Elderly woman hugging a brown and white dog

18 Good Dogs for Seniors Who Want or Need a Furry Companion

By Publisher
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 others prefer larger dogs that can romp around and play fetch. Ultimately, any dog breed is good for older people if it meshes with their abilities, likes, and lifestyles.

This article will help you determine 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 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 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 finding the right dog is important. Here are some factors to weigh when selecting a dog:

  • Energy level: Some breeds require more exercise than others. If you're fairly active, you may be able to handle a dog that needs lots of playtime and opportunities to run. But if you have mobility or stamina issues, you might want to choose a dog that is content with a few short walks. Some very small dogs may even be able to get all the exercise they need just by running around inside your home.
  • Size: Smaller dogs are easier to control and more suitable for seniors living in condos, apartments, or care facilities. Small dogs can fit in your lap, are more portable than larger breeds, won't physically overwhelm you, and can be easily washed in a sink. However, some small dogs have lots of nervous energy and try to make up for their diminutive stature with plenty of barking. (This doesn't always hold true, though: Among dogs that bark the least are smaller breeds like the pug and the Boston terrier). Alternatively, docile larger dogs that don't require much maintenance may be a good choice.
  • Age: Older dogs are better dogs for seniors to adopt than super active puppies who tend to chew and nip. (Most dogs are considered "seniors" when they reach age seven.) Adult dogs are typically already housetrained and well-socialized with people. Mature dogs also tend to be the calmest dogs, with more predictable behavior patterns. In addition, it's wise to think about the life expectancy of different dogs and how likely it is that your pet will outlive you. Who will care for your dog if you aren't around to do so?
  • Temperament: Dogs' temperaments are influenced by their genes and their upbringing. While any dog can be raised to be friendly, some breeds are more naturally conditioned to be gentle and welcoming. Beagles, retrievers, poodles, and bulldogs are among the dogs with the best temperaments. But keep in mind that every animal has a unique personality. Try to interact with any potential pet you are considering to get a feel for how well-suited you are to each other.
  • Grooming requirements: Some breeds need to be bathed, trimmed, and clipped regularly, while others just need a quick brush every so often. Be sure to choose a dog whose needs you can manage, either by yourself or with the help of a family member or professional groomer.

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 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:

  1. Poodle

    Poodles are good companion dogs thanks to their extraordinary intelligence and highly trainable nature. They form a strong bond with more than one member of their human families and are one of the best dogs for couples. They are sweet, gentle, and loving animals. Poodles need a daily walk but are otherwise content to play or just lie on the couch. They don't shed, but they need to be groomed every month or so. You can choose from three sizes of poodles: toy, miniature, or standard.

  2. Cavalier King Charles spaniel

    These quiet, small dogs make some of the best lap dogs for seniors. They love nothing better than snuggling up with their owners and get along extremely well with adults, children, and other pets. Active and playful, they are also intelligent and easy to train. Their long, soft, beautiful coat requires regular grooming and an occasional bath. Keep in mind that this dog breed loves to chase things; you'll need a long leash or a fenced yard.

  3. Boston Terrier

    Looking for a smaller-sized companion dog who will be utterly devoted to you? Boston terriers are adaptable, friendly, mild-tempered dogs whose favorite activity is sitting peacefully with their owners. They are easy to train and don't bark much, which makes them well-suited to apartment or condo life. Their grooming needs are minimal, since their short, smooth coat (which resembles a black-and-white tuxedo) is easy to care for. They don't do well in hot weather, though.

  4. Maltese

    Weighing in at just four to seven pounds, the tiny Maltese is widely regarded as the quintessential lap dog. Bright, gentle, and playful, these dogs get along well with other pets and are extremely attentive to their owners' moods. (In fact, they are frequently used as therapy dogs.) While they don't need a lot of outdoor exercise, they do like going for short walks and dashing around the house. Their silky white coat doesn't shed but does require daily brushing and weekly bathing.

  5. Pembroke Welsh Corgi

    Intelligent and lively, Pembroke Welsh corgis are high-energy dogs that live for human attention and are big on pleasing their owners. They are famous for being the favorite pets of Queen Elizabeth II. They have squat bodies and short legs, typically weighing between 25 and 30 pounds. Originally bred as herding dogs, corgis love hiking and being outside, and they need frequent daily walks. They have a protective nature and make good watchdogs. However, they can be prone to barking.

  6. Beagle

    Are you an active, outdoorsy type who enjoys long walks? You might get along well with a beagle. These dogs are energetic, sociable animals who love to play. They are friendly, fun, easygoing characters who consider every person they meet to be their new best buddy. Bred as hunting hounds, beagles are a scent-driven breed and will take off in pursuit of an interesting smell. Having a securely fenced yard and supervising these dogs closely is important.

  7. Pomeranian

    Pomeranians are small companion dogs that are smart, lively, and affectionate. They are very curious and love attention, making them a good option for older adults who can give them lots of time and energy. They should be brushed at least twice weekly to keep their fluffy coats healthy and shiny. Poms are proud and aren't naturally inclined to take direction from others, but firm, gentle leadership can train them not to be unruly. They do tend to be loud, however.

  8. Chihuahua

    Chihuahuas are tiny dogs that are full of personality. Few other breeds are as quirky and entertaining. Lively and spunky, chihuahuas are loyal companions who love to sit on their owners' laps and be petted. They are good apartment animals but must be trained to deal with strangers and children. Chihuahuas enjoy going for walks and basking in the sun, but they cannot handle cold weather. Fortunately, because they are so small, they can often fill their exercise needs indoors.

