Before my Mother moved to longterm care she resided in the beautfiul but somewhat remote Margaree Valley on Cape Breton Island. There, a local breeder sold her a male Maremma puppy which grew to be 150 pounds. This beautiful white dog with his black eyes was more than any senior could handle. Running toward you he would literally shake the ground, then give you a playful hip butt as he sailed by, something which could cause any senior to fall. It was an entirely inappropriate dog for a woman in her 80s living alone. Unfortunately, a few months after she acquired “Wooly” as he was known, she suffered an unrelated fall and was hospitalized. It fell to me to clean up her affairs which included this lovely dog. I called my husband in Toronto to test the waters and described what a beautiful dog this Maremma was and what a sweet nature he possessed. We already had a male shepherd at the time and 2 male dogs in one space might have been a challenge. There was a long pause on the other end of the line and then a plaintive “Pleeease… pleeease, do not bring that dog back with you.”
Ultimately Wooly was adopted by a bachelor veterinarian on Prince Edward Island where he had 200 acres in which to run and guard, so there was a happy ending to my Mother’s accident – for the dog anyway…
I am an animal lover as are many Seniors, but…
Reflecting on seniors and dogs – what are the advantages to owning man’s best friend?
Owning a pet as a senior enhances health and longevity. They truly are man’s best friend in more ways than one. But pet ownership is also a longterm commitment and full of responsibilty. Seniors have to assess where they reside, their budget, their own capabilities and their temperament, then try to find a match from the many breeds available. Although miniature dogs come to mind as seniors tend to downsize and move into smaller spaces, miniatures are not necessarily the first or only choice. Some larger dogs have temperaments entirely compatible to life with a senior.
Let’s review 5 of the Calmest Dog Breeds:
1) The Labrador Retriever is the most popular of North American breeds. Many work as service dogs given their friendly nature with people and other dogs. Although they do shed, they are easy to groom, eager to please and are easily trainable. That said, as with most dogs, early socialization and obedience classes are recommended. The high energy Labrador Retriever would be best suited to an active senior, one who is dedicated to their exercise and daily walks. Of note: Seniors who walk their dogs regularly have better heart health and scientists claim that pet owners in their senior years have a 24% risk reduction for death from any cause. Movement matters.
Height:up to 24.5″ male and up to 23.5″ for a female
Weight: up to 80 lbs for a male and up to 70 lbs for a female
Life Expectancy: 10-14 years
Colours: Black, Chocolate or Yellow
2) The Golden Retriever is right up there with the Labrador Retriever in terms of its popularity and need for the company of its owner. Retriever puppies are adorable. These dogs are intelligent, friendly, love people and because they love people do not make great guard dogs. Active seniors would make ideal owners as this is a high energy pooch. Golden Retrievers are strong swimmers and used as sporting dogs. They also work as guide dogs for the blind and are employed in search and rescue operations. Goldens do shed and require regular grooming. Once again, early socialization and obedience classes are recommended.
Height: 23-24 ” for a male and 21.5-22.5 ” for a female
Weight: up to 70 lbs for a male and up to 65 lbs for a female dog.
Life Expectancy: 10-12 years
Colours: Cream, Light or Dark Golden
3) Pugs are notably friendly smaller dogs well suited to families. They are described as robust happy dogs, loving and lovable. Potential skin problems on their face require attention with daily cleansing. Owners claim their Pugs are the ideal housedog. They thrive in both urban and rural environments, with children or senior citizens. Pugs tend to be foodies so attention to portion control and exercise is mandatory. They do best in moderate weather, neither too hot or too cold.
Height: 10-13 ”
Weight: 14-18 lbs.
Life Expectancy: 13-15 years
Colours: Silver, Apricot or Black
4) The Newfoundland Dog is a large powerful dog which has earned its reputation as a great babysitter for children and a superb swimmer known for its innate lifesaving ability. Although the size can be intimidating the Newfoundland dog has a gentle temperament. Newfies need regular exercise and are easily trainable. A dog this size would not be appropriate in a retirement home setting but a single family dwelling with yard would work. Because of its size, early socialization and obedience training are recommended. Brushing 3 X a week is recommended so that their coat does not mat.
Height: 28″ for a male and 26 inches for a female
Weight: 130-150 lbs., male – 100-120 lbs, female
Life Expectancy: 9-10 years.
Colours: Gray, Brown, Black
5) The Great Dane
Finally, the intimidating size of the Great Dane is belied by the dog’s gentle nature. Danes are patient with children and demonstrate a sweet disposition. They’ve proven that they can be wonderful family pets. That said, if this dog senses danger to its family, it will put up a formidable challenge. Because of its size this breed needs to be socialized early and participate in obedience training. It is a shedder and requires regular brushing. Definitely another breed unsuited to living in a retirement home but a gentle pet for any senior or seniors living in a single family home with a yard. Exercise is recommended 3 X per day and because of their curious nature, Danes should be leashed at all times when outside their yard unless they are in a secure setting.
