Choosing Dogs During Retirement

As dog-lovers enter their senior years, they need to be ready to rethink their choice of canine companions.

The years from 65 to 85 and beyond are ever-changing. Whether you intend to travel more or settled down to a quieter lifestyle, the change requires attention to the four-legged friend who will share the experiences with you. I come to this topic as someone who has helped seniors train their dogs.

Doggy Downsizing

By far the biggest error I’ve seen are big dog lovers who don’t think to downsize. I love big dogs myself. But a number of factors make large breeds a poor choice for seniors. The foremost problem is the development of arthritis and other painful joint conditions. I repeatedly worked with seniors dismayed at their inability to control their giant puppy because of pain in hands or shoulders. This situation is far easier to avoid than to remedy. Be grateful for and have fond reminiscences of your days with jubilant rotties, galumphing giant labs, or rambunctious bouviers. Admit that their sheer clumsy strength as puppies make them a liability for you as you become more fragile.

Another problem that seemed to catch seniors by surprise were health problems that would waylay them. Often this was surgery and often related to the painful conditions mentioned above. People with large, young, energetic dogs would end up with no way to exercise them during months of recovery. These folks had often downsized their living conditions as well. Though they had yards, they were usually a fraction of an acre, which isn’t large enough for a young labradoodle to wear itself out. And since they were having trouble coping with one large dog, getting a second for it to play with seemed a foolish solution. However, two shelties could have chased each other into a state of collapse several times a day in an average-sized yard.

Finally, large dogs are also harder to take with you when you go to visit kids and grandkids and are more expensive to board if you don’t take them along. The average boarding facility is also unlikely to be able to exercise you dog adequately during an extended stay.

Learn from my students’ travails. Open yourself to a new adventure: the world of medium-sized and small dogs. Note that you don’t have to jump from german shepherds to chihuahuas. But be prepared for some canine culture shock in any case.

Scope Out Your Options

Each breed has a different general character even if each dog within it may also be an individual. Get a dog breed book. Start with those you’re most interested in. Look up breeders in your area online, be honest about your situation and ask for a visit. Most will be thrilled to show off their breed of choice.

Another great adventure in dog discovery is to foster for a shelter or rescue organization. Some people are suspicious that these organizations really want you to keep the dogs put in your care. This is not the case. They truly need people to house dogs in a normal home situation to prepare them for their permanent home. You are free to give them the stipulation of fostering only small or medium-sized dogs. You can also become involved in a breed-specific rescue and thus get experience with a breed you think is a good fit.

Seniors for Seniors

So far we’ve focused on the limiting factors that crop up as we get older. However, the benefits also make us better dog owners in general. We mellow. We understand what it is to have limitations, to be in pain, to loose the acuity of our senses. This tends to make older people more patient and compassionate. We also have more time to devote to our furry friends. This makes seniors perfect owners for senior dogs. Senior dogs are usually the last ones to be adopted because most people looking for a dog are wanting either a puppy or an active family member, not a dog past its prime or presumably set in its ways. And how about this motivating news: large senior dogs are the least likely to be adopted. Yes, here is your opportunity to continue your love of large dogs. Adopt older large dogs who have settled down and primarily want to lie at your feet in a climate controlled environment to the end of their days. Keep in mind, though, that if you’re still in a period where you’re traveling frequently, taking on a senior dog is not terribly compassionate. Senior dogs need comfort and familiarity. They are usually more attached to their owners, following them from room to room. If you are likewise ready to settled down and want some tight companionship, an older dog or two may be the perfect addition to your life.

Matters of Succession

Back to the grim truth. Your health is going to become increasingly less stable. If you have arrived at an age where it’s uncertain how much longer you have to live, consult with family and friends about who will take your pet after you’re deceased. If you’re getting a new pet, consult with whoever is the heir of your canine fortune. Only take on an animal you can both agree on. Many studies show that having a pet is good for one’s health so as your health gradually declines, don’t give up pet ownership out of fear of what will happen to them after you’re gone. Make plans and enlist the help of other dog-lovers. You have much to give and there are many dogs needing good homes.

Enjoy Dogs to the End of Your Days!

If you decide to stick with a beloved large breed, seek out a trainer before you get a puppy and start lessons as soon as possible. If necessary, board the dog with a trainer during the most challenging developmental periods.

Best of luck as you enter a new period in your life. I hope the perspective I’ve offered helps you make wise decisions so that your animal companions are always a blessing that add happiness to your days.

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