How Do I Choose A Rescue Dog For Elderly People?

It is a sad and common fact that more and more of our fellow senior citizens suffer from loneliness.

This is how I learned how a rescue dog can be a viable and highly enriching answer to this growing dilemma.

To my thinking, if there are hundreds of unwanted dogs who are looking for potentially caring and compassionate owners, then they could suit elderly singles and couples who have a common interest in caring for one. Here’s what I learned during the process of choosing the right dog for my Mum and Dad and I hope this will help point you in the right direction when considering this option.

When my Mum and Dad became a bit less mobile their trips out became restricted to walking in a local park situated a few hundred yards away from their house.

My Dad had had too many near misses in his car and he was advised to take an examination to assess his driving skills which he consequently failed. With his license gone it was time to think of a few ideas that would get him out and about a bit more. Getting used to not driving was difficult for him as he used to escape by jumping into his car and visit the local Tesco store.

With this in mind, I decided to take some action…

During a conversation with a good friend of mine, she asked if I’d thought of getting them a dog which prompted me to consider this option for them…

This idea seemed to go round and round mind for a few days but it seemed to be a realistic option for them after all, my Mum and Dad were dog lovers when they were younger.

I remember my Dad telling me a story about his pet labrador when he was a kid and how sad he was when he moved away having signed up as an RAF cadet. My Mum would always go out of her way to make a fuss of other peoples’ dogs as she became animated and overjoyed at their presence. I guess my personal experience was a combination of these – frequently rolling around on the floor with someone’s dog was commonplace and still is!

There was a particular resonance about them potentially having a dog as a companion but at the same time, I knew I had to keep my feet on the ground because it would require some responsibility on their part along with some decision making on mine. All I knew is that they needed my help because they weren’t going to get any better as time went on.

After obsessing a bit over this idea and during some rare quiet time, I started doing some research on the internet, searching for information like “Good Dogs For Seniors” and “Ideal Dogs For The Elderly”. There seemed to be a few useful snippets of information but I needed some real-life examples with any potential challenges or pitfalls.

Further to this the evidence of advantages about older people owning pets is well documented. It is well established that dog ownership can lower people’s stress and blood pressure levels. Also having a dog is a great way to get some vital exercise, socialize with others in your community and enjoy the benefits of a companion.

As with most problem-solving exercises, I grabbed a piece of A4 paper and drew a line down the middle. The left heading said, “Pros” and the other side was headed “Cons”. I started filling the columns and as I expected the “Pros” won the argument hands down. There were still a few niggling doubts though so I looked at potential scenarios like, what if they fell ill or what if their dementia got a lot worse and dog walking didn’t even register on their radar. These issues were potentially realistic so I had to think of potential solutions and fallback if things went a bit wrong.

Fortunately, my parents had a neighbour who owned a dog so I decided to give her a visit and explained the situation to her over a coffee. I was so happy I did this for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I wasn’t expecting her positive response because she didn’t generally get involved with my Mum and Dad despite knowing of their predicament.

As our conversation progressed, she seemed to understand where I was coming from and I was thrilled to learn that she was a great idea for my Mum and Dad to have a new companion and actively encouraged me to visit local rescue dogs home. This was confirmation that I’d made the right decision. She even went as far as offering to take this potential companion for walks if push came to shove but as long as the dog was neither too big to handle nor too boisterous.

At this stage, I had learned a few valuable lessons about preparation and research. Talking to people about their actual experience is invaluable when looking at providing a home for a pet whether it’s a dog, cat or anything else for that matter. I would strongly advise talking to neighbours where possible if they’re dog owners – even if it’s just to let them know that you’re thinking of getting a pet dog for your relatives. Advice is free if you know where to find it and the best advice comes from experience.

However, everyone has a unique set of preferences and requirements so, the kind of dog that makes the best pet will vary from one older person or couple to another.

Many seniors gravitate toward smaller dogs that they can cuddle or sit on their lap. I’ve even seen elderly people driving with their dog on their lap but this should obviously be avoided! Other seniors prefer larger dogs that can romp around and play with a ball in their garden or out in the park.

Ultimately though, any breed of dog is worth considering for older people if it meets with their life situation and abilities.

How do I choose the right rescue dog?

Here are some considerations that should help you make the right choice for your elderly relative(s) or friends.

Here are a few tips on How to Choose the Best Dog

Dog ownership has many advantages at any age but in my case, it was important to find the right breed because my parents had a few limitations. Here’s how I narrowed down my selection based on my parent’s abilities and lifestyle.

Firstly – energy levels – some breeds require more exercise than others and more food.

As they were fairly active, I decided that they were able to handle a dog that needed a fair amount of play time. My Dad was quite physically fit which would provide a dog the opportunity to run around in both their garden and the local park. Although they were a bit slower mentally and physically, they had no real mobility issues but this was all subject to change as they age. For this reason, I decided to err on the side of caution by looking for a dog that was content with a few short walks but could also get all the exercise it needed just by running around in their house and garden.

As a smaller dog would be easier to keep under control, it would be more suitable for my parents who live in a small conventional three bedroomed house with stairs. Besides, a small dog would fit nicely on my Mum’s lap and would be more ‘portable’ than a larger breed.

I could visualise her with her companion on her lap feeding it treats…Cleanliness shouldn’t be a problem as it could be washed in the kitchen sink and wouldn’t be too overwhelming for them. A general disadvantage though, with some smaller dogs, is that they have lots of nervous energy and try to make up for their diminutive stature with plenty of barking. I had to be careful which breed I chose and taking a look at other breeds would point to the clue.

Would a larger more docile dog that didn’t require a lot of maintenance be a good choice for them? They could still keep it clean by putting it in the bath or even get the local dog groomers in…

An advantage for older dogs over 7 is that they make better dogs for seniors to adopt than puppies that tend to be super active and could end up gnawing and chewing things. Also, most mature dogs are already housetrained and well-socialised with people, tending to be calm and have more predictable behavior. Habits have been formed and nutritional needs are more established.

It is also worth considering the sobering issue of life expectancy. What is the likelihood it would outlive its owners? And who would take care of their dog if they weren’t around?

Some breeds of dog are more naturally conditioned to be gentle and welcoming such as beagles, retrievers, poodles, and bulldogs which are among the dogs that have the best temperament. Some have different nutritional needs.

However it must be kept in mind that every animal has a unique personality and if you’re looking at a rescue dog, past conditioning. The rescue centre staff will always be able to advise you about behaviours and good nutrition, so make sure you have your questions ready as I did.

At the rescue centre you should try to interact with any potential pet you are considering so that you can get a feel for how well-suited this dog will be.

What grooming requirements will it need? Some breeds need to be bathed, trimmed, and clipped regularly, while other short-haired breeds just need a quick brush every so often.

Being sure to choose a dog whose needs my parents could manage was always on my mind and I visited the centre three times before I made my choice.

In all, the process took around six weeks for me to complete. They ended up with a crossbreed poodle and something else which, we could only guess what the other breed was but she is a gorgeous well tempered little lady!  As far as my parents go – they have a new family member and their lives revolve around walking and loving their little pooch as if it was their child.

Their overall mood has changed and their health seems to have improved – who knows,  it may have added a few years to their lives. In conclusion, I think this is known as a win-win situation and I’m so happy with the outcome.