Thinking about getting a new canine companion? While puppies can be hard to resist, animal shelters are filled with older dogs who are healthy, well-behaved, and make great four-legged friends. Here are five compelling reasons to open your heart and home to a senior pooch.
You're Saving a Life
When it comes to finding a new home, dogs aged seven and older are oftentimes the underdog (pun intended). According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, only 25 percent make it out of shelters. Sadly, those left behind are the first to be euthanized, which affects approximately 1.5 million shelter animals each year in the U.S.—670,000 dogs to be exact.
“It’s heartbreaking that the majority of [senior dogs] get overlooked,” says Annie Gingras, a licensed vet technician at the Humane Society, who’s fostered 30 dogs and currently has two seniors. “Many were abandoned through no fault of their own, and their situation is definitely more urgent, so I wish more people would see how beautiful, dignified and loving they are.”
By adopting a senior, you can change a potentially gloomy future and give them a well-deserved chance to enjoy their golden years.
“There is no greater gift than pulling a senior dog from the shelter and watching them blossom,” adds Melissa Fields, co-founder of Pupstarz Rescue NYC. “My three seniors have helped me learn about patience, empathy, and kindness. Adopting an older dog in need means making a difference in both of your lives.”
Older Dogs Require Less Training
That puppy may not appear so adorable when they destroy your favorite shoes.
“[Trying to understand] what puppies need [is] an around-the-clock job,” notes fellow Pupstarz co-founder Robyn O’Brien. “If you work long hours, travel frequently, or prefer not to wake up at 3 a.m. when your dog needs to go out, a puppy isn’t the best choice. I recommend older dogs for first-time owners because they adapt to you, not the [other] way around.”
Since senior dogs tend to be house-trained, know commands and are less likely to make a mess on your carpet, you can skip the growing pains of puppy training and go straight to being besties.
You Can Totally Teach an Old Dog New Tricks
“Despite common misconceptions, seniors are plenty capable of mastering something new,” comments Rachel Witz, a dog behaviorist with Long Island Chihuahua Rescue. “Regardless of their age or background, dogs are instinctual and live in the moment, so teaching them new obedience commands, or ‘tricks’ is both possible and beneficial.”
How do you go about teaching older dogs new tricks? Witz, who is also a proud mom of three seniors, recommends positive reinforcement and direct, clear communication. She also suggests playing games, like hiding a favorite toy or object and searching for it together, to help a senior’s mind stay sharp.
“Learning new commands helps dogs feel accomplished, proud, and confident,” adds Witz. “Be calm and confident, a leader and teacher. Your dog will thank you for it.”
You're More Likely to Find the Right Match
Finding a dog that best suits you is much less of a guessing game with seniors. You don’t have to wonder about how big she’ll grow or what kind of traits he’ll have—they’ve already done the homework for you!
When you meet an older dog, you’ll instantly get a sense of whether she’s high energy or super chill, outgoing or shy, like to run in a pack or fly solo, and how he’ll get along with your significant other, kids or important people in your household.
“The individuality of older dogs is as vast as it is in people, with wide varieties of needs, desires, likes, and dislikes. This makes it quite easy to select one that matches your lifestyle,” says Dr. Franklin D. McMillan, director of Well-Being Studies at Best Friends Animal Society. “Their personalities are fully developed, so the likelihood of being surprised by something strange or unexpected is quite low.”
You'll Live Your Best Life Together
Whether it’s cuddling up on the couch or going on a cross-country trip, seniors will happily stay by your side. In good times and bad, they’ll remind you to live in the moment and show you that age is just a number.
“With regular check-ups and wellness screenings, older dogs can live well into their teens,” notes Dr. Andrew Thayer of Hartsdale Veterinary Hospital.
Speaking from personal experience, I’ve shared five years with an amazing dog named Ruby. Now 15 years old, she is healthy, playful, and maintains an unbreakable spirit. In fact, at her last vet visit, she was called “the Betty White of the poodle world!” As huge Golden Girls fans who watch the show together every night, we thought this was the ultimate compliment. Though Ruby is a rescue, she often rescues me, too. When my father got very sick, I’d come home from long days at the hospital and she was there to offer constant love and comfort—for the bargain price of a belly rub. Every day, Ruby shows me unconditional love and inspires me to the best version of myself.
“Sharing this life together is an unmatched opportunity,” adds Dr. McMillan. “Dogs get a loving human companion, new experiences, and a sense of security. In turn, you will feel the joy and satisfaction of providing a home to a dog that was in a difficult place and will be rewarded in ways you never imagined.”