Choosing a dog at any age means being realistic about lifestyle, needs and disposable income. The best dogs for seniors will depend entirely on how active the future dog owner is, what type of home they live in and their goals when it comes to pet ownership. At the very least, the best dogs for seniors will be affectionate, obedient and low maintenance.
How dogs can benefit seniors
Adopting a dog may be the best decision a senior citizen can make. We’re not being hyperbolic! According to studies from the American Heart Association, Harvard Medical School and James Cook University, owning a pet can lower blood pressure, increase activity and ease anxiety or depression. A study published by BMC Public Health says older adults who have dogs walk an average of 22 minutes more per day than those without pups. Plus, if rom-coms have taught us anything, walking a dog is a great tool for meeting people and staying social.
One unique and recent study published in Scientific Reports dug deep into the multi-faceted world of dog ownership and found that owning a dog improves “environmental mastery.” Basically, dog owners who participated in the research had more consistent daily routines because of their pets, which then gave them a greater sense of control over and comfort within their environment. “[Feeding the dog] gives me something to do, otherwise I would skip a few meals,” one study participant told researchers. “They have their own dinner, they have their own routines so I need to keep my routines as well… One of the dogs has tablets, so it reminds me of my tablets as well.”
Canines provide companionship, too. Studies suggest seniors who live alone may feel less isolated with a dog in their home.
How to choose the right breed
Factors like lifestyle, environment, temperament and grooming needs are crucial when selecting a dog. Breed is actually just one consideration in this equation since each dog is different and there are exceptions to every breed (in fact, past trauma and socialization experience are better indicators of a dog’s personality than breed).
Right away, seniors should think about their activity level—and define “activity.” Seniors who are very active around the house but rarely go out to run errands might consider a playful indoor dog. If a person’s primary form of exercise is long walks, a dog with a low prey-drive who also enjoys tagging along on outdoor excursions is a good idea.
Environment plays a big role, too. Living in an apartment in a large retirement community surrounded by other seniors (many of whom the dog will consider strangers at first) is different than moving into an adult child’s suburban home full of grandchildren. Not all breeds are drooling over the opportunity to play with kids or be social butterflies.
Grooming is another aspect of dog ownership that can be costly on a fixed income. It can also be a nuisance if regular drives to the groomer’s aren’t possible. High-maintenance coats can be excellent motivation to get out of the house or a pain in the neck, depending on a senior’s lifestyle.
Another factor to consider is travel. The “environmental mastery” study found that seniors eager to spend their time traveling felt a greater sense of guilt at having to leave their dog behind. So, if traveling is a hobby, it’s wise to find a dog who can safely fly on airplanes. Otherwise, owning a pup may be more detrimental to mental health in the long run.
All this is to say the ideal dogs for seniors can vary dramatically! However, the dogs on this list have been known to gel well with older adults.
Height: 30-23 inches
Weight: 100-125 pounds
Main Characteristics: Dignified
Easily the largest breed on this list, the Irish wolfhound is a gentle canine eager to demonstrate his loyalty. The American Kennel Club labels them dignified dogs, though they can definitely be destructive as puppies if left alone too long. However, as adults, they are incredibly calm and even well-suited to be around children.
Height: 13-16 inches
Weight: 20-30 pounds
Main Characteristics: Gentle
Great with kids and seniors, Cocker Spaniels can be trained to fit well into any household situation. On a brisk walk, they might stop to greet as many other dogs and people as they can. But don’t worry, they are loyal as can be and will follow you to the ends of the earth. Despite their long, luxurious coats, they only require a daily brushing.
Height: 10-11 inches
Weight: 15-20 pounds
Main Characteristic: Cheerful
One of the most popular terrier breeds, the West Highland white terrier is a goofy ball of cheer. These dogs are definitely independent, which can make training tricky, but with practice, commands become routine. Regular walks and brushing is all it takes to keep them happy otherwise.
