Why You Should Adopt a Senior Dog

Choosing to foster or adopt a senior dog is truly a great gift. Senior dogs have a harder time coping with the daily stressors that can come with a shelter environment. As a result, their health can deteriorate quickly, making them even less likely to find a home and more likely to be euthanized. When you give a senior dog a home, you give the gift all dogs should have – living out their golden years with a person who loves and cares for them. This truly embodies the spirit of “thanks and giving” that we also celebrate in the month of November.

By Kat Stevens-Stanley, local dog trainer and partner of The Pet Beastro

On the “dog calendar,” November welcomes Adopt a Senior Pet Month. If you are considering adding a new four-legged addition to your family, a new senior buddy (a dog typically older than age six) may be just the perfect pal for you.

Choosing to foster or adopt a senior dog is truly a great gift. Senior dogs have a harder time coping with the daily stressors that can come with a shelter environment. As a result, their health can deteriorate quickly, making them even less likely to find a home and more likely to be euthanized. When you give a senior dog a home, you give the gift all dogs should have – living out their golden years with a person who loves and cares for them. This truly embodies the spirit of “thanks and giving” that we also celebrate in the month of November.

The Benefits of Adopting a Senior Dog

Why You Should Adopt a Senior DogSenior dogs are often passed over in a shelter or rescue environment by people who head directly for the puppies. The joy of puppyhood is not to be dismissed, but with puppyhood comes a set of challenges that you may breeze right past when bringing home a senior friend. A senior dog is more likely accustomed to life with humans. They are years past the compulsive chewing phase and have outgrown the years of unruly household behavior. Many senior dogs are happy just to have a person to keep them company during their waking hours. The lower maintenance level of a senior dog can also mean less exercise requirements. If you have a very involved career or a busy home life, this can make a senior dog a great fit for your lifestyle.

Senior dogs can end up in a rehoming or shelter situation for a variety of reasons, but I’ve known many a dog who needed a new home because their previous owner passed away or had to move into a hospice care environment where the dog could not reside. Circumstances like this are unfortunately too common, but can result in you bringing home a dog who comes pre-loaded with knowledge of obedience cues and housetraining -- a rare find when adopting a puppy! This cuts out a lot of the work that can come with bringing home a new dog. For senior adult humans who live in communities that do accept pets, senior dogs can be a great match. Matching “seniors with seniors” encourages light exercise, can lower blood pressure and bring great joy, improving emotional health.

When you adopt a senior pet, it’s most likely what you see, is what you get. You’re looking at the dog you are going to end up with. There are no surprises when your puppy grows bigger than you expected or pictured based on a guesstimated breed identification. You will go home with a dog whose energy level is much less a mystery.

Tips for Making Your Senior Dog Feel at Home

The circumstances that led your dog into a rehoming or shelter environment, followed by going home with you can be stressful. Your dog may require several days of comfortable rest. Consider picking up an orthopedic pet bed and setting a resting place up in a quiet area of your home. Ideally this area shouldn’t be total seclusion, but a place where your dog can easily go and rest. If you like to share furniture with your animals, your new dog will probably be thrilled. Products like pet steps or ramps for your car can make sharing a space with your new dog easier.

Visitors

It can be tempting to invite all your friends and family over to meet your new dog. This can be great fun for you, but overwhelming and tough for your new senior dog (who is long past the puppy socialization period). Be sure your dog has had plenty of rest and has time to get acclimated to your home before having over a ton of visitors.

Diet

Depending on the situation your new dog has come to you from, a change to a better quality diet can be in order. If your senior pet has been eating a lower quality food for some time, be sure to transition them slowly to a new diet. Senior pets can be more likely to experience digestive upset during a big change like this, especially if their background history is a mystery.

Training

The old phrase, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” couldn’t be farther from the truth! Dogs can still learn new skills even their golden years. Even though your new dog doesn’t have all the same needs and maintenance as a puppy or adolescent dog, meeting with a dog training professional can help you determine what skills your dog already knows, what skills would be beneficial to teach him and how to reach your dog training goals with any special considerations that may be necessary. Training with your new older dog can also help strengthen the bond between you.

Kids

If your home includes babies, toddlers, or young children, take care to be extra vigilant that your children are not grabbing, leaning on, sitting on or otherwise rough housing with your new pet (this behavior is inappropriate at any age). This is advice I send home with every family, no matter how old their dog is. It's an especially important point for senior dogs as they are at higher risk for physical injury and will not appreciate this type of interaction. While humans and other primate species like to grab and hug objects we have affection for, this is not something that is repeated in the dog world and is rarely enjoyed by any dog. If you want to show affection to your new dog, be sure it does not included grabbing, squeezing or children clinging their arms around your new dog's neck.

Your senior dog should still be seen regularly by a veterinarian to ensure they are continuing to age gracefully. If you are considering a new pet this holiday season, consider welcoming home a dog who is already well seasoned at love! If you're not ready to adopt a senior but want to help one out, www.GreyMuzzle.org is a great place to find information on where to send donations and how you can further help.

***I have to share, while writing this article I asked a question in a local community group if anyone had stories and photos to share with me that I could include in this article. The response was incredible. I was filled with so much emotion at seeing the faces and reading the stories so many of you kindly shared with me. To know the love of an old dog is truly a gift whose paw prints will remain forever on your heart.

About the Author

Whether the new dog you’re bringing home is a senior, adolescent or a puppy, Kat Stevens has a customized class for you. Kat’s private in-home classes can help you learn new skills, solve undesirable behaviors and further deepen the bond between you and your dog. To find out more about making an appointment with Kat, please contact her on the web at www.KatStevensDogTraining.com, or on Facebook at facebook.com/katstevensdogtraining. Kat can also be reached directly via email at katstevensdogtraining@gmail.com.

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