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Once a decision has been made to include a dog in a senior family member or friend's life, the next big decision is what type of dog and what age of dog. The type of dog that is best for a senior citizen is really very much a factor of the activity level, mobility, living space and expectations of the older person, just as it would be for anyone thinking about getting a dog. In general most breeds, provided they are not extremely high energy or extremely aggressive types of dogs would do very well, however typically a greater number of older adults tend to favor smaller to medium sized breeds that are suitable to smaller living spaces. If the senior is living in his or her own home, has a larger fenced yard and is very active, then even a large or giant breed can be a good match. Large to medium sized breeds are also often trained either formally or informally as assistance dogs, providing help with retrieving objects, barking to provide alerts when the phone rings or someone arrives, or even helping with movement. Of course smaller breeds can also be excellent watchdogs and can be trained at retrieving and assistance as well.
Making the decision to choose either a puppy or an adult dog is perhaps more difficult. There are a great number of reasons why either an adult dog or puppy may be the best match for an older person, so i taking the time to talk about the options and doing some research about what is available in your area can also help.
PuppiesThere are a number of advantageous to choosing a puppy for an older person, however there are also a number of potential challenges that need to be considered. In order to understand if a particular factor is an advantage or a potential difficulty or challenge, start by having an honest conversation about how active and involved in training, housebreaking and socialization the elderly person wishes to be.
Puppies do offer new owners the chance to bond with the puppy very quickly, providing a strong, trusting relationship that will last as long as the two are together. This bonding is much more important in some breeds than others, so knowing the temperament of the breed you are considering is essential. In some breeds that have difficult in bonding once they mature, starting out with a puppy will be important. Typically most breeds of dogs and most hybrids are very capable of bonding with loving, kind and consistent people in their life even if they are mature dogs when they first come together.
Another key factor in having a puppy around is the sheer enjoyment of watching the puppy mature and grow. With a purebred it is easy to predict, at least within a general range, the approximate size the dog will be when fully mature. With a hybrid the potential growth and size is a bit more unpredictable, especially if the parents are also hybrids. Even when a puppy is the result of crossing two small sized purebreds, hybrid vigor, more correctly known as heterosis, can result in a litter of puppies that will mature at a larger size than either parent. A good general rule is the small breeds will produce small to low sized medium offspring and so on up the line. Crossing a small sized breed with a medium sized breed will likely result in medium sized dogs, or at least plan for a medium sized dog when deciding if this is the best option.
Puppies will require housetraining, which will be time and energy intensive at least for a few weeks when the puppy first comes home. Crate training can really help cut down on housetraining time, plus careful scheduling of feeding and exercise can also get the puppy into a routine and prevent a lot of accidents in the house. Obedience training and lots of practice will also be required to learn both basic and advanced types of commands.
Socialization is a fun part of having a puppy and includes taking them for walks, letting them meet new people and dogs and experience new places. This interaction can also be great for the human part of the team as well. Often seniors enjoy this aspect of having a puppy just as much as the puppy enjoys the outings.
Adult DogsFor seniors that don't want to have to deal with puppy feeding, housetraining and even basic obedience training a young adult dog or an older adult dog may be a great option. Adult dogs offer several benefits over puppies in that:
It is evident what their temperament and personality will be as this is formed when they are puppies.
They are fully housetrained, eliminating the need for accident clean up and round the clock monitoring for the first few weeks.
They have been socialized and will either be accepting of other dogs, cats and people or else they won't be. There is no guessing as to how these dogs will respond with other pets in the house or with children, a real consideration, especially for grandparents.
The size of the dog is known and there is no more growing or guessing at how big he or she will get.
All adult dogs from rescues or shelters will already be spayed or neutered and have a clean bill of health, cutting down on some of the costs for the first year or so of ownership.
In most breeds the early inherited or genetic conditions will already be either present or can be eliminated as concerns that may not be known when getting a puppy.
Adult dogs will still need time to bond and build a trusting relationship with their new owners, but if they have been well treated in the past this typically is a relatively short process for most breed and dogs. These dogs will need ongoing training and socialization, but it is not as intensive as is required for the puppies. Typically adult dogs are going to be less active, especially indoors, than puppies, however this is often very breed specific and just a general statement.
The other added benefit to an adult dog is that there are so many loving, wonderful dogs that are waiting in shelters and rescues to find a good home. Working with rescue or shelter staff can ensure a great match between the senior and the dog, plus you will have help, advice and assistance moving forward in the rehoming of the dog.
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