When it comes to adopting a new dog, most people want a puppy or young dog. In my years of volunteering in dog rescue and performing home visits, I’ve only had a few families express interest in adopting a senior dog. 😢 Sad when I know older dogs can be an incredibly sweet and rewarding experience. Senior dogs have a lot to offer and can bring a special kind of joy into your life that I believe everyone should experience. 

As you can tell, older dogs have a special spot in my heart. I love my senior dogs. We have four dogs in our home right now, two of which are 9 years old. And when it comes time to adopt another dog, I will adopt an older dog. I’ve done the puppy thing and it’s not for me. It’s so much work and time-consuming to raise younger dogs.

November is Adopt a Senior Pet Month and National Senior Pet Month. It is a perfect time to celebrate our pets that are in their golden years. 

Dr. Julie Buzby and I had a great conversation on the pros and cons of adopting an older dog. She helps us define at what age a dog is considered “senior”, and why adopting a senior dog is better than adopting a young dog. We debunk some of the common myths about adopting an older dog and why she thinks mutts are the best breed from a medical standpoint. Watch our video interview below:

Okay, let’s explore the pros and cons of adopting a senior dog.

9 benefits of adopting an older dog

Dr. Buzby and I both agree the number one benefit to adopting an older or senior dog is that they can slide right into our busy lives, much easier than a young puppy can. Senior dogs are so sweet and the amount of unconditional love they can offer a family is undeniable. 

A mature dog has so much love to give, and by opening your home to them, you’ll experience the unique joys and benefits they bring to your life. From immediate companionship to gratitude and loyalty, the bond you’ll share with an older dog is truly special. 

“Senior dogs have ripened with age like a fine wine” – Dr. Julie Buzby

1. Predictable Size and Personality

The most obvious advantage of adopting an older dog is that “what you see is what you get”. Their size, personality, and temperament are already established, so you can choose a dog that is a perfect match to your lifestyle and preferences. With a puppy it’s a gamble, they can grow up to be 30 lbs or 60 lbs. Rescue organizations can estimate the age and full-grown size of a puppy, but it’s just a guess. 

2. Smoother and Quicker Transition

Senior dogs tend to slide right into our busy lives. If you have kids or a demanding job, you know how crazy life can get. A senior dog doesn’t need 24/7 attention like a puppy does. A dog that is more mature can adjust to our busy schedules much easier. Keep in mind the 3-3-3 rule of adopting any rescue dog. All rescue dogs and puppies need time to decompress and adjust to a new home.

3. Already Trained

A huge advantage of adopting an older dog is that they often come with some level of training. Many have mastered basic commands and are housebroken so you won’t have to worry about potty training, saving you time and frustration. Perfect for busy families and individuals who don’t have the time to spend the next year or so training a puppy. But don’t be fooled, old dogs can learn new tricks! So don’t fear if your senior pup needs a little training refresher. 

4. Calmer and Well-behaved

Senior dogs tend to be calmer and more well-behaved than puppies. You can expect fewer destructive behaviors like chewing and digging. Older dogs typically have lower energy levels, need less exercise, and are content with leisurely walks and relaxed playtime, making them a good fit for people with a more laid-back lifestyle. If you’re looking for a dog that loves to curl up on the couch after a long day, a senior dog could be your new best friend. 

5. Better for Small Children

One concern I hear from many families is they want to adopt a dog that can grow up with their kids. However senior dogs are usually more patient and tolerant, making them a safer choice for families with young children. They are less likely to be overly excitable, jumpy, or nippy, creating a safer environment for all family members. 

Dr. Buzby and I both agree that adopting an older dog is the perfect way for kids to learn about the cycle of life.

“Beautiful time for our kids to learn respect for life.” – Dr. Julie Buzby

6. Better for Busy Lifestyles

Puppies are a lot of work and their energy level is high. They need attention every waking moment and with your busy lifestyle, you may not have the time to commit to a puppy’s needs. An older dog can slide right into your daily routine without any major changes to your schedule. 

