Being a senior citizen (for the purposes of this list will be people who are over the age of 62) means there are many things that will change in your life. Things tend to be slower, and you are looking more at what to do with the remaining years of your life rather than planning for a long and prosperous future. It is just another stage of life, but one that will have you making many important decisions. Seniors who have children are likely to either have them already grown and gone, or are hoping that they will soon be gone – only to return for the holiday and special occasion visit. While the quiet time will be appreciated, companionship with a faithful canine is something that is also appreciated. But which dog is the best suited for a particular situation will depend on a number of things.
First, there is the living situation. There are three basic types to deal with, each with its own set of problems: Living in your own home, living in an apartment, and lastly, living in a retirement home or assisted living facility
Then there is the issue of whether the senior currently owns a dog or wants to be a first time owner to have as a companion for security and other reasons. Though this article is not intended to address these issues in detail, it can be said that the possibility of a long time owner of a dog may see their companion die before they do, and a decision will have to be made as to the future of a new dog. New dog owners are likely to need assistance for the first months of having a new dog for housebreaking and training purposes.
The following list will narrow down some of the choices, eliminating the worst choices for the care of the dog and the senior. They are not listed in any particular order or preference, as some breeds may be a really bad choice depending on the owner and current or future living situation.
1. Labrador Retriever
The first dog on the list is a general indicator of the problems of choosing the right dog for a senior’s living and lifestyle considerations. This breed requires a lot of attention and personal time as well as exercise. Now some seniors may believe they can give this breed the necessary time to make them happy, but the problem is at what point does the owner actually know the dog is happy? A responsible senior dog owner cannot substitute what they believe is a happy and healthy dog for the actual needs of the dog. They will remain loyal, but owners of this breed – as well as every other breed on this list – need to be objective as to whether they are up to keeping the dog happy and healthy as they should be.
2. Pit Bull
Do we really need to include this dog on the list since it is so obvious to so many people? Though there are owners that swear to the gentleness of a well-trained Pit Bull, it is all about the general temperament of the breed – which is aggressive. They require a strong mastery, otherwise they will be very difficult to handle. This is definitely not a dog to choose as a new dog owner or one that lives in an apartment, as they need their out time lest they feel cooped up and begin to act out aggressively.
3. Border Collie
This is a bred that may be a “hold over” from when the children were younger and had this loyal, high energy dog to take care of. But times change, and for seniors to attempt to go it alone with this guy in the house is likely to be more than they can handle. First, if they are not out romping around they will romp in the home, creating havoc. Another reason is one that current owners already know – they require a lot of grooming. Mounds of hair accumulating around the house is not a good look for either owner or dog. If you own a Border Collie, find it a good home with one of the children.
The Pug has so many negative aspects to it that it is hard to understand why anyone would consider this dog for a senior – unless it is a subtle act of revenge. Many of the breeds on this list have only two or three major issues, but the Pug has more than a few. Let’s start with passing some gas more often than not. Then there is the slobbering, snortling, and wheezing that goes on whenever he feels the need. They shed all the time. And finally, like the Chihuahua, they are extremely difficult to housebreak. You are likely to find yourself taking them to the vet because of their many health problems. It is like raising a child all over again, something that most seniors would rather fondly remember from the past than experience in the present.
5. Jack Russell Terrier
If there is one dog on this list that has cat-like tendencies, it is the Jack Russell Terrier. One reason is they are natural hunters, so you may find them bringing you back a hunted squirrel and dropping it at your feet – or other unexpected place in the home. They obviously need a lot of room to roam, so apartment living is almost definitely out as is a house that has a small backyard or no large open spaces nearby. Though a small dog, they have a reputation for being very aggressive – human or not. Many experts strongly recommend obedience classes rather than get into a physical confrontation with the dog. Their general temperament can be defined in a single word – stubborn. Seniors tend to like to mellow out, so the last thing they need is a dog that is crankier than they are.
