You Have Questions About Senior Dogs Here Are Some Answers.
Updated: Jun 25
Questions about Adopting an "Older" Dog.....
What exactly is a "senior" dog? .....Answer: Veterinarians say that dogs start to fall into the category of "senior" around the age of 7. However, it depends on size. The smaller the dog, the later in life the dog becomes a senior. Nonetheless, a dog in a shelter can be as young as 5 and still have trouble finding a new home. That's why we have ads on the srdogs site for dogs of 5 years and up. Technically speaking, many of these dogs aren't "seniors" in the veterinary sense of the term, but to many prospective adopters they are already "over the hill." Of course, that isn't true. Dogs, when well cared for and given appropriate exercise, remain happy, active, playful and puppy-like well into their senior years.
Before addressing the other questions and concerns many people have about senior dog adoption, we'd like to share with you the following comments that were posted by someone on Craig's List:
"Thank you, people who dumped my dogs at the shelter!
"I wanted to say 'thank you' to the people who dumped the two dogs I now call my own at the shelter. Because of you, I have been blessed. Let me explain:
"Dog No. 1 came to be mine almost seven years ago, when I went to the shelter and saw him there on the last day before he was to be euthanized. According to the notes, he was an owner turn-in because 'the wife' was pregnant and they 'didn't have enough time for the dog.' The notes also mentioned you and 'the wife' were afraid that the dog -- a whopping 50 pounds -- might hurt a newborn, even though I don't think I've ever heard of Border Collies doing that. (Maybe you misunderstood... they said 'herding,' not 'hurting.') THANK YOU SO MUCH! I took him home and found him to be the politest dog I've ever met, and, having had dogs all my life, that's saying a LOT. He was housebroken, he was gentle, he learned to heel off-lead, sit, stay, down-stay (timed him at half an hour, unmonitored, on three separate occasions). I can tell him to get into the tub and bathe him without needing to drag him, restrain him, or wrestle him -- no collar, no lead! When we go hiking, parents stop and tell me my dog is better behaved than their kids. (Are you ever going to walk by with your six-year old, who will probably want to pet this gentleman, and think -- 'Hmmm, that looks an awful lot like my old dog?') This dog is so striking in looks and obedient in manner that I've had a Nutro rep tell me he should be their poster dog. And he CAME this way -- I didn't have the puppy phase, the teething, the housebreaking, the gawky phase. He's always been this graceful, polite, amazing dog who gets along with dogs, cats, kids (he would have been great with your kid). Thank you SO MUCH for giving him up!
"Dog No. 2: After a few wonderful years with Dog No. 1, I started looking to add another furkid to my family, since I have the room and the love. After seeing a purebred languishing in a shelter for weeks and subsequently calling about her, the shelter staff told me NO ONE had come out to see her (because she wasn't a puppy?). According to the notes and to the shelter staff who were there when you dumped her, you didn't want her anymore because she 'didn't get along with your other dogs.' I'm not sure what that means, because I took ten minutes to watch her, and she seemed terrified of everyone -- people AND dogs AND cats. I brought her home and she perked up when she met my other dog. My cats told her that she wasn't going to boss them around, and boy did she pay attention! It was a wonderful treat to find out she was housebroken, that she didn't destroy a dang thing (I do so like these older dogs!), she was calm and snuggly, and played with my dog, and my friend's dog, and she smiles and wags her entire body when I come home. At night, she curls up next to my other dog. She dances for me when she sees the leash, and she's turning out to be an awesome walking and running partner. When she's not excited about going out, she's a complete and utter couch potato, and I feel like I have the best of both worlds. In fact, I think I have the best dogs I could possibly have -- and all without housebreaking, potty training, chewing, digging, puppy obedience classes, and the rest. All I did was come pick them up when you dropped them off, and pay a pittance of a fee (how much are Maltipoos and Cockapoos and Labradoodles nowadays?)
"So THANK YOU! people who dumped my dogs at the shelter. You'll never know what you gave me -- because you probably had no clue what you were giving up. But the dogs are home now and safe and loved, and will be for the rest of their days. I think, if they could, they would pass along their thanks to you, too." .....From a posting on Craig's List, author unknown.
Now for some other questions and concerns:
Won't I be adopting someone else's problems? If the dog were so wonderful, why wouldn't they have kept him? ......Answer: Older dogs lose their homes for many different reasons....most of them having nothing to do with problems the dog has, but rather with those of the person or family surrendering the dog. Many folks think dogs who end up at shelters or in rescue are all genetically and behaviorally inferior. But, it is not uncommon for very expensive, well-bred, well-trained dogs to outlive their usefulness or novelty with folks who bought them on impulse and no longer want to take responsibility for them.
Other reasons older dogs become homeless: death of a guardian....not enough time for the dog...... change in work schedule..... new baby.....need to move to a place where dogs are not allowed.... kids going off to college.... allergies.... change in "lifestyle".... prospective spouse doesn't like dogs. (All these reasons are taken from real case histories.)
