A study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society demonstrated that independently-living seniors with pets tend to have better physical health and mental well-being than those who don’t. But for many seniors, the fear of not being able to provide the proper care, training and exercise may keep them from experiencing the joy and companionship of dog ownership. By doing your homework and fully considering how a dog will impact your life, your decision to open your heart and home to a canine companion can be an enjoyable adventure.
There are many different breeds suitable for seniors of all activity levels. Use the internet, go to a dog show and consult dog-owning friends and neighbors to get a clear picture of what dog ownership requires and to find out more about different breeds. Below are some of the questions that need to be considered when choosing a breed:
How active are you and how much exercise are you willing and able to give your dog? Can you provide twice-daily extended walks and playtime or are you more likely to let your dog out in the backyard for exercise and bathroom breaks?
What are your favorite activities? If you are the outdoors type, a sporting or herding breed that thrives on outdoor work sounds like a good match. If you are the indoor type, a smaller, smooth-coated breed that enjoys the shelter of your home and constant companionship is the dog for you.
Where do you live? Is your home on the farm or in a smaller city apartment? Try to match the breed’s needs with your living space.
How big is your family? Do you live alone or are there other family members living with you? Even if you are going to be the sole caretaker of the dog, consider the preferences of other family members. Are they willing to be placed in any caretaker role? Ask before you buy. Don’t let the dog become the source of disagreements in your family.
How much do you travel? If you leave the dog at home, you will need to make arrangements for her care. You should have a well-established routine including an alternate “owner” for her when you are away.
Do you have the financial resources to care for the dog? While the purchase price is a one-time expense, there are a number of annual expenses such as food, vets bills and toys, which can add up to several hundred dollars. If the dog has an unexpected illness or injury, vet bills can sometimes run in the thousands of dollars.
Should I get a puppy or an adult? This question should be examined carefully. If you want a young puppy, consider that you are committing to a 10-year (or longer) relationship. Puppies also require significant training. A great option for seniors is to adopt a purebred rescue dog, which allows you the predictability of a particular breed, but means you don’t have to spend time and energy raising and training a puppy.
Where will I obtain my dog? Once you’ve made your decision on a breed, go to www.akc.org to find responsible breeders who produce healthy, happy puppies.
Owning a dog can be a great way to meet other people, get exercise and become involved in activities that are enriching for both dog and owner. Here are just 10 things you can do with your companion.
• Take your dog to visit friends and neighbors who are ill. Nothing cheers up a person like the wag of a dog’s tail.
• Go on trips: Dogs can add another element of fun to a vacation. Check ahead for lodging that accepts dogs. If flying, ask about travel accommodations for your dog when you make your reservations.
• Enroll in an agility, obedience, rally or performance training course.
• Take daily walks.
• Help your dog train to achieve his/her AKC Canine Good Citizen certification, designed to reward dogs that have good manners at home and in the community.
• Get involved in a social organization or club with other dog owners in your hometown.
• Keep your dog active and alert by giving her tasks to complete. Teach her to fetch the paper, carry groceries in a pack or empty the dryer.
• Encourage breed behavior. Find activities that will encourage your dog to fulfill her breed’s purpose.
• Keep up with the latest dog news and information in your community.
• Become active in the sport of purebred dogs. Many seniors are involved in the 16,000 AKC dog events held each year in obedience, conformation and agility. The events offer opportunities to get involved, stay fit, meet new friends and just have fun!