The Best Dogs for Seniors
Dogs help keep people healthy and provide companionship, which is a boon for all—but especially the older generation.
These are the best dogs for seniors
Affectionate, loyal, nurturing: There are lots of reasons why dogs make great companions for seniors. Not only do dogs provide comfort and friendship, but they also help keep seniors healthy and encourage sociability. In fact, a recent study found that people who owned dogs were more likely to maintain better heart health and be more active than those without pets. “Dogs give seniors a reason to get up and move—and walking a dog keeps them fit,” explains Anita Kinscher-Juran, DVM, a veterinarian at VCA Midpark Animal Hospital in Middleburg Heights, Ohio. Another plus: When you get out of the house for that walk, you have more chances to be social, too, from greeting neighbours on the street to impromptu conversations with fellow dog owners. (Find out more proven health benefits of owning a dog.)
But adopting a dog is a big decision. Just like with a human companion, you need to understand what you’re looking for in a dog before committing to a long-term living arrangement.
Some important factors in determining the best dogs for seniors are energy levels (vets often recommend calm dog breeds for older folks), the size of your home and the size of the dog, the breed’s social nature (some breeds, like Pomeranians, make the best emotional support dogs) and a dog’s age and temperament. Health and grooming needs and maintenance requirements (i.e. how often dogs need to be brushed, for instance) are also important considerations. Cocker spaniels, while super cute with their big, long ears, are also known for having frequent ear infections, for instance. And while Havanese, one of the cutest white dog breeds, are very portable, they also require a lot of grooming.
The decision to adopt a pet is not one that should be taken lightly. “Bringing a pet into the household is a lifelong decision for that animal,” says Dr. Kinscher-Juran. But after thoroughly considering your situation and needs, it’s comforting to know, as Dr. Kinscher-Juran says “that there is a dog for everyone and every age.”
Here are the best dogs for seniors with breed overviews using info from the American Kennel Club.
The best dogs for seniors, overall: Bichon Frise
These white powder puffs of a dog are known for their sweet and friendly nature and are perfect for seniors seeking easy companionship—they also make great pets for first-time dog owners. These low-maintenance pups aren’t difficult to potty train and don’t shed much, which is why they are one of the best dogs for seniors, Dr. Kinscher-Juran says. (But to keep their snow-white hair looking fluffy, they do require grooming every five or so weeks.)
Bichons are gentle and playful and they get along well with other pets and children, so you don’t need to put them in another room if the grandkids stop by! At an average of 7 to 12 pounds, they are also super portable. Not to mention smart. “One of my favourite bichons knew how to give a kiss in three different languages, one of which was Portuguese,” says Dr. Kinscher-Juran.
Like the best toy dogs, they are perfectly content to sit on your lap for hours every morning, as you read the paper or watch the news. Bichon Frises don’t require long five-kilometre hikes to keep them happy, rather they’re fine with 20 to 30 minute leisurely strolls. What they crave most is attention, something seniors often have time to give.
Best lap dog: Cavalier King Charles spaniel
If you’re searching for the best dogs for seniors, Cavalier King Charles spaniels should be high on your list. It’s easy to fall in love with their big eyes and long ears. And Cavalier King Charles spaniels, in turn, like nothing more than to kiss and cuddle with their owners. Cavalier King Charles spaniels have an eager-to-please personality, which makes them easier to train. They also only require a moderate amount of exercise, which can be good for less active seniors. Beauty, of course, requires attention. Dr. Kinscher-Juran suggests brushing their long luxurious coats once a day, which isn’t hard to do, considering they’re one of the best lap dog breeds!
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Best apartment dog: Pug
The pug’s motto is “a lot in a little,” and that’s a perfect description to describe this vivacious breed. Small in size (pugs weigh on average between 14 and 18 pounds), they’re easy to manage and handle. Their expressive faces and amiable dispositions make them great companions for seniors and one of the most gentle dog breeds. Pugs adore their owners and are known for following them around (there’s a reason why they’re sometimes called little shadows). With their tendency to prefer sleep over exercise, pugs make excellent apartment dogs, though they are just as happy in a house. Keeping with their un-diva-like personality, they are easy to groom and care for. When you adopt a pug, you make a friend for life.