Ty, a stray, about 8 years old; and Jazzie, an owner-surrender, 9 years old --adopted in San Francisco through Norcal Golden Retriever Rescue (Photo by Charlene Campbell)
What advantages do older dogs have over puppies or young dogs? ......Answer: Older dogs who are offered for adoption by shelters or rescue agencies generally have had some training, both in obedience and house manners. (Some dogs, due to the confusion and upset of being uprooted and finding themselves in a chaotic shelter environment, may temporarily forget their housetraining. Inevitably, once established in their new home, they remember.) Older dogs have learned what "no" means and how to leave the furniture, carpets, shoes, and other "chewables" alone. (If they hadn't learned that, they wouldn't have gotten to be "older" dogs.) They have been "socialized" and learned what it takes to be part of a "pack" and to get along with humans and, in most cases, other dogs, and in some other cases, cats, as well. Older dogs, especially those who have once known it, appreciate love and attention and quickly learn what's expected of them to gain and keep that love and attention. Older dogs know how to let you finish the newspaper, sitting calmly next to you, while your workday stress flows away and your blood pressure lowers. They are also instant companions, ready for hiking, riding in the car, walking on leash, fetching, etc. Finally, older dogs are a "known commodity." They are easy to assess for size and temperament, and you also don't have to guess how big they'll grow or whether they'll turn out to have serious behavior problems.
Aside from any advantages an older dog has, is there any good reason to adopt an older dog instead of a puppy, who has his whole life ahead of him? ......Answer: Just about everyone who enters a shelter is looking for a puppy or a young dog (generally a year old or under). There are also many people who buy puppies from breeders or puppy mills (especially online). By adopting an older dog, we can make a statement about compassion and the value of all life at all ages, as well as register a protest against the indiscriminate and inhumane breeding of dogs, whether it is for profit or to "teach the children about birth." And, of course, just as a puppy has his whole life ahead of him, so does an older dog have the rest of his life in front of him. You can give that older dog the best years of his life while at the same time bringing a wonderful addition into your family. Another consideration is the larger goal of making the U.S. a "no-kill" nation. By setting the example of adopting a dog who would be otherwise euthanized just because of his age, you can help create the climate that will enable the U.S. to attain that goal.
Don't older dogs cost more in vet bills? ...... Answer: Veterinary attention and medication are needed at all ages and may or may not be more costly for an older dog. Before you adopt a senior, be sure you get a health report from a veterinarian. That way, if you discover that the dog has a health problem, you can decide if you are able to make the needed financial commitment before making an emotional commitment.
Do older dogs have any "special needs"? ...... Answer: With a health assessment of the dog, you will know whether any age-related conditions are present and you can take appropriate measures to address them. Otherwise, older dogs need all the things younger dogs do -- good nutrition, exercise (although less intensive, usually, than for a younger dog), and regular visits to the vet. The "Care" pages on srdogs provide further insight into maintaining an older dog's health.
Isn't it true that you can't train an older dog the way you can train a puppy? ......Answer: Dogs can be trained at any age. The old adage, "You can't teach an old dog new tricks," just isn't true. Read the case study of "Autumn," who was called "Stupid" by her family for the first ten years of her life. She was adopted at the age of 10 by a caring person and at age 14 was winning awards for being first in her obedience class. Also see the notes on "Training" below.
How long will it take for an older dog to settle into a routine with me? ......Answer: Each dog is an individual and comes with a unique set of experiences and from varying circumstances, so it is hard to predict how long a specific dog will require to make an adjustment. If a dog has been in a shelter or kennel, the stresses of such an experience may cause him to be confused and disoriented for quite some time. Some dogs forget or are confused about their housetraining. With care, patience, and a kind, understanding, loving attitude, just about any dog will come around after a while. It may be a few days, a few weeks, or a few months. For a case in point, please read the history of "Blackberry." In our own experience, we've had dogs who are right "at home" as soon as they walk in the door and others who have needed a couple of weeks to make a basic adjustment, and then became more and more "at home" over the course of several months.
Is there anything special I will need to do during the dog's "adjustment" period? ......Answer: Again, this will depend on the individual dog. In general, with a dog of any age, it is a good idea to set aside a period of several weeks during which you can spend more time than usual in reassuring the dog, establishing good communcation with the dog, and creating the special bond that will ensure a good future together.
What kind of help and support can I expect from the agency through which I adopt a senior dog?...... Answer: Agencies vary in the resources they have available. Some will guide you carefully through any adjustment period that may be needed; others just don't have the staff or resources. A number offer to cover the costs of veterinary care for a period of time. If you feel you need assistance of any kind, check with the agency to see if it is provided.
I just lost my old dog. What if I lose another soon after I adopt him? .... Answer: Grief is a very personal matter. Some people feel that giving a home to an older dog in need is a tribute to their former dog and actually eases their pain. Also, knowing that adoption has saved a dog from euthanasia and will allow her quality time for whatever period she has left, often enables people to focus on the positives and to deal better with loss.
Consider also that there are never any guarantees about length of life with any dog. Quality of time together can matter a great deal more than quantity.