If age is just a number, why do older dogs and seniors get overlooked by adopters? It's no secret that puppies and young dogs are more desired. They're adorable and fun with those puppy dog eyes and bellies, uncoordinated silliness and goofy demeanor. They're also a lot of work. An older dog, on the other hand, may just be an amazing match for you and your lifestyle. Yes, they'll need care as they age and you won't have as long with them, but they deserve to be rescued too. Here are 15 reasons to adopt an older dog or senior.
When Are Dogs Considered Senior?
Before diving in to why adopting an older dog can be so rewarding, it's important to define what makes a dog a senior. While most vets seem to categorize dogs as seniors at age seven or eight, the American Animal Hospital Association’s (AAHA) defines seniors as dogs within approximately the last 25% of a dog's expected lifespan. But it depends on size and sometimes even the breed, which can make it difficult to determine age for mutts and mixes.
For example, some larger dogs are considered seniors at the age of five, while smaller dogs are considered seniors later in life, usually around or after the age of 10. An example of breed affecting when a dog is considered a senior can be seen with English Bulldogs. Despite not being the tallest or heaviest dogs, English Bulldogs are considered seniors at a younger age due to their shorter expected average lifespan. According to the AAHA definition, English Bulldogs would be considered seniors between the ages of six and eight.
Pro Tip: Dogs are generally considered puppies if they are under one year.
Several shelters, however, label dogs age six and up as older or seniors, so adopting one doesn't necessarily mean you're taking in a dog with very little time left. So now that that's established, here are reasons to adopt an older or senior dog:
1. You're Saving A Life
The truth is that seniors are more difficult to adopt out than younger dogs. According to Dogtime, a 2018 Petfinder.com survey showed that pets typically spend 12 weeks on their adoption site while seniors spend nearly four (or more) times as long. With current overcrowding and staff shortages in shelters, along with continued pet overpopulation, adopting a senior could literally save its life. This is especially true for those not fortunate enough to be in a no-kill shelter because seniors are, sadly, often euthanized before others if not adopted in good time. But even in no-kill shelters, adopting a senior save lives by opening a spot for another dog to get adopted.
2. Older Dogs Are Often Already Trained
Older dogs often wind up in shelters through no fault of their own. Sometimes their owner passed away or was no longer capable of caring for them. Sometimes owners can't handle the expenses associated with older dogs. Sometimes owners get divorced, have a baby, lose their job, move, develop allergies, etc. No matter the reason, most of the time when senior dogs end up in shelters, they've lived in a home before. This means they are often trained and socialized, with practice in obedience and good manners. Seniors are usually potty-trained, know basic commands, walk nicely on a leash and won't jump on people. This can save a lot of time, energy, effort and money - as well as make for a smoother transition to your home.
Pro Tip: Senior dogs can still learn new tricks though! Don't be fooled by the saying "you can't teach an old dog new tricks" - this is simply not true. In fact, because older dogs typically have greater focus and attention spans (as well as calmer demeanors and years of experience reading humans), it can actually be easier to train seniors than puppies.
3. You'll Skip The Puppy Phase
Adopting a senior means you'll skip the puppy stage. Yes, you'll miss the adorableness of a growing puppy but you won't miss all the mischief and misbehavior. No need to worry about teething puppies chewing shoes or furniture and home decor, getting into the trash or knocking over your plants - or any other destruction that arises from typical puppy disobedience, separation anxiety or boredom. This means fewer messes and no big need for puppy-proofing.
Pro Tip: All this being said, older dogs are not immune to accidents or relapses, especially given the stress that goes along with big changes (like going from living in a home to a shelter to a new home with unfamiliar people).
4. Older Dogs Are Calmer And Have Less Energy
Another piece to skipping the puppy phase is that older dogs have grown out of being boundlessly energetic and have typically settled into a calmer lifestyle. Puppies and younger dogs are often on-the-go when awake, wanting to play and explore (or get into some mischief). Older dogs don't have as much energy as their younger counterparts, so they have lower exercise needs and higher sleep needs. This means more time for you to get work done, relax in peace, spend quiet quality time together and get a good night's rest. So if you prefer to spend your free time watching TV after a long day, a senior dog could be a perfect fit for you.
Pro Tip: Senior dogs still need some activity, like short neighborhood walks or playtime. But you won't be spending hours a day trying to get their energy out with extended exercise, at the dog park or spending time and money taking them to daycare. If you do want an older but more energetic dog, there are plenty of active seniors.
5. There Are Fewer Surprises
While puppies provide fun surprises (like how big will they grow, what will their personality be, how much will they shed, etc.), older dogs are more predictable. They are fully grown, physically and emotionally mature (which usually happens between the ages of 18 months and two years old) and have obvious personalities - so you know more about what you're getting. You know how tall they'll be and how much they weigh, whether they're shy or social, what their grooming needs are, if they're good with cats or other dogs, if they do well with children, what they like and dislike, etc. This makes it easier to pick a dog that best fits your lifestyle and home (especially if you live in an apartment where space is limited or there are size restrictions for dogs).
Pro Tip: It's important to keep in mind that some older dogs won't be themselves fully when meeting new people in a shelter. They may be more nervous or timid because the situation can be scary, stressful and uncomfortable for them. Fortunately, the shelter staff should know the dogs when they're more comfortable and able to see at least some of their already established personality.
6. Older Dogs Are Also Less Demanding And More Independent
Older dogs tend to be less demanding and more independent than puppies and younger dogs. Not only do they need less physical activity (as aforementioned), but they also don't require constant supervision or monitoring. This means you'll be able to quickly trust an older dog and gain more freedom than you would with a younger one. For instance, they'll let you get your work done, leave the house for a few hours with peace of mind and typically won't excessively cry or whine to get attention.
