18 Good Dogs for Seniors Who Want or Need a Furry Companion
By Crystal Lee
| Last updated
Choosing good dogs, for seniors or anyone else, can be a fun and enriching process. But it starts with assessing the needs and wants of a prospective owner (which might be you or a loved one). After all, everyone has a unique set of preferences, so the kind of dog that makes the best pet will vary from one older adult to another. Some seniors gravitate toward smaller dogs that can cuddle in a lap, while other prefer larger dogs that can romp around and play fetch. Ultimately, any breed of dog is good for older people if it meshes with their abilities, likes, and lifestyles.
This article will help you figure out what factors you need to consider in your search for the perfect canine companion. You'll also read about 18 specific breeds that are among the best dogs for seniors, including a range of both small dogs and large dogs. You'll explore the uses of (and distinctions between) therapy, support, and service dogs. And you'll learn about the emerging trend of robot pets.
So keep reading. The information may just help you achieve greater vitality. After all, it's well established that dog ownership can lower people's stress and blood pressure levels. Having a dog is a great way to get some exercise, socialize with others in your community, and enjoy the benefits of companionship. Many seniors also thrive on the experience of nurturing and caring for another living being.
How to Choose the Best Dog for an Older Person
You can enjoy the many advantages of dog ownership at any age, but it's important to find the right animal. Here are some factors to weigh when selecting a dog:
8 of the Overall Best Companion Dogs for Seniors
What are some of the best companion dog breeds? Elderly people have a wide range of needs and preferences, so the perfect pet for one senior may be entirely unsuitable for another. That said, some breeds have certain combinations of traits that make them popular choices for retirees. Here are eight of the top companion dogs for older adults:
7 Small Dogs That Aren't Yappy
The best small companion dog is a matter of personal preference. Many older adults look for small, calm dogs that don't bark without a good reason and aren't over-exuberant. By that measure, small dogs that make the best pets include the odd-looking but charming pug as well as little white lap dogs like the shih tzu and bichon frise. (The Cavalier King Charles spaniel and the Boston terrier, described in the above section, would also qualify). Check out the following examples of calm, small dogs that are not yappy:
3 of the Best Large Dog Breeds for Seniors
Bigger dogs are often very playful when they're outside, but calm when they're indoors. Provided you have a large yard or open space for them to burn off their energy, they can be very good companions. Some older adults feel more secure with a large dog around that can intimidate unwanted visitors (even though many big dogs are actually gentle giants). Here are three options you may want to consider:
Therapy, Support, and Service Dogs for Seniors
Service dogs have a long history of assisting older adults with special needs related to blindness and deafness, but these days, they are helping with a much broader range of disabilities. Did you know there are even service dogs for dementia sufferers? It's true. Dogs help dementia patients by lowering their anxiety and helping them become more interactive. In fact, in one study, Alzheimer's patients had dramatically fewer behavior issues once a specially trained dog took up residence in the care unit.1
Some people get confused about the differences between service dogs, therapy dogs, and emotional support dogs. The terms are not interchangeable, and it's important to understand the distinctions.
Service dogs undergo specialized training in order to perform assistance tasks for a person with a disability. (Because the training is so extensive, it costs anywhere from $15,000 to $30,000 to get a service dog.) They are protected by the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) and are legally allowed to accompany their human companions on buses and into public buildings like restaurants and stores. Service dogs for elderly people can do things like wake owners up, fetch medication, pick up dropped items for owners in wheelchairs, guide owners with impaired vision, and keep owners with dementia from wandering out of the house alone. They should not be petted, as that could distract them from the job they are doing.
Therapy dogs are specifically trained to provide comfort and psychological support to people other than their owners. They visit people in hospitals, nursing homes, assisted living facilities, retirement communities, hospices, rehabilitation centers, and other settings. Therapy dogs must have friendly, stable temperaments, since they are meant to be petted and handled by many different people. These dogs are not covered by the ADA and do not have the same access rights to public spaces.
Emotional support dogs are pets that comfort and ease anxiety and stress in their owners. While any type of dog can perform this role, Labs, golden retrievers, poodles, pugs, and Cavalier King Charles spaniels often make good emotional support dogs. They don't require any special training and are also not covered by the ADA. They do have more legal protections than therapy dogs, however. For instance, under the Fair Housing Act, emotional support dogs are allowed to live with their owners in housing complexes that don't normally allow pets, provided the owner's doctor has recommended it.
Robot Dogs: A Growing Trend
Some older adults who can no longer care for a pet—or who move into facilities that don't allow animals—are finding joy and comfort with lifelike robotic dogs such as Hasbro's Companion Pet Golden Pup. These high-tech pooches look, move, and sound like the real thing: They sport realistic fur along with built-in sensors that listen for vocal cues and respond to human touch.
Because they can soothe anxiety and generate nurturing feelings without having to be walked, fed, or bathed, robot dogs can be excellent companions for seniors. In fact, research has shown that robotic dogs can be very effective at reducing loneliness in nursing home residents.2 They are definitely an option to consider if you or someone you love needs a low-maintenance pet.
Find the Perfect Pooch
Good dogs for seniors are ones that closely match their owners' abilities and preferences. Whether you're looking for a dog that's big or small, active or sedate (or even robotic), you can find a furry friend that's right for you.
- 1 Western Journal of Nursing Research, "Resident Dog in the Alzheimer's Special Care Unit," website last visited on September 14, 2018.
- 2 Journal of the American Medical Directors Association, "Animal-Assisted Therapy and Loneliness in Nursing Homes: Use of Robotic versus Living Dogs," website last visited on January 23, 2020.