We know that senior citizens can benefit from having a dog, both emotionally and physically. Besides providing companionship, pets reduce depression and stress, lower blood pressure, encourage activity and increase the opportunity for social interaction. However, time and time again as a dog trainer, I see seniors burdened with a dog or puppy they can’t handle. It’s really more about the training than the breed, but certain breeds may be easier for seniors based on their size and temperament.
Before I start talking about breeds, there are a few other things to consider: the energy level, health history, and kid-tolerance (especially if you have grandkids). Older dogs that have been trained are much easier than puppies. Puppies require a tremendous amount of time and they have limitless energy. Seniors need a dog that enjoys a life of being petted and cared for. In other words, your basic “lap dog” is ideal.
- Pugs. These small bundles of energy are animated, spirited, playful, lively and rambunctious; a Pug is sure to keep you laughing. The Pug is good for apartment/senior housing. This breed can be a bit willful and bore easily without a variety in training. They enjoy energetic games and will stay in better if given regular exercise. However, you will need to keep an eye on the weather with this breed. They catch cold easily and can become stressed in hot weather. They do shed seasonally.
- Poodle. Poodles have remained popular with people in their golden year’s decade after decade. They are personable, easy to train and have a great sense of humor (they laugh with you, not at you). They are also relatively clean, low-shedding dogs who are easy to maintain as long as you get them groomed regularly. The Toy Poodle is very popular with people who want a fun tiny dog, but the miniature may be a better pick if you need a dog that is a little sturdier and more capable of a good long walk.
- Miniature schnauzer. This is another small dog that makes a loving companion for seniors. If you have grandchildren, schnauzers have a great personality and a high tolerance. Miniature schnauzers are energetic, affectionate and relatively easy to train. They can, however, be overly aggressive with other dogs. This may not be a good choice if you live in an area that is home to a lot of larger dogs.
- Scottish terrier. A Scottish terrier weighs around 15 to 20 pounds, is highly intelligent and needs daily exercise. Tough and compact, the Scottie is a loyal and protective family member. This breed is happy to spend his days lounging on the sofa, but this dog requires regular grooming.
- Maltese – This dog sheds the least and is attentive and perfectly in tune with its owners. They are small, so if you ever need to take them to a vet, they are easily transportable. Needs daily brushing for its long coat. Cleaning of the eyes and beard are needed to prevent staining of the fur. Good for apartment living. They are active indoors and will do fine without a yard as long as they get long daily walks.
- Cavalier King Charles Spaniel: Eager to please, affectionate, outgoing and sporty this small bundle of joy does well with apartment living. They are fairly easy to train and respond well to consistent training. The Cavalier needs daily walks but does not do well in very warm climates. Daily grooming is needed to prevent matting of the fur. The dog is an average shedder.
When choosing the best dog breeds for the senior sect, it’s important to compare the potential senior owner’s residence, health status and physical strength with the pet’s physical traits, personality and routine care requirements.
Jeri Wagner is a canine behavioral therapist and master trainer. Jeri uses a natural training system leveraging the same communication methods – body language and voice control – that dogs follow as part of their instinctive pack mentality. Training takes place in the home where the problems generally occur. Jeri trains in western Montgomery county and northern Chester County. For more information, call 1-877-500 BARK (2275) or visit www.barkbusters.com.
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