a leash and to go into porch if another dog was being walked passed the yard. I never left him out without being close by to give him the commands needed to do these things. Pembrokes are good dogs and if I ever get a chance to own another I will do so because I miss him so much. I would recommend them to anyone who is looking for a good loyal and loving champion.
In my younger years, I’ve had high-energy, medium to big dogs, all of them rescues. Although I loved them all and was able to fit my life around their individual traits and needs; after my boxer-whippet died, I decided to do some homework and choose a breed that would be more sensible for my 61 (and climbing) years. After reading about various breeds, I decided that I wanted a Cardigan Welsh Corgi (big dog in little package); and I wanted to know as much as I could about how the individual dog would “be” as my companion. I searched the internet for corgi breeders within my part of the country, and managed to find one just 25 miles from my house. She and I conversed via e-mail and Facebook (where I learned about how well she was loved by other breeders), and finally I went to meet her and her dogs. I immediately fell in love with beautiful Mia, who later would bear my dear puppy; and she was the sweetest, mellowest, most affectionate little lady. I also met the pups’ dad, who was less passive than Mia, but still a well-behaved, mellow cardi. After the pups were whelped, I went to visit every weekend beginning when they were three weeks old; and the breeder and I co-chose the puppy for me based on our discussions of what I wanted and needed. The short story is: I did my homework, picked a reputable, thoughtful breeder who breeds for good temperament as well as health and conformation. I now have a wonderful, 9-month-old corgi boy, who is a perfect fit for me–because I knew what I was getting. Yes, he’s still a puppy, and his memory of who’s boss lapses momentarily from time to time; but he’s only thirty pounds, and I can still hold him still until he calms down and is ready to listen!