Height: 10-13 inches
Weight: 14-18 pounds
Main characteristic: Charming
The gentle pug is all about basking in and sharing the love. This is another adaptable breed; kids and adults, big homes and small apartments, other dogs and strangers are all welcome in the eyes of a pug. One bad habit to avoid is overfeeding. Pugs get thick real quick (as anyone with a dwindling metabolism can appreciate), so a healthy diet and regular walks are imperative.
Height: 15-17 inches
Weight: 12-25 pounds
Main Characteristic: Energetic
The Boston terrier is really good at keeping its owner social. They need regular walks (lots of puppy energy when they’re young) and enjoy nothing more than meeting new friends along the way. Small enough for a tiny apartment, big enough for a comforting hug whenever you need one.
It’s worth considering adopting an older dog rather than buying a young puppy. Puppies require tons of extra work that adult dogs do not (house breaking, teaching commands, hours of playtime, to name a few). Older dogs are often overlooked at shelters, so there’s likely a greater need and more opportunity to adopt these animals. Plus, adult dogs have more even keel temperaments that may better suit seniors. Shelter staff members will be able to confidently describe the personalities of any dogs who have been living there for a long time. This takes the guesswork out of choosing a dog.
Height: 10 inches
Weight: 18-22 pounds
Main characteristic: Spirited
Another hypoallergenic breed on our list, the Scottish terrier is a sensible dog. Scotties enjoy walks, not runs. They’ll train but can be stubborn (treats help). Excellent watchdogs, Scotties also enjoy playtime. They aren’t needy, but they aren’t afraid to show affection. The only high-maintenance aspect about them seems to be their finicky coat, which requires regular brushing (and ideally, hand-shedding).
Height: 7-9 inches
Weight: Up to 7 pounds
Main Characteristic: Even-tempered
Basically bred to be a stunning lapdog, the Maltese is ready for long days lounging on the veranda. Oh, you feel like going for a jaunt? Sure, why not! As long as you get in a little daily exercise and a good brushing, this pup is happy as a clam.
Hey, you’re not the only one transitioning into a new phase of life. There are many incredible programs for highly trained dogs who are retired from their old gigs or looking for a career change—Seeing Eye dogs who didn’t necessarily make the cut, for one, or racing track greyhounds that need a loving owner.
Height: 12-14 inches
Weight: 11-20 pounds
Main Characteristic: Obedient
These pups resemble tiny generals and may even appear mean at first (pointy ears, furrowed brow). However, this may simply be their history as proud guard dogs coming out. Today, they make great family pets due to their high intelligence and friendly nature. Grooming may require some professional services every now and then.
Height: 18-24 inches
Weight: 40-70 pounds
Main Characteristic: Intelligent
Poodles of all sizes (standard, miniature and toy) are incredibly smart, which means training comes easily and sticks. They love activity, so living in an area with space to run or a dog park is good. The only major drawback is they require a lot of grooming. Ergo, these pups are ideal for seniors who love to drive and have the time and funds for trips to the groomer’s.
Height: 10-12 inches
Weight: 28-30 pounds
Main Characteristic: Playful
Partnering up with a Pembroke Welsh Corgi is like choosing a BFF who laughs at your jokes, challenges you to get outside before you watch a fifth episode of Jeopardy and isn’t afraid to give you some alone time (because they need it too!). Plus, they’re surprisingly astute watchdogs.
Height: 12-13 inches
Weight: 13-18 pounds
Main Characteristic: Adaptable
If you’re new here, know that the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel turns up on just about every “Best Of” dog breed list. Not only do they love routine (aka following commands), they enjoy snuggling, walking, calmly sitting on the sofa, adapting to their surroundings and a good brushing once a week. Truly an ideal pup for seniors, kids, workaholics, home offices and general companionship.
Height: 10-15 inches
Weight: 15-30 pounds
Main Characteristic: Friendly
Always down to play, Beagles are solid companions. They really love their owners, to the point where they may develop separation anxiety if you’re not careful! Yes, they train well, but since they’re bred to be hunters, they’ve also got strong independent streaks. Train ‘em early and give ‘em as much love as possible.