7. Strong Bond

Dogs live in the moment and can bond at any stage of their life. I believe because older dogs have a more mature temperament, they can bond even quicker with their new family. Dr. Bizby says the gratitude a senior dog shows is amazing. She says it’s a complete myth that an older can not bond with a new family.

8. Saving a Life

When you adopt an older dog, you’re not only gaining a loving companion, but you’re saving a life, providing them with a second chance at a happy life. Senior dogs are often at higher risk of being euthanized in animal shelters due to their age, so your decision to adopt can make a significant difference. The adoption rate of senior dogs is much less favorable than younger dogs. 

9. Lower Discounted Adoption Fees

Most shelters and rescue groups will reduce the cost of adopting a dog in their senior years to entice potential adopters and to find them the loving home they deserve. 

senior black lab with a grey muzzle looking at the camera.

7 disadvantages of adopting an older dog

Despite these cons, many people find that the love, loyalty, and unique qualities of senior dogs outweigh the challenges. It’s important to assess your own lifestyle, preferences, and resources to determine whether adopting a senior dog is the right choice for you. Adopting an older or senior dog is not for everyone.  Each dog, regardless of age, is unique with its own personality and needs, so it’s important to carefully consider your decision.

1. Limited Time

Of course, the biggest cons of adopting a senior dog is that you may have a shorter time to spend with them compared to adopting a puppy. Senior dogs may already have age-related health issues, which means their lifespan could be shorter. But keep in mind that when adopting a dog of any age you never know how long they will live, it could be a few years, or fifteen. 

2. Unknown History

Sometimes shelters do not get the dog’s history from the previous owner. And there could be bad habits or medical issues that are unknown until after adoption. But this goes for rescue dogs of all ages, young and old. 

3. Health Concerns and Cost

Yes, it’s true, senior dogs are more likely to have age-related health problems, such as arthritis, dental issues, and chronic diseases. You may need to invest more time and resources in their medical care, including regular vet visits, medications, and potential treatments. It’s essential to be prepared for potential higher veterinary costs. 

With that said dogs young and old have the potential to need extra medical care. I’ve heard many stories of puppies that get heartworm, Parvo, and even kidney diseases. You can adopt a 10-year-old dog in good health or a sick 10-month-old puppy. There are never any guarantees in life. 

4. Potential Behavioral Issues

While many senior dogs come with some level of training, they may also have ingrained habits or behaviors that are harder to change, such as separation anxiety. It might take more patience and effort to address these issues compared to adopting a young dog with a clean slate. Again, I’ve seen many young dogs with separation anxiety and behavior issues too.

5. Limited Socialization

Older dogs might not be as socialized as a puppy, especially if they’ve had limited exposure to various environments, people, or other animals. They may require more time and effort to acclimate to new situations. Unless you are adopting a very young puppy, socialization will be a concern when adopting any dog.

6. Less Energetic

Senior dogs typically have lower energy levels than younger dogs. This could be good or bad depending on why you want a dog. If you’re looking for a running mate or a dog to do dog sports with, you might find a senior dog less suitable.

7. Limited Adoption Choices

Depending on your location and the local shelters or rescue organizations, you may find fewer senior dogs available for adoption compared to younger dogs, which can limit your choices. There are rescue groups that specialize in senior animals, so you may need to travel to find a senior dog that is a good match for your home. Ask family, friends, and neighbors for recommendations of local senior dog rescues, or search any of the top dog adoption websites

black dog laying on a boy's legs.

Senior Dog Q&A – Dr. Julie Buzby

Dr. Julie Buzby was able to answer some of the most common questions about adopting senior dogs for us:  

What age is a dog considered a “senior”?

In the past, it was generalized that all dogs were considered a senior at the age of seven. But more recent research shows dogs don’t age in a linear trajectory. It varies by the dog’s breed, weight, and height. 

As a general rule of thumb, large dogs at the age 6-7, medium dogs around 7-9, small dogs 10, and some toy breed dogs 11 years old or even longer.

What are some common myths about adopting older dogs?