Best small dog: Maltese
One of the best small dogs for seniors is the Maltese. These adorable white toy dogs were specifically bred to be companions. Loyal, sweet-natured, calm, and adaptable, it’s not hard for a Maltese to quickly become a senior’s best four-legged friend. Though they love following their owners around, all they really need for health is short easy walks. At an average of 4 to 7 pounds, Maltese are also easily transportable (which is a good thing since Maltese don’t like to be left alone too long). Their small size also makes them well suited for apartments or homes with limited space. You can’t mention a Maltese without mentioning their long, silky, white mane, which can be braided or put into a bun. “For the person who wants a living Barbie doll, and loves playing with hair, Malteses are your dog,” Dr. Kinscher-Juran says. But if all that grooming becomes too much, you can have the hair trimmed or shaped down.
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Most social dog: Havanese
Sweet, friendly, and eager for attention: Havanese make great companions for seniors who find themselves at home more. As a breed, Havenese don’t like to be alone for very long. (There’s a reason they’re sometimes referred to as “Velcro dogs”). These super social dogs crave affection and get along well with other breeds and strangers. Their high intelligence makes them easier to train and potty train. And at about 10 pounds, they are easy to carry. Walks might take a bit longer with Havenese because they will want to try to say hi to everyone. But for seniors looking for sociability, this is not such a bad thing! That’s why Havanese are one of the best dogs for seniors.
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Best house dog: Miniature schnauzer
Miniature schnauzers are one of the most adaptable breeds of dogs. Originally bred as a farm dog in Germany, miniature schnauzers are just as content living in an assisted living facility as they are roaming outdoors. Small, sturdy, hypoallergenic and affectionate, miniature schnauzers are great with, say, rambunctious grandchildren. And their calmness—and sensitivity to the moods of humans—make them excellent therapy animals. Miniature schnauzers both play hard and relax hard. They need a moderate amount of daily exercise but are also good at simply lounging around, while their owners watch TV or make dinner.
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Best large dog: Greyhound
With their lean bodies, flexible spines, and long legs, greyhounds are known for their athletic ability and for being the fastest dog breed. What is not as well-known is that their gentle and sensitive temperament and minimal grooming needs make them one of the best dogs for seniors. Older, retired racing greyhounds are often the best choice for seniors. “As racing dogs, they often live on a track without much positive human and social interaction,” Dr. Kinscher-Juran says. “When they’re adopted, they’re far more appreciative of the loving home you are providing, and don’t seem to take that for granted.”
And though they do need daily exercise, greyhounds—perhaps surprisingly—are renowned for their laziness. Weighing anywhere from 60 to 75 pounds, these gentle giants are content to lounge around the house, accepting pets and back rubs.
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Best with grandkids: Golden retriever
Golden retrievers are a large breed with an even larger heart. For seniors looking for gentle dog breeds, golden retrievers are loyal, friendly and intelligent people-pleasers. They are easy to train, famous for their patience and great with the grandkids. Golden retrievers do require consistent, hard exercise every day, but they are more than content for part of that exercise to consist of finding and retrieving balls in the backyard. Though golden retrievers can weigh up to 75 pounds, they still think of themselves as lap dogs. “Golden retrievers are happy to sit with you on the patio at the end of the day, with their head on your lap, watching the sunset,” Dr. Kinscher-Juran says.
