If you’re considering adding a dog to your family, an older dog from a senior dog rescue can give you all the fun and unconditional love without some of the challenges that come with a puppy.

By Lacey Howard
August 24, 2020
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Purple Collar Pet Photography / Getty

Adding a dog to the family is a moment of pure joy—and a big decision. Before you adopt one of the playful puppies from the shelter, be sure to consider the benefits of adopting an older dog, too. You might fall in love with one of those wise gray muzzles—and for good reason.   

Pros of Adopting an Older Dog

Rescuing a senior dog can have many benefits. Here are three reasons adopting your next four-legged friend from a senior dog rescue or foster organization might be the best fit for your family:   

1. Less Training

Opting for an older dog could mean less time you and other family members have to spend on training. Many senior dogs have already learned the basics, so you can avoid the messes of potty training and inappropriate chewing. Mick McAuliffe, Director of Behavior and Enhancement for Animal Rescue League of Iowa says adopting a senior pup means you’ll have a better chance of knowing exactly how the dog behaves, and what kinds of training they do and don’t have. 

2. Find a Match for Your Lifestyle

While an older dog will still need to be active and enjoy walks around the neighborhood, you probably won’t need to spend your time trying to burn off that notorious wild puppy energy with sprint drills at the dog park. “If you’ve got a less-active lifestyle, [a senior dog] might be a good fit,” McAuliffe says. Alex Miller, a veterinary technician at Ames Animal Shelter and Animal Control adds, “Senior dogs are calmer and house trained, so they are more adoptable behaviorally.”

3. Enjoy the Golden Years

Senior dogs deserve to live their final years in a loving home that’s safe and secure. Unfortunately, many older dogs are abandoned at shelters once they start experiencing signs of age, like health issues, or if their owner can no longer care for them. But noisy, crowded shelters can be physically and emotionally difficult for dogs, especially ones who are used to living inside a home. Adopting a senior pup allows them to find care and comfort with their forever family—and they show their thanks with love and companionship.

Things to Consider Before Adopting a Senior Dog

It’s important to remember that adding a senior pup to your family will include some inherent needs that arise as dogs age. McAuliffe says older dogs may be prone to health problems such as arthritis and other age related ailments, many of which also affect humans as they age. “It always depends on the individual,” he says. Before senior dogs are adopted out at their shelter, McAuliffe notes that his staff always does any necessary dental work and makes sure their current needs are met. “And we offer discounted adoption rates for senior pets,” he adds. Win-win!

Just How Old Are Senior Dogs? 

“Senior dog” isn’t a clearly defined, across-the-board term. Because dogs of different breeds have varying lifespans, senior status can begin anywhere between 8 years of age for large breeds to 11 years for small breeds. And a “senior adoption” doesn’t mean you will have a very short time with your dog before he passes away. “For our shelter, we say seniors are 6 years old and above,” McAuliffe explains. “This is not a hospice animal. He could have many years left.”

How to Adopt an Older Dog

If you’re ready to add a grey muzzle to your family, remember to do your research and practice patience. And just like with any dog, adopting a senior pup will mean adjustments—not just for you, but for the dog, too.

1. Do Your Research

You can begin your search online via databases like Petfinder or the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). Both allow you to search for a specific type of dog in your location, and you can then narrow your search by several other filters, including age. If you prefer to adopt from a local rescue organization, you can start your search on the shelter’s website or social media accounts; most have some way for you to view available pets before you visit the facility. 

2. Take it Slow

McAuliffe advises spending time with any dog you’re considering adopting. “Shelters should always allow you to visit and spend time with the pets,” he says. “And the shelter staff should be very transparent about what is known about the dog’s history—whether he was a stray or surrendered and why.” 

3. Stay Tuned

Don’t be discouraged if you don’t find your new best friend right away. “If your pet is not at the shelter today, he may be there tomorrow. Animals move through quickly,” McAuliffe says. If you have a specific age, breed, or size of dog in mind, your local shelter is likely able to alert you when a possible match comes in. Many shelters also have Facebook pages you can follow to get updates on new arrivals. “There are lots of systems to keep you informed of what’s available,” McAuliffe says. 

4. Be Prepared 

Once you’ve found your forever friend, be sure to stock up on the essential items every new pet parent should have on-hand before they bring their new four-legged family member home, as well as finding a veterinarian, getting the right food, and stocking up on any necessary medical supplies. Don’t forget to create a space for him to get cozy and feel at home so he can be calm and comfortable in his new environment, like a crate filled with soft bedding or a dog bed to look out the window.

5. Be Patient

Now that you’ve brought your senior pup home, remember to be gentle. You’ll want to reassure him his new family is one that loves and cares for him, and help him feel safe and secure—especially since those first few days and weeks might feel a little confusing in a new space. As with any new pet, the first few days can be an adjustment, so take it slow.

Still wondering if an older dog is right for you? McAuliffe sums it up best: “A sweet dog from adoption is a sweet dog. Whether he’s 2 years or 10 years old, it’s always fantastic.”