7. But They Provide Fast Companionship
Don't worry, most older dogs aren't so independent that you don't feel companionship. Despite being less dependent on us, they still provide deep connection and affection. In fact, many owners report that their adopted older dogs became quick companions. This is likely because they usually had previous owners, so not only were they already socialized but they had experience forming bonds with people. This makes it easier to forge those deep canine-human connections we love so much. Also, you can focus more on building that bond since you'll be spending less time potty-training, teaching obedience, cleaning, etc.
Pro Tip: The companionship dogs provide can help combat feelings of loneliness and isolation, which are two contributors to depression.
8. And They Settle In More Quickly
Because older dogs have been there done that, they tend to settle into their new home more quickly than puppies and younger dogs. Their previous experience and training, on top of their calmer demeanor, allows for a smooth transition. Of course there will still be an adjustment period during the first few weeks, but it's typically shorter than with puppies and young dogs who need training or have never been in a loving home before.
9. You'll Provide A Good Home And Life During Their Golden Years
Adopting an older dog gives them the chance to live out the rest of their time with the life they deserve - whether you are bringing back a life they knew they were missing when they ended up in a shelter or you're finally providing a stable home to a dog who never knew one. Giving an older dog a home will make them feel good, cared for and loved. And knowing you're doing this will make you feel good too. You may just get the cuddle buddy you always wanted!
10. But They Have Lots Of Love (And Fun) Left To Give
Dogs usually live between 10 to 15 years of age or more depending on size, health and breed (or breed mix, as mutts tend to live longer). Many older shelter dogs are age six and up, which means there can be plenty of years left together. And, with that, comes many years of love. No matter what age, dogs show us love and it doesn't dwindle over time. Many older dogs still have lots of spunk and want to play as well, so opting for an older dog doesn't mean you won't get a fun dog. Plus, dogs are living longer and longer today thanks to advancements in nutrition and medical care.
Pro Tip: To reciprocate showing your dog love in ways they'll understand, check out our article!
11. Older Dogs Are Grateful
Older dogs don't just show us love, they also show us appreciation. They tend to be very grateful to their foster parents and adopters, seemingly able to sense that their lives have been saved. There's plenty of anecdotal evidence that shows how devoted and appreciative senior dogs are to their new owners. It makes sense, given they usually knew what a loving home was and experienced the stark difference between that and the shelter.
12. Senior Dogs Can Be A Big Stress Reliever
It's well known that owning a dog has been shown to have several physical and mental health benefits, including reducing stress. Several studies have shown that dogs have a calming effect on humans and interacting with them can help people better handle stress, as well as feel less anxious and happier. For example, research has shown that stressed dog owners experience fewer and shorter spikes in heart rate and blood pressure, which helps minimize the effects of stress on the body. While all dogs help with stress, older dogs can be even more effective at it because they won't add any stress from the puppy stages. Plus, they're usually happy with a leisurely walk (rather than more intense exercise) and enjoy relaxing, encouraging us to slow down and be present in the moment.
13. They're Good For First Time Owners, Seniors, Small Children, Busy Professionals And Therapists
Older dogs are great options for a wide variety of people, but especially first-time dog owners, seniors, bus professionals, families with small children, and therapists looking for a therapy dog. This is because of several reasons mentioned here - such as not requiring as much exercise and supervision, their lower energy and calmer demeanors, often having some training and good manners, etc. Plus, they aren't a 10-15 year commitment, so that makes them suitable for those worried about biting off more than they can chew.
Pro Tip: Most therapy dogs are typically required to be at least a year old but the fact that older dogs have calmer temperaments and more training plays a big factor as well.
14. Senior Dogs Can Cost Less
Many shelters have implemented programs to help adopt out their senior animals, which often includes discounted adoption fees. Sometimes, you can even rescue a senior dog for free! For example, many shelters provide these discounts to senior citizens who adopt dogs older than six. Beyond reduced adoption fees, many older dogs have lower immediate vet and medical costs. Most are already spayed or neutered, up-to-date on all their vaccines and are much less susceptible to many of the illnesses and diseases that are dangerous to puppies. Plus, you aren't committing to 10-15 years of medical bills, so overall the cost is lower. That being said, older dogs are more prone to certain health issues and diseases, so that can cause medical bills to rise with time.
15. Older Dogs Are Cute Too
Puppies are adorable but older dogs are too! Their graying fur, white faces and gentle, wise and loving eyes are their own kind of cute and charming.
Things To Keep In Mind When Adopting An Older Dog
Of course and as always, there are things to keep in mind when adopting any dog. But for older dogs, specifically, these include:
Health concerns, vet care and medical costs - it's usually recommended that seniors go to the vet twice a year, at least, for biannual checkups. Older dogs are at greater risk for some health issues (like cataracts, dental problems, incontinence, decreased mobility, etc.) and diseases (such as kidney disease, cancer and arthritis). Pro Tip: Consider the size of the dog and how you will handle future mobility issues.
Specific dietary and nutritional needs - seniors, like puppies, often have specific nutritional care needs. Some of these include food and supplements to support joints and mobility, eyes and eyesight, digestion, cognition and weight management.
Longer adjustment periods - some seniors are set in their ways, which may make it harder for them to adjust (but it typically won't result in the same destruction as it would with younger dogs). For example, if a senior dog's previous owner was always home and you're not, they may experience separation anxiety. Pro Tip: In general, dogs take between two weeks and three months to settle in to their new environment. Establishing a new routine as soon as possible can help.
Seemingly less engaged - seniors won't have the same energy that puppies have, so they may come off less interested. But the reality is they just need more rest and relaxation. Being proactive in interacting with them can go a long way.
Shorter lifespans - most obviously, seniors have shorter lifespans and that's something you have to recognize going into it, especially for families with children.