olderdog

Why Choose an Older Dog?

You have decided that you are ready to share your life with a dog; that you now have the time, resources and energy to commit to opening your home and your heart to a new friend. On your way to the shelter, you feel a sense of excitement and anticipation – this will be great! When you arrive, you quickly head toward the part of the shelter where the dogs are kept and walk slowly down the aisle amid the cacophony of barking, peering into the different cages for that special face. Then you see it! The big brown eyes meet yours, the tail starts wagging furiously, and you’re completely smitten! You check the information card on the cage and discover that he is a male, neutered (good), mixed breed (no problem) and approximately 6 to 7 years old.

“Oh no!”, you think, “He’s gorgeous, but he’s too old! And, why would he end up here if he was worth keeping?” Think again – there are many good reasons for adopting an older dog and also many reasons why older dogs are given up.

Many people believe that if they adopt an older dog, they are taking on someone else’s problems or that the dog is genetically inferior as a pure bred. However, it is not uncommon that expensive, pedigreed dogs become more time-consuming than their former owners realized, or that they were essentially an impulse puppy purchase to begin with and are no longer considered cute and cuddly.

But, an older dog of any kind can be given up for a number of reasons: the death of a guardian, problems with allergies, a new baby, change in a living situation that will not allow pets, increased work schedule, etc.

So why take on an older dog? Well, there are many practical reasons and, if you’ve ever had a puppy in your life, this will make a lot of sense! First, older dogs are more often than not  and do not have to be taken out in the middle of the night. At this stage of life, they have probably been socialized with other dogs and people, and sometimes with cats. They are more mellow and calmer than younger dogs and know how to wait more patiently. They have usually had at least some basic training and know the difference between what is acceptable as chewing material and what isn’t. They are less apt to take off and disappear for hours on end and because you already know how big they are, so you can assess their needs for space and food.

This is a good time to dispel the old adage that “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” – you can! In fact, older dogs, because they are calmer and more focused, are often easier to train than a younger dog who is easily distracted.

Because an older dog does not have the need for as much exercise as a younger dog, they make good companions for people who don’t want to take on hours of walking or hiking every day. Additionally, older more mellow dogs are often ideal for people who have young children and who don’t want to worry about a bouncy dog jumping on the children and knocking them over, or one who needs to go for a walk just when the baby wakes up and needs changing.

An older dog has “settled” into his or her personality; the dog you first meet will likely be the dog you will live with. And, because an older dog has usually lived with human companionship, they are delighted to do so again. Their gratitude at having another chance to give and receive love is unbounded. Although some older dogs may need a short period of time to become adjusted to their new home, many don’t and become a member of the family almost immediately.

One concern often expressed about adopting an older dog is the possibility of increased veterinary costs. Dogs of all ages need regular veterinary care, but before you adopt any dog, especially an older one, it is a good idea to have him or her thoroughly examined. You will then know if there is a serious health problem and whether you can commit to the expense and potential heartache.

Aside from the practical reasons for adopting an older dog, there is an important ethical issue involved as well. A statement is made about the value of life, no matter how many years there may be left in that life. Do we as humans “discard” a sentient, feeling creature simply because he or she is older? Would we wish that on any living being, especially when they have become more dependent on us?

By choosing to care for an older dog, you have the unique opportunity to provide comfort, companionship and dignity to an animal who now needs our care and compassion more than ever. And, is this not what we would wish for any living being?

by Debby Dobson
Debby Dobson has been working with dogs for over 20 years and she is the owner of “Good Dog!” Animal Behavior.