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Best hypoallergenic: Toy Poodle
For seniors with allergies or respiratory issues, poodles are one of the best hypoallergenic dog breeds. Poodles have a single-layer coat that doesn’t shed (though all that beautiful, naturally curly hair requires a lot of brushing and grooming!). They come in multiple sizes, from tiny teacup poodles, that weigh between 3 to 5 pounds to small toy poodles that weigh between 6 to 9 pounds to miniature poodles that weigh between 15 to 17 pounds to standard poodles that weigh between 45 to 70 pounds. Like the best sort of human companion, poodles are known for both their beauty and their brains. Their high intelligence makes them easy to train (helpful for seniors) and their affectionate personality makes them easy to love. The smaller toy poodle is a top choice for seniors.
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Best dog for those who like a clean house: Goldendoodle
A cross between poodles and golden retrievers, goldendoodles, which weigh between 50 to 90 pounds, are known for possessing the best traits of both breeds. They’re loyal, obedient, and loving. For seniors with allergies, or those who prefer to avoid daily vacuuming, goldendoodles, who mostly don’t shed and are hypoallergenic, make great companions. You don’t need to have been an experienced pet owner to adopt one: Goldendoodles’ intelligence and easy-going temperament make them easy to train. Goldendoodles do love exercise though—especially swimming. Bonus points if you’re a senior that lives by a body of water!
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Best for active seniors: Westies
Recognizable by their white mane and dark, almond-shaped eyes, West Highland white terriers (aka Westies) are friendly, loving companions for active seniors. At 13 to 20 pounds, Westies are still small enough to handle and make good apartment dogs—as long as they get in their long daily walks. Westies really, really like to play, and beneath their coat is a well-muscled body. Bred to be rodent killers, Westies require little pampering and they rarely shed. For seniors looking for a little bit of excitement in their days, Westies will be sure to keep you on your toes.
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Best dog that doesn’t bark: Shih Tzu
The name Shih Tzu means little lion, but the most fierce thing about this breed is the love they have for their owners. Shih Tzus bond very quickly with humans, making them great choices for seniors looking for a close canine companion. Weighing an of average 9 to 16 pounds, Shih Tzus, known for their long coats, pack a lot of personality in their small frame. They are a confident, happy-go-lucky breed with a bit of a stubborn streak. But they are less demanding and less yappy than other smaller toy dogs, making them a good choice for seniors who live in apartments. They are also not very energetic and only need a couple of short walks a day, making them perfect for non-active seniors.
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Easiest dog to care for: French bulldog
With their big eyes, adorable scrunchy faces, and short legs, there’s a reason why French bulldogs are one of the easiest dog breeds to care for. These dogs are not big athletes; a walk around the block is all the exercise they need for the day.
French bulldogs’ small size (they weigh about 19 to 28 pounds) and the fact that they are not big barkers or yappers also make them one of the best apartment dogs. As an additional bonus, they are also excellent cuddlers and incredibly loyal.
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Best guard dog: Pomeranian
At 3 to 7 pounds, Pomeranians look like tiny puffballs. Their small size and affectionate personality make them easy to love. And their ability to remain calm in busy situations also makes them one of the best emotional support dogs, Dr. Kinscher-Juran says. Pomeranians—whose hair comes in a variety of colours from white to black to cream—don’t seem to realize their small size. They are very alert, with a tendency to bark, making them excellent guard dogs for seniors. Though Pomeranians are lap dogs, they also have an independent streak, so active seniors don’t need to worry about Pomeranians clinging to them like a barnacle all day. (Sometimes it’s good to have space!)
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Best dog for seniors with a yard: Beagle
For seniors who love being outdoors and would like an impetus to exercise more, beagles are a good choice. Energetic, active and sociable, beagles love to play and take long walks. And unlike other smaller dogs, they don’t require a ton of babysitting. They’re fine—content even—being left alone for a while. For seniors who don’t love playing beautician, beagles, with their short, dense, wash-and-wear coat, are a good choice. They are pretty low maintenance when it comes to grooming. Younger beagles require consistent exercise—so seniors might find adopting an older beagle a less physically demanding choice, Dr. Kinscher-Juran says.
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