In constructing this list of dogs, it is pretty amazing that many of the stereotypes movies, cartoons, and other forms of media tell us about these breeds are so wrong it is hard to believe. The Dalmatian is commonly seen as the “fire engine” dog. While this is true in some respects – they need plenty of outdoor exercise and has a sleek, athletic build – what is not said is they are very stubborn, making them hard to train. If they do not get their outdoor time, their indoor behavior turns destructive. They shed all year around, so they are very high maintenance. And depending on their genetic lineage, they can either be fearful or overly aggressive. There are so many negatives to offset the positives of having a canine companion, the truth is the risk is too high.
This floppy eared breed has a longer list of shortcoming than most on this list. Much of it is genetic, meaning there is not much you can do about it. Some of the bad behaviors can be corrected with proper training, but then there is the other stuff. Many experienced dog owners know that even adult dogs can act much like children, and that can be seen in this breed’s tendency to be self-centered and obstinate. They have a very distinct odor that lets everyone know there is a dog around. When taking them out for a walk a leash is essential, they shed a lot and they are also prone to baying and howling (The TV versions of the Beagle got that right). If you ignore all this advice and decide to go ahead anyway, be sure to take the time to conduct a thorough search to make sure you will be getting a dog with a good-natured lineage.
Other than the Pit Bull, this is the dog on the list who can pose the most legal problems for dog owners of the breed. Akita’s are strong and powerful, so they are great as a security measure, but with that strength and power comes the potential for being very aggressive around people or other animals if they come from a line that has difficulty socializing. They are the most strong willed breed on this list, making it essential owners demonstrate mastery over them. They may not shed year around, but when they do they need to be properly groomed, otherwise you will find piles of fur everywhere. On a final note, Akita’s are very protective of their food, so everyone needs to be kept away while they are eating. There are simply too many problems for this bred to make sense for a senior.
9. Australian Shepherd
If you are a senior who has a much younger friend living with or nearby you, then you can choose the Australian Shepherd. However, if not then you are definitely asking for trouble for a minimum of 2 years. This breed requires an extraordinary amount of attention and will demand your attention for a good 12 hours or more of the day. That means more than just tossing a ball around to play catch with. Daily exercise is a must, 7 days a week. They are in the category of high energy dogs, which is a huge no-no for senior unless they are running marathons – or at least half marathons.
10. Companion Pet Pup
This can be said to be the worst choice for any senior who wants a dog because it is not a real dog. It is a robot dog developed by the people at Hasbro who make toys for children. The idea is to give seniors the option to have a “pet” that requires little or no maintenance, but will provide the man or woman with an object that turns its head to look at you and has BarkBack technology. Seriously. This is more than a little demeaning to seniors who actually want a dog because it suggests they are too feeble minded or incapable of taking care of a real dog. It is one of the best arguments for this to exist in order to avoid getting a dog that is difficult or impossible for a senior to take care of. On the other hand, it’s not a stretch to compare the Companion Pet Pup for a senior to a sex toy robot for a 20-something. If you have a grandparent or great-grandparent who you think will love you spending over $100 for this computerized lump of fake fur, buy them a tablet computer instead, because in the end they will both just be toys.
If you are a new dog owner, the Dachshund is a breed you need to avoid for one very important reason: 1 in every 4 Dachshunds ends up with a spinal problem that is likely to end with paralysis. The last thing you want to happen is to get attached to a dog, then discover that relationship will have to end much sooner than you ever expected. The breed is also in the top “hard to housebreak” rankings. Apartment dwellers need to avoid this breed because they can be very noisy, and can be very suspicious (and aggressive) towards strangers if not properly socialized.
12. Siberian Husky
This magnificent looking breed comes with a huge physical demand price attached. These are dogs that need their outdoor time – and plenty of it. Keeping them indoors for an extended length of time will result in boredom and unleash their destructive tendencies. As puppies, they will seem more like rabbits, jumping all over you. As most cold weather dogs tend to shed a lot, the Siberian Husky is no exception. It may be considered as one of the most notorious cat chasers, largely because its tendency is to chase and grab anything that runs.
13. Cocker Spaniel
Old owner or new, as loveable and adorable as Cocker Spaniels may be, they are at the top end of high maintenance dogs. First there is the issue of ear infections, which many in this breeds are famous for. That means weekly ear inspections. Their coats are obviously something that require a lot of grooming – which includes bathing. The final issue is that the only way we know they are so loveable and cuddly is because they look to be loved and cuddled regularly. New Cocker Spaniels need considerable training, so keeping things simple and avoiding this breed altogether is a wise decision.
