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Safe Dog Breeds for Elderly People

By: Hsin-Yi Cohen BSc, MA, MSt - Updated: 11 Jul 2018 | comments*Discuss
Safe Dog For Elderly Elderly Owner Safe

While dogs for the elderly can be fantastic, helping to alleviate loneliness and boredom and even improve health, choosing the right canine companion can mean the difference between a joyful partnership or a relationship fraught with stress and anxiety - and possibly even injury. Many people immediately think of breed characteristics when selecting a dog and while breed stereotypes can be a guide, there are just as many exceptions to the rule. Terriers, for example, have long been a popular choice due to their small size but many are yappy, nippy, tough, independent, high energy animals that can roam and be difficult to train. Thus, it is better to think of certain factors when choosing a dog for the elderly, rather than any particular breed:

Size - this is one of the key issues, as the elderly can often be fragile, unsteady on their feet or have physical disabilities such as arthritis which may affect their control of a big, powerful dog. Also, if the dog becomes ill, a small dog is easier to carry and transport to the veterinarian. Thus, in general, smaller breeds tend to be more suitable to elderly people. Remember, however, that many of the small breeds - especially the terriers - can be very energetic and so could still be difficult for an elderly owner to handle, not to mention the dangers of tripping over a small, hyperactive dog. Some large breeds, such as greyhounds, can actually be very placid and inactive and thus make great pets.

Energy Levels - unless the owner is an octogenarian tri-athelete, it is usually better to choose a dog with lower exercise requirements. In general, breeds that have been developed to perform high energy tasks such as herding (Border Collie), hunting vermin (Jack Russell Terrier) or running behind carriages (Dalmatian) have naturally higher mental and physical energy levels. Unless their energies are directed into proper channels with extensive training and exercise, these dogs will often develop behavioural problems associated with boredom. Note, however, that many of the toy breeds - while having high energy - do not actually have high exercise requirements as their extremely small size means that they can get all their required exercise from running around an average-sized home.

Noisiness - in modern society, the close proximity of most homes means that tolerance towards noisy barking is very low and neighbours are quick to complain about any noisy dog they hear. An element of this can be controlled by training but certain breeds (and certain dogs within a breed) will be more vocal than others, particularly if left alone for long periods. Again, terriers can be troublesome in this regard but many small poodles, collies, spitz-type breeds and guarding breeds (eg, German Shepherd) can also be very noisy. However, if personal security for an elderly owner living alone is an issue then a noisy, territorial breed might be ideal and this could be one reason why terriers are so popular.

Trainability - even if you have no intention of taking part in Obedience competitions, the inherent willingness of a dog to please can make a huge difference to how easy it is to live with him. Dogs that have been developed to work closely with humans, such as the gundog breeds, often have a higher desire to please their owners than dogs with an independent streak, such as herding breeds and terriers.

With these factors in mind, there are certain breeds which do seem to be more suitable choices although it is important to stress again that the individual dog is more important than the breed type.

Below are some of the more popular choices for elderly owners:

Pug - robust little dog; very playful, outgoing and affectionate but does not require too much exercise.

Cocker Spaniel - affectionate and keen to please, this medium sized dog does require some grooming and can also be quite energetic.

Beagle - lovely dog with a gentle nature; however, being a hound, it can become deaf to all commands when it is on the trail of a scent.

Schnauzer (Miniature or Standard) - sociable and playful although they can be very protective and have strong guarding instincts. Their coat requires professional clipping.

Shih-Tzu - alert, friendly little dogs who live for human companionship; their coat can require some serious grooming, although it can be clipped to make it more manageable.

Pomeranian - looking like a little teddy bear, these perky little dogs will bring a smile to any face, although note that they can be noisy.

Greyhound - although large in size and contrary to popular belief, these gentle, sweet-natured dogs do not require much exercise and are quite content to laze most of the day away. The docile, low-energy adults can make particularly good pets for elderly owners who want a "big" dog.

