Senior citizen canines: Dog breeds for mature pack leaders

People are always asking Cesar, “Which breed of dog is the right one for me?” His answer to the question is that breed doesn’t matter. Energy does. If you want to have a balanced relationship, start with a dog with an energy level the same or lower than yours.

However, breed can make some difference if the potential owners have certain physical limitations. You probably shouldn’t have a Great Dane if you live in a studio apartment, or a slobbery bulldog if you have allergies.

Likewise, as humans age, they may experience changes that can limit whether they can have a dog, or what kind of dog they can have. The changes can be medical, like arthritis, or situational, like moving from a large house to a small apartment or retirement community. This doesn’t mean that seniors can’t or shouldn’t have dogs. It just means there can be more things than energy level to consider when getting a dog at this stage of life. See the recommendations below:

Lower energy dogs
As people age, many of them become less physically active than they used to be, whether because life’s demands are fewer or physical abilities decline. The college athlete at 20 may be a couch potato at 65. Because of this, seniors should avoid high-energy dogs like Dalmatians if they’re not up to fulfilling the dog’s need for exercise.

Suggested low-energy breeds: Basset hounds, bulldogs, Cavalier King Charles spaniels, chow chows, and French bulldogs.

Smaller dogs
Another thing that can diminish with age is physical strength, which can be complicated by conditions like arthritis or osteoporosis, so it’s a good idea for seniors with these issues to avoid large, strong dogs. That’s because these dogs could easily knock them down or pull them off-balance on the walk. A breed like the Alaskan malamute, which can weigh close to a hundred pounds and was bred to pull, would not be a good choice. In this case, smaller can be better, although seniors with small dogs should be careful not to trip over them, which can be just as dangerous.

Suggested small breeds: Chihuahuas, dachshunds, Havaneses, Italian greyhounds, Maltese, and Pomeranians.

Less likely to shed
Shedding dogs can create two issues for seniors. One is that they require a lot more housework, especially vacuuming and sweeping. The other is that the excess fur and dander in the environment can exacerbate health issues, especially asthma and emphysema, or can trigger existing allergies. Breeds that shed the most include American Eskimos, Welsh corgis, and German shepherds. Breeds that are good for people with allergies include Schnauzers and Xloloitzcuintlis, also known as the Mexican hairless dog.

Suggested low-shedding breeds: Tibetan terriers, Maltese terriers, Shih Tzus, Brussels griffons, and poodles.

Assistant dogs
In some cases, seniors may have conditions or handicaps where they need assistance around the house and running errands, but don’t have a friend or family member with the time to help, or can’t afford to hire a professional. In this case, trained assistant dogs would be a good option.

Service dogs can retrieve things for people, pull wheelchairs, open doors, and turn lights on and off. They can also help people get up if they fall down.

Hearing dogs are exactly what they sound like. They assist people who are deaf or with hearing loss, alerting them to important sounds, like doorbells, smoke alarms, telephones, and so on.

Seizure response dogs can assist people with epilepsy or other seizure disorders, summoning help if necessary and bringing food or medication. Although not trained for it, some of these dogs can even develop the ability to sense a seizure coming on and alert the human beforehand, so they can move to a safe place.

Suggested assistant breeds: Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers, and German shepherds.

Senior dogs
What could be more appropriate for a senior citizen than a senior dog, regardless of breed? These dogs are often overlooked in shelters, but they have the right energy level and have had plenty of time to become socialized, calm, and submissive. They also require a shorter time commitment, which can be an important consideration if someone isn’t likely to live another fifteen to twenty years — but they still bring all the love, loyalty, and happiness that puppies do.

Finally, don’t overlook mixed breeds. A mutt can bring the best or the most challenging characteristics of each breed, so be selective. The upside is that a low energy mid-size mixed breed dog can be the best companion, and the healthiest dog you can adopt. They are also unique.

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