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 aren't over-exuberant and don't bark without a good reason. 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 above, would also qualify). Check out the following examples of calm, small dogs that are not yappy:

  1. Pug

    Pugs may be the best small dogs for seniors who would rather cuddle with their pooch in an armchair than take it out hiking every day. These animals don't need much exercise and can't handle temperature extremes, so they spend much of their time indoors. Childlike, loyal, and affectionate, pugs are devoted to their owners and love to nap. They aren't really barkers, although they tend to snore. Pugs require little grooming.

  2. Bichon Frise

    The bichon frise is an intelligent, obedient, and affectionate breed. These dogs love to snuggle with their people and are highly compatible with other household pets. They have a pleasant, cheerful nature and are perfectly content to spend much of the day chilling indoors; a couple of short walks each day is enough to meet their exercise needs. They don't shed, but they do require frequent brushing and grooming.

  3. French Bulldog

    You may want to consider a French bulldog if your idea of the perfect companion is a quiet, amiable dog who readily adapts to apartment life. Spirited but not yappy, Frenchies thrive on plenty of human contact. They have low exercise needs and are happy with short walks or playtime in the yard—but not when temperatures soar. (These dogs are prone to heat exhaustion.) Regular brushings are all the grooming that's required.

  4. Shih Tzu

    Shih tzus always want to be by their owners' sides and are good small dogs for seniors. This breed lives for cuddles and attention. Shih Tzus are excellent lap dogs and take a welcoming attitude toward strange people and other pets. Playful but not overly active, these dogs get enough activity through short daily walks. They are highly adaptable and thrive equally well in a large suburban house or a small city condo.

  5. Havanese

    Small, fuzzy, and eager to please, the Havanese is an excellent choice for retirees who can spend lots of time with their pets. These dogs get along with everybody but are happiest in their owners' company. They are smart animals that are easy to train; many work as therapy dogs. They have cheerful dispositions and adore being the center of attention. A walk each day will keep them satisfied. Their long coat requires frequent brushing but can be kept short for lower maintenance.

  6. Lhasa Apso

    Whether you want to wander around outside or just relax on the couch, lhasa apsos will happily join you. They are one of the calmest small dog breeds and do very well in apartments. Friendly and affectionate with their owners, these dogs are very protective but don't bark without cause. They are more independent than many other breeds and can be left alone. Their long, flowing coats do take a lot of grooming, however.

  7. Bolognese

    Another cuddly, fluffy white dog—the Bolognese—is playful, smart, and easy to train. These animals worship their owners and shadow them everywhere. They are not super active, but Bolognese dogs don't need much exercise and are perfectly willing to be couch potatoes as long as they can stay near you. They are calm and quiet and adapt well to all types of living spaces. They must be bathed and groomed regularly to keep their curly locks in good condition.

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. They can be very good companions if you have a large yard or open space to burn off their energy. Some older adults feel more secure with a large dog around that can intimidate unwanted visitors (even though many big dogs are gentle giants). Here are three options you may want to consider:

Elderly woman in a wheelchair looking out a window with a Golden Retriever by her side.
  1. Greyhound

    Long-legged and slender, greyhounds are the fastest dogs around. It might come as a surprise that rescued racing greyhounds are calm, quiet, and easy to manage. They're sprinters but not joggers. As long as they get a chance to run all out for a short time, they are generally happy to loaf around and take it easy for the rest of the day. They are friendly and gentle but have a strong drive to chase prey; they should never be off-leash in an unconfined area.

  2. Labrador Retriever

    Labrador retrievers are one of the most popular dog breeds in America, and no wonder: With their warm, friendly disposition, outgoing personality, and love of human camaraderie, Labs make excellent companions. They adapt well to training as service dogs and are among the best dog breeds for anxiety sufferers. Labs are cheerful and even-tempered, but these big dogs are also highly energetic and require lots of physical exercise (think swimming and playing fetch).

  3. Golden Retriever

    Like Labs, golden retrievers are kind, friendly people-pleasers who respond well to training and are well-attuned to humans' emotional needs, making them among the most popular therapy dog breeds. They are best suited to active lifestyles and love running, hiking, and swimming. If they get enough outdoor exercise, they can be fairly mellow indoors. They thrive on companionship and are renowned for their patience with all types of people.

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. However, 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, a 2002 study found that dogs have long-term therapeutic benefits for individuals living in Alzheimer's Special Care Units.

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 to perform assistance tasks for a person with a disability. Because the training is so extensive, getting a service dog costs anywhere from $15,000 to $30,000. 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 doing their job.

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. Therapy 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. However, they do have more legal protections than therapy dogs. For instance, the Fair Housing Act allows emotional support dogs to live with their owners in housing complexes that don't normally allow pets, provided the owner's doctor has recommended it.

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Robot Dogs: A Growing Trend

Some older adults who can no longer care for a pet or move into facilities that don't allow animals are finding joy and comfort with lifelike robotic dogs such as Hasbro's Joy for All Companion Pet Golden Pup. These high-tech pooches look, move, and sound like the real thing: They sport realistic fur and 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 in the Journal of the American Medical Directors Association has shown that robotic dogs can be very effective at reducing loneliness in nursing home residents. They are an option to consider if you or someone you love needs a low-maintenance pet.

Find the Perfect Pooch

Good dogs for seniors closely match their owners' abilities and preferences. Whether you're looking for a big or small, active, or sedate (or even robotic) dog, you can find a furry friend that's right for you.