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[Add a Comment]
@Thia - dogs who have been brought up with cats are usually good options. But you may find your cat might move home if you get a dog (unless the dog is pretty quiet and not going to pester the cat) as cats tend to be quite territorial. If you get a puppy that might terrorise the cat it can be a bit of a nightmare. What about an older rescue dog? That way you can borrow it from the kennels for a few days to see if they get on and if you don't you can send it back. Buy a puppy and you're stuck. Just a thought.
Cath67 - 12-Jul-18 @ 1:59 PM
I am 80 and in good health - reasonably lively and can walk fast.I have always wanted a dog - since being a child.We always had cats though.I have one lovely one at the moment - so would like a dog that was ok with cats and also with small children.
Thia - 11-Jul-18 @ 10:48 PM
@Karen - dog rescue centres do re-home dogs with the elderly and a dog that needed minimum exercise would be required, or a dog-walker needed. Plus, it would need to get on with cats. Speak to your local dog rescue and of course your MiL, as she would have to consent. Perhaps an older dog may suit, obviously a young alsatian is not going to. It's always sad when a person loses their companion.
Gill. - 26-Sep-17 @ 2:04 PM
My mother in law is 86 and has just had to have her alsatian put to sleep after being her companion for 15 years she is missing having her around. Do rescue centres rehome dogs with the elderly? She has 3 cats and she lives independently. She has a garden but I'm not sure if she would be able to exercise a dog by walking the streets. Just looking for advice on what would be the best route to take.
Karen - 25-Sep-17 @ 11:38 PM
@Jean - ahhhh so sorry to hear this. It's like losing a member of the family. I really feel for you and I agree, golden retrievers are lovely dogs :(
Maddie - 10-Aug-17 @ 11:28 AM
I'M 71 and just lost the most wonderful dog an older person can have. But also a great family dog, a golden retriever.a beautiful cuddley dog. Their temperament can not be beat, sweet, smart and so willing to please. In time I will be getting another.
Jean - 9-Aug-17 @ 12:14 AM
@Silver - you could try a dog from a dog's home that has been brought up and is already good with cats. Some dogs homes will let you trial the dog which will also help. Pam
PTT - 13-Jun-17 @ 11:44 AM
I have very bad mobility issues and use a mobility scooter, I also have 4 cats which have grown up around dog, 2 are not good with large dogs. What would be the best type of dog for me to get, as I'm concidering getting one depending on recommendations. Thank you
Silver - 12-Jun-17 @ 3:38 PM
At the moment I have a Half Persian cat and she is 18 years old I have been struggling not to have her put to sleep but now she is poorly I am going to have to let her go it breaks my heart when she goes I am thinking of getting a tiny dog something like a teddy bear dog that I can love like I loved my cat I am 70 IN April do you think it will be okay .
dotty - 18-Feb-17 @ 7:44 PM
Happy - Your Question:
My husband and I are in late 60's (don't feel like it) had a American bulldog our sweet boy past away about a month ago we were thing of a mastiff do you think to much of a dog for us live in twin home with fenced yard would take him for training thank you

Our Response:
A bull mastiff is a powerful and potentially aggressive dog that needs a fair amount of exercise and because it also likes a lot of company does not like to be left outside. If you go into your 70s as your dog is maturing and one or either of you become a bit more frail, this animal can be a lot of dog to handle. If you get an older, well-trained one from a dogs' home, then this may be a better bet. But training one from a pup when you are older can be a big ask as although they are incredibly loyal and affectionate, they will take quite a bit of your energy.
SaferPets - 8-Sep-16 @ 12:49 PM
My husband and I are in late 60's (don't feel like it) had a American bulldog our sweet boy past away about a month ago we were thing of a mastiff do you think to much of a dog for us live in twin home with fenced yard would take him for training thank you
Happy - 7-Sep-16 @ 8:03 PM
jezlyn - Your Question:
I am 65 love walking. I would like a dog but I don't want a small one a medium one is ok but I just don't know what to get

Our Response:
If you are still unsure after the information listed on this page, have you thought of doing some voluntary dog walking? The Cinnamon Trust is a national charity for the elderly, the terminally ill and their pets and takes on volunteer dog walkers to help those people who can no longer walk their dogs. It may be a good way to check out particular breeds through practice rather than theory, please see link here. I hope this helps.
SaferPets - 28-Jun-16 @ 11:30 AM
I am 65 love walking. I would like a dog but I don't want a small one a medium one is ok but I just don't know what to get
jezlyn - 27-Jun-16 @ 2:38 PM
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