Height: 30-32 ” for a male and 28-30″ for a female
Weight: 140-170 lbs for a male and 110-140 lbs for a female
Life Expectancy: 8-10 years
Colours: Numerous – black, blue, brindle fawn, chocolate, silver etc.
When smaller Dogs are the only option:
We’ve already mentioned the Pug but there are several other small dogs suited to living in a smaller space. These include:
1) The Papillon
Known for its intelligence, although appearing to be fragile this petit dog is actually athletic and hardy. These dogs are loyal companions and friendly. They can reside in any climate and are suited to either rural or city life. Noted performers and consistent winners in agility competitions, the Papillon would suit any active senior. Plus the grocery bill for this dog would be manageable given their size and weight.
Height: 8-11 inches
Weight: 5-10 lbs
Life Expectancy: 14-16 years
Colours: Numerous – White & black, lemon, red, sable, fawn etc.
2) The Pomeranian
Tiny but a good watchdog when necessary, the Pom acts like any big dog would. Easily trained, alert and smart, this little dog enjoys exercise indoors or out and can live in any city or suburb. Housebreaking can be a challenge with this breed so patience and consistency are required. The Pom requires grooming and regular exercise. Because of their size they can be a target for winged predators and should never be allowed outdoors on their own. They’re also escape artists and any fenced yard should be checked for escape ports and be fortified.
Weight: 3-7 lbs
Life Expectancy: 12-16 years
Colours: There are many available but the most common are orange or red
3) The ShihTzu
Originating in China, this regal little dog was the go to house pet for most of the Ming Dynasty and carries itself in accordance with its lineage. Nicknamed the “Lion Dog”, Shih Tzus are loving companions and good with children. This dog is basically a house dog requiring minimal exercise and is better suited to a senior with mobility issues. This breed can be a challenge to housebreak and will use charm to get its way. Obedience training is recommended early on. Once again, if you wish to keep your grocery bill down, these small dogs can be a solution.
Weight: 9-16 lbs.
Life Expectancy: 10-18 Years
Colours: Numerous but Gold, Black and White; Red or their combination are common.
4) The Bichon Frise
Believed to have originated in the Canary Islands, this little dog is charming, beautiful and intelligent. This is a friendly canine when it comes to other dogs and children. They can be watchdogs but prefer to get along with people. Ideal city dogs, this breed is highly trainable with the exception of housebreaking which can be a challenge. They require mid level exercise and regular play sessions with their owner and would do well living in a house with a fenced backyard. As with most dogs, early socialization and training is recommended. One problem is that they are fast and if they escape it could present a problem for any slow moving senior. Grooming is easy with brushing recommended once daily for this low shedder.
Weight: 12-18 lbs
Life Expectancy: 14-15 years
5) The Yorkshire Terrier
One of the most popular small dogs, the Yorkie is known to be feisty and sometimes self-important and bossy. These dogs are favorites for folks living in urban centres and are good watchdogs. Daily brushing and weekly baths are recommended. That said, this dog is a low shedder. Yorkies need 2 short walks a day and enjoy obedience and agility classes. The breed should be socialized early and can work as therapy dog.
Weight: 7 lbs.
Life Expectancy: 11-15 years
Colours: range from black and tan, black and gold, blue and gold, and blue and tan
Main considerations in choosing a breed
Because pet ownership should be considered a longterm commitment, choosing the right breed for your lifestyle is imperative. Consider your ability to exercise a dog regularly as most do require a daily outing. Also consider the energy level of the dog. Does it mesh with your ability to keep up?
What temperament do you want in a pet? Do you want a pet for security or companionship – or both? Will you purchase pet insurance early on to cover any veterinarian bills because they will become a fact of life – or do you have the means to pay as you go?
Are you willing to dedicate the necessary time and effort to train and socialize your dog? This is your responsibilty and there might be consequences if you do not take it seriously. Does your budget allow all this and then provide good quality food for this animal?
Quality dogfood is a fundamental investment if you want a healthy dog. If you don’t provide a good quality diet for your dog, the money you think you might save will be spent later when you have to visit the vet. It is recommended that you thoroughly research any breed you consider making a member of your family. Research the temperament, the known health problems, the energy level and the life expectancy. Don’t take on any animal if you’re not fully committed to becoming their forever home.
Visit before you buy – and then be kind
Please don’t buy from a puppymill. Doing so will only perpetuate animal cruelty. Do visit your local SPCA or local animal shelter and seriously consider a rescue. Don’t choose a dog you do not feel a connection with. There is something to be said for chemistry – yes, even with a dog. Do commit to treating and training your dog with patience and kindness, always. Be realistic about the amount of space you can provide this animal and whether or not the breed is suited to your domicile. Do commit to providing your dog with adequate exercise. Train your pet with positive reinforcement and treats rather than aggressive correction. Realize that pets cost money but that they do give a lot in return. Do know that you will have a friend for life – one who will be there for you through thick and thin and who will see you as their whole world.