Older dog waiting patiently for a treat.

What To Expect When Adopting A Senior Dog

Adopting a dog can be an exciting time! Today we tackle a topic that is very near and dear to my heart. As an owner of two senior dogs, it’s sad to me that so many older dogs are left behind in rescue shelters. It’s a shame as senior dogs have so much to offer as peaceful, loving companions.

In this article, we’ll discuss the ins and outs of adopting a senior dog. What are the pros and cons of choosing a senior dog? How can you choose the right rescue dog for you? And how can you integrate your new elderly friend into your life seamlessly? Let’s dive in!

Older Labrador waiting for a treat.

What Qualifies As A Senior Dog?

Definitions first! What is a senior dog? As we all know, dogs age much faster than humans do. According to VCA Hospitals, 1 year in dog years is equivalent to 7 human years. (1) To make things even more complex, smaller dogs age slower than larger dogs. So the 7:1 calculation doesn’t work out across all dogs - it depends on your dog’s breed.

For today’s purposes, we will use the VCA Hospitals classification. We can say that small dogs are considered “seniors” when they reach 11-12 years old. Medium-sized dogs are seniors at around 10 years old. Large dogs are seniors after 8 years old. Extra-large dogs are seniors after 7 years of age.

Related: The Lifecycle Of A Dog.

Remember that physical maturity is different from emotional maturity. My dog is 11 years old but acts as if he’s a puppy. His body very much betrays his mind. Emotional maturity is difficult to measure and plan for, so we’re discussing age in the physical sense today.


Myths About Adopting An Elderly Dog

Now let’s bust some myths. I theorise that most potential new dog owners avoid rescuing older dogs because of these common misconceptions:

  1.  Older dogs are impossible to train
    • Yes, puppies are sponges as all children are. But senior dogs are not impossible to train. They can be surprisingly adaptable to new environments and new tricks. 
  2. Older dogs in rescue homes are dangerous 
    • When we see an older dog in a rescue home, we tend to worry about why they were put there. Are they dangerous? Are they damaged and abused? These things can happen but it’s not very common. Having volunteered in a rescue home, most old dogs end up there because their owner has died or moved away. They can be the sweetest, most loving dogs and need of a forever home. Sometimes, dogs are rehabilitated to a degree in the rescue home. So even formerly dangerous older dogs can be transformed. Leave any preconceived notions of rescue dogs at the door as you begin your search.
  3. Older dogs are not suitable for children                                                                                
    •   This is a huge myth that I have the pleasure of debunking today. The fact is that older dogs can often be better for homes with children because they are less boisterous. Older dogs tend to have more emotional maturity and intelligence. If they have grown up in a home with children around, they have learned gentility. Sometimes younger dogs can be rougher with children as they haven’t learned these skills just yet.
  4. Older dogs are sick 
    • They can be but not always! There are plenty of older dogs in rescue homes that are completely fit and healthy. They can even keep up with you on runs and long hikes. It depends on the individual dog.

What Are The Benefits Of Adopting A Senior Dog?

Senior dogs can be calmer

It happens to us all. The ravages of time march forward and we aren’t as able to hop, skip and jump as we could when we were young. The same happens to (most) dogs. Senior dogs tend to be far calmer and more docile than their younger counterparts. It’s a myth that older dogs have no energy at all.

Many older dogs still have a zest for life. They can even run long distances and play with your children. But you’re almost guaranteed a more serene temperament when you choose to adopt a senior dog.

Senior dogs can be highly trained/socialised

As many senior dogs in rescue shelters have lived long and happy lives in a family home, they tend to be highly skilled. Many are housetrained, well socialised and can perform tricks. Depending on the circumstances they came to the rescue shelter, the staff may have quite a detailed history of their living circumstances and capabilities.

If you want a dog to fit into your life with as little fuss as possible, senior dogs can grant you that wish. They do require some acclimation time but generally, it’s a far easier, cleaner process than with young puppies!


What Are The Drawbacks Of Adopting A Senior Dog?

If the dog hasn’t been well-socialised, it’s hard to fix that


Socialisation is always best handled when dogs are young so they are used to many different types of people, animals, and other dogs. Let’s say you meet a dog that has no experience with children. It’s difficult to turn a senior dog into a child-loving pup retroactively. 

Some senior dogs have advanced medical needs

Could you care for a dog that is going blind or deaf? What about dogs with CCDS? That is Canine Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome. (2) These are real questions to need to consider when searching for a senior dog to adopt.

Senior dogs will pass away sooner

Very macabre yes, but we need to talk about it! There’s a reason why dog shelters will refer to your place as the dog’s “forever home”. You are essentially caring for them in the twilight years of their life, which may be short-lived. You have to be prepared for the possibility that your new adopted dog could pass away within the next two-three years. But you can still create wonderful, long-lasting memories with them and give them the best possible end to their life.


How To Choose The Right Senior Dog For You

Medical History

Everyone worries about the health of their dog. The worry doubles with senior dogs and you have a right to feel nervous. Some dogs have quite complicated medical histories, but that doesn’t need to be a burden for you. If you have the funds and capacity to care for a dog with medical needs, you’d still be bringing a loving, loyal friend into your home. You just have a little more to do to keep them well. One of my dogs is on 12 tablets a day, but she is still the light of our lives.