People think, “I’m going to get a dog, I’m going to fall in love, and they’re going to die.” But nothing can be further from the truth. Dogs are living much longer than they used to with great advancements in medical care. It’s time we have a mind shift and think about what is good for the dog. 

Here’s something to ponder, the oldest dog ever is 30-year-old Bobi from Portugal. He recently passed away but what a beautiful story and proof that dogs can live a long time.

I don’t want my kids to experience the loss of a dog. 

Dr. Buzby has eight kids and looks back and wishes she protected them less from the struggles of life because that’s how they learn and grow. Adopting a senior dog can be a beautiful time for kids to learn respect for life. Watching a dog go through a “good death” can be a perfect way for them to learn valuable life lessons.

What should I expect when adopting a senior dog?

There may be some additional costs in medical care in the beginning, since the first thing is to get a very thorough exam and lab work which would include a senior panel and urinalysis. Also, dental disease is very common in senior dogs, so dental care may be necessary.  But that could be balanced out by a lower adoption fee.

Can older dogs still bond with a new family?

It’s a myth that dogs can’t bond because they are too old and set in their ways. Dogs live in the moment and can bond at any stage of their life. 

I’m worried about losing an older dog too soon

The fact is you can adopt a 6-year-old dog and that dog can live another 10 years, while you can adopt a 6-month-old puppy and lose that dog within a few years. 

Something to keep in mind is that most shelters and rescues don’t really know the dog’s age, the dog may have a grey muzzle but that dog could be 5 or 9 years old. We just don’t know. There is no crystal ball to tell us how long the dog is going to live.

If you are visiting a shelter and you bond with a certain dog, never rule out that dog because of age. 

white puppy laying next to a senior black dog

Why is adopting a senior dog better than adopting a younger dog?

We all live really busy lives, and senior dogs slide into our lives so much better than a puppy. Puppies need a lot of attention with training, house training, burning off excess energy, making sure they’re not destroying things in the house, making sure they’re not getting into trouble, and potentially harming themselves. 

Although some of these issues may be true for some senior dogs, it is much less likely. Most senior dogs come with lower energy levels, they are usually house-trained, and happy to be chill. They tend to slide into the family routine more easily, are more manageable, are pre-trained, and are full of gratitude. 

And with a senior dog, you sort of know what you are getting. You’ll know the full-grown size of the dog and their personality. Granted their personality can change, but many times they come out of their shell and get even sweeter when they get in a home environment. A puppy on the other hand you don’t know what the full-grown size of that dog will be, they are still developing and impressionable. It’s all still very unknown how that puppy will grow up to be. 

Are mutts better than mixed-breed dogs? 

Dr. Buzby states, “Mutts are the best breed from a medical standpoint. When you cross breeds, you get something that is called ‘hybrid vigor’. You are getting a better expression genetically than a purebred dog.”  

older black dog with grey muzzle, holding a pink stuffed toy in her mouth.

Our Senior Foster Dog Silla

Our first foster dog was a 10-year-old black lab named Silla (pictured above). She was a senior dog that was an owner surrender. She did nothing wrong, other than get old and not get along with the new dogs in the house. Silla was a sweet, loving, laid-back lab.

It took almost 6 months for Silla to be adopted. So many times, we wanted to adopt her ourselves… you can read her full story here. The new family that adopted her had 5 beautiful years with her before passing away at 15 years old.

More Questions About Your Senior Dog?

When you are ready to adopt a senior dog or any dog, Rescue Dogs 101 has many resources to help you in your journey. Take a look at our adopt page and browse all the articles that are available.

About Dr. Julie Buzby

Dr. Julie Buzby has a website loaded with resources, including a guide to navigating your senior dog, so make sure to check it out. You can find her at ToeGrips.com.

About the Author

Debi McKee

Debi McKee is the expert behind Rescue Dogs 101 where she guides you in your journey of adopting and raising a rescue dog every step of the way. She is a mom of 3 human kids and 4 dogs and volunteers for a local dog rescue and Humane Society. Click here for more about Debi and her passion for helping you and your dog.

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