These famous sniffers who seem to look sad all the time have a unique problem for potential owners, more so than any of the pother dogs on this list. They have a short lifespan. That means it is possible the senior will outlive the dog, a position neither the senior nor their family and friends want them to experience. The idea of baying at the moon probably originated with this breed, so unless you have your own home and have very nice neighbors this breed will cause you more problems. Drooling and slobbering are normal, which means you either have a large space for this very large dog, or you spend a good part of your day cleaning up after them. The sad thing is, most of these problems are natural to the breed, otherwise they would be a great dog to have. But as it stands, avoid this breed.
15. Cane Corso
For those who have never heard of this breed, be prepared to meet an enormously sized dog who is also weighty. That size and weight will require considerable resources of money to feed, which may be money used for better senior living experiences. This means they will also take up a lot of space, and have this charming tendency to place their considerable weight up against your legs as they lay on your feet. There are a few other downsides to the Cane Corson. Their size likely contributed to their strong self-will, making them difficult to deal with. They have also been known to release some gas every now and then, and flee to the next room afterwards.
Like the Pit Bull, the Rottweiler has a bad reputation for being overly aggressive. In many cases this is an overstatement as there are far more playful and gentle Rottweilers than Pit Bulls. That said, if a senior has a Rottweiler as a family dog and now lives alone there is little chance of them changing overnight to be unmanageable. Their size and strength means they are not a good dog for first time owners or for apartment dwellers. They are very protective dogs, which is a very good thing if they are accustomed to the senior. But if not, their response to uncertain situations is often fight or flight, a very bad thing for anyone around.
17. Chow Chow
Some people who think the Chow Chow is a small lapdog are in for a big surprise. If there is a dog on this list whose temperament can be classified as “complicated” the Chow heads the list. If you want to substitute the word “nuts” for “complicated” feel free to do so. Once the dog’s temperament can be understood, they can be an excellent choice. But for the senior, that is the problem. It takes time and a strong mastery of the dog to make them manageable, something that may not be possible for a senior. That beautiful coat will only remain beautiful with regular grooming.
Chihuahua owners will tell you, if they are being honest, that a lot depends on the temperament of the dog you choose. The most critical part of a senior owning a Chihuahua is determining whether they have a social or antisocial dog on (or in) their hands. While sociable Chihuahuas still require a good deal of training to be taught to be sociable, antisocial breeds are nothing but trouble regardless of the amount of training. Taking them out for a walk will be a challenge every single day. And don’t forget that they are near the top of the list of dogs who are extremely difficult to housebreak. Some recommend having a litter box just in case. If you’re going to do that, you might as well get a cat instead.
19. German Shorthaired Pointer
As many seniors who live in an apartment or home tend to only have one other person present at the most, the demands of the German Shorthaired Pointer are likely to be greater than the number of people present. Bred as a family dog, they require enough attention from a family of four, so trying to meet them halfway is something that simply will not work. In fact, they are likely to turn your house or apartment into an unruly playpen if they get bored. Daily exercise of the outdoor type is a must. Forget about getting this breed as a new dog or as a first time owner. While they are easily trained, the training period will take significant time and patience on the part of the owner.
Of the worst dogs to own, the Briard may be the funnest. The stereotypical “shaggy dog” has been known to use its head to try and “herd” children and other animals in its territory. Like other large breeds on this list, they tend to act destructively when not given enough outdoor time. That herding mentality comes from a strong self-will, making training a challenge. That shaggy coat means the an assortment of animate and inanimate objects may go for a ride on its coat, so keeping up constantly with the grooming is likely to be far more than what a senior expects or wants to deal with on a daily basis.
A couple of final notes. Whether or not you can have a dog in an assisted living situation or retirement home will depend on the specific rules and regulations of the property. Many will allow small dogs because they have been proven to be therapeutic for seniors. For seniors who are considering relocating, they need to consider whether their current dog or a new dog they may be considering will be allowed at their new location. While this list has been about what breed not to choose, taking the time to think about the broader limitations will save you time and potential frustration.