That said, if you’re a busy person with limited means for medication and/or physical therapy, you’ll want to choose a senior dog that is quite healthy. As you saw in the myths section, not all old dogs are sick!

Related: Caring For A Sick Dog.

Family History

Old dogs can end up in rescue homes for many reasons. Most adoption centres will have a decent amount of information about the dog’s former life. Did they live with children? What ages were those children? Did they live with other pets? Did they live with other dogs?

Think about how the dog will fit into your life. It isn’t hard to train older dogs but it is much harder to socialise them.

Breed

The breed is probably the least important part of dog adoption. I’ve spoken about this a few times but dogs are individuals. Why I mention breed here is because of the grooming needs, size, and natural disposition your dog may have. Although I would argue that senior dogs have much more settled personalities due to life experience as opposed to genetics at this stage of their lives. But consider the length of your dog’s hair, how large they are and what ailments they may be at risk of as they age further.


How To Prepare To Bring Your New Rescue Dog Home

Bringing your senior dog home is relatively similar to bringing home any adult dog. We’ve done a full in-depth YouTube video on this topic but here is a quick guide on how to prepare your home to bring home a senior dog:

  1. Make sure you have all the dog gear you need. That includes leashes, dog bowls, dog food, collars, beds etc. 
    •  Determine whether your dog needs crate training. Most senior dogs won’t need crate training but consult the staff at the rescue shelter for advice for your chosen adoptee.
    • If your new dog has any incontinence issues, prepare with pee pads.
    • Check out the best senior dog food.
  2. Choose a vet you trust and book your first appointment with them after your dog has  settled.
  3. Determine your walking routes suitable for your dog’s activity level. If your dog isn’t very energetic or mobile, they still need exercise! Even a walk to the end of the street and back is a valuable exercise and fresh air your dog will love. If your senior dog is quite active, plan for longer, more adventurous walking routes.
  4. Make sure that all members of your family (if applicable) meet your dog before taking them home. If you have another dog, introduce them outside the home too.
  5. If you can, book time off for their first week at home. This isn’t always possible but can help with integrating your dog at home safely.

How To Integrate An Elderly Dog Into Your Life

We can get a little overexcited when a new dog enters our lives. I know exactly how you feel! By following these guidelines, you’ll be able to integrate your dog into your life in the smoothest way possible.

Create a safe space for your dog

The RSPCA notes the importance of creating a calm and safe environment for your new rescue dog when they arrive home.

“That’s why it’s best to give your dog time to settle into their new home and make sure you provide them with a safe place to relax. It’s also important to give the dog some space and don’t force interaction.” - RSPCA Victoria. (3)

Older dogs do enjoy rest and relaxation more than younger dogs, so it’s important to create solace for them to have some quiet time. This could be a crate or kennel or corner that is just theirs. As your dog is settling in, remind your family members to also give them space and not force them to play or interact excessively. Moving is hard for the best of us so go easy on your dog!

Take great care when introducing your dog to other pets and dogs

We have written an article about the delicate dance of introducing your pup to another dog. Tensions can be high so please handle this with care. The main takeaway is to be incredibly patient and not force your dogs together if they don’t want to be. In time, they will form a relationship. All bonds take time so try not to force them.

Establish a routine straight away

Think of the best times to feed and exercise your dog daily. Not just when you’re at home but also when you’re at work. My advice is to plan for a bad week. What is the absolute bare minimum you can do on a daily and weekly basis for walking routines? What are the best mealtimes for your dog when life is particularly hectic? Establish those routines from the beginning to help your dog feel more at peace.


Final Thoughts: The Joys Of Owning A Senior Dog

I hope I have provided a balanced argument about adopting a senior dog. Far too many elderly dogs are left in rescue shelters because of the myths surrounding older dog care. It can be more complex but not always. And some folks are well suited to caring for a dog at the tail end of their lives despite any complexity. It all depends on the type of dog owner you are and where you get your joy. If you want to raise a young dog from puppyhood to elderly life, watching them grow and shaping them, that’s a wonderful thing to do. There’s also a huge amount of satisfaction, companionship and love you can get from caring for a senior dog with their fully-formed personality and gentle nature.

My only ask is to stay open-minded. Adopting a senior dog can teach you so much about dogs, aging, and caring for a unique furry friend. Let us know in the comments of our YouTube channel about your experience of adopting an older dog!

References:

  1. Llera, R. Buzhardt, L. “How Old is Old? Comparing Dog Age to Human Age”. VCA Hospitals. Retrieved July 16, 2022. https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/how-old-is-old-comparing-dog-age-to-human-age
  2. Elfenbein, H. October 28, 2019. “Dog Dementia: Symptoms, Causes, Treatment and Life Expectancy”. PetMD. Retrieved July 16, 2022. https://www.petmd.com/dog/conditions/neurological/c_dg_cognitive_dysfunction_syndrome
  3. “Bringing your new dog home”. RSPCA Victoria.  Retrieved July 16, 2022. https://rspcavic.org/learn/bringing-your-new-dog-home/
Olivia De Santos

Olivia is a professional writer and animal lover. She loves spending time with her Podengo and Flat Coated Retriever, and writing pieces to help people to be better dog owners

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