page header image

Your Happy Pet: Is a senior dog for you?

Original Publication Date: November 10, 2014
By C. Sue Furman, Ph.D.

The ASPCA and shelters around the country observe November as Adopt-A-Senior-Dog month. Veterinarians usually consider a dog a senior when he reaches the age of 7, but many dogs are considered over the hill at age 5 by prospective adopters. The reality is that dogs can remain healthy, active, and playful well into their senior years.

Unfortunately, dogs aged 5 or older are often overlooked. A common misconception is that older dogs end up in shelters because their behavior or temperament was unacceptable to the original owner.

Older shelter dogs are not necessarily problem dogs. It is sad to say that some owners place their dog in a shelter because the novelty of having a dog wore off.

Other seniors come to a shelter because of the owner's ill health or death, allergies, loss of a job, unexpected move, change in work schedule, or new baby.

The shelter can usually give you some background about why a dog is available for adoption. If you are concerned about the size of a dog, you are in luck with a senior. He is full grown so his size is a given. A puppy, on the other hand, may or may not have a sudden growth spurt. His final proportions may surprise you.

There are actually many advantages to adopting a senior. A senior generally comes with manners. He is usually house trained and knows the meaning of "no." It is up to you to teach him the items like furniture and shoes that are out of bounds in your home.

A senior comes ready to give you instant companion. He is probably leash trained so is ready to keep you company on long walks. There is a good chance he knows how to play fetch and other interactive games like tug-of-war. These are great activities to cement the bond between the two of you.

The demeanor of a senior is generally calmer than that of a puppy. He is socialized and understands how to fit in with a new family or pack. While seniors still like to play, they will wait patiently while you finish your coffee and newspaper before getting your undivided attention. A puppy might find that a difficult task.

There is really no truth to the old adage that you can't teach an old dog new tricks. An older dog has a much better attention span than a puppy and is usually quick to pick up new behaviors to please you. A little patience, a few treats, and consistent training go a long way to adding new tricks to a dog's repertoire.

Adopt a senior and welcome him into your home, your life, and your heart. He will thank you every day with tail wags, soft licks, warm cuddles, companionship, and unconditional love.

Sue Furman, Ph.D, has published two books and a DVD on canine massage and teaches classes in pet massage, acupressure, first aid and CPR. See her schedule and submit questions at