Height: 9-12 inches
Weight: 12-18 pounds
Main Characteristic: Perky
If bichon frises were people, they’d be student body president. Super smart and incredibly playful, they love to please their owners and are up for anything. Exercise is a must, but that can include jumping around a city apartment. They do require regular grooming to maintain that perfect coif (or a nice trim every few weeks to keep their coats in check).
Height: 5-8 inches
Weight: Up to 6 pounds
Main Characteristic: Amusing
Chihuahuas are all about entertaining—and napping once the fun is done. Oozing with loyalty and sass, they’ll happily follow you from room to room but won’t necessarily come when you call. Very low maintenance when it comes to grooming, the Chihuahua is ideal for seniors who appreciate bold personalities and a sense of humor.
Height: 8-9 inches
Weight: 16-32 pounds
Main Characteristic: Protective
Surprisingly, these tiny dogs have a big bark and love to protect their humans. Though they have a tendency to be a bit stubborn, they are happy to follow a set of commands once learned and will keep owners active with jaunts around the neighborhood. They’re super alert, but once they recognize friends, it’s time to play.
Height: 20-25 inches
Weight: 55-75 pounds
Main Characteristic: Dedicated
It’s impossible to walk down the street with a golden retriever and not feel like a celebrity because these beautiful, friendly and proud dogs exude charm. They’re also incredibly dedicated to their owners. Training comes easily and response to commands is consistent. Get ready for long walks and strangers constantly asking if they can pet your dog. The only drawback? Golden puppies can be very destructive (aka they’ll chew anything).
Height: 27-30 inches
Weight: 60-70 pounds
Main Characteristic: Independent
Greyhounds are a bit of a conundrum, but can be ideal big dogs for seniors with ample living space. First, they’re noble creatures who will insist on climbing into bed with you so they can sleep for ten hours on your comforter. Second, they also need to sprint around a yard or dog park every day to burn energy. Adopting a retired racing greyhound is a terrific route if you’re considering one of these gentle giants.
Height: 6-7 inches
Weight: 3-7 pounds
Main Characteristic: Lively
Active, furry little Pomeranians will keep anyone young. After training (a cinch) and grooming (brush a few times a week), this pup is down to clown in a yard, a small bedroom or a dog park. They also look like they’re smiling all the time, which is a sign they are eager to please and ready to love.
Height: 9-11 inches
Weight: 8-15 pounds
Main Characteristic: Playful
Coton de Tulears are active, playful animals with big personalities. Their size—and their preference for indoor playtime—makes them manageable for seniors. Cotons enjoy frolicking around the house just as much as comforting their families with warm snuggles.
Height: 8-11 inches
Weight: 7-11 pounds
Main Characteristic: Charming
Described as cat-like dogs, these pups are quiet, doting animals with a stubborn side. Japanese Chins think very highly of themselves, which gives them an irresistible charm. Though their coat can grow to elegant lengths, it’s relatively simple to maintain. Remember when we said cat-like? They may be wary of strangers and respond only to their favorite human.
Height: 11-13 inches
Weight: Up to 22 pounds
Main Characteristic: Even-tempered
French bulldogs are becoming some of the most popular dogs for city folks because of their ability to settle into a variety of routines and environments. Calm and content to relax indoors, they do have a playful side that will keep seniors moving. Grooming is a cinch with their short coats.
Height: 16-21 inches
Weight: 33-53 pounds
Main Characteristic: Friendly
Finnish lapphunds thrive with fellow homebodies. A walk here and there is enough for them—just please don’t leave them home alone for long stretches of time! Bred in the Arctic, they do enjoy colder weather. If you’re looking for an empathetic companion dog, look no further than these sensitive darlings.
Height: 25-32 inches
Weight: 85-100+ pounds
Main Characteristic: Mellow
Quite possibly the largest breed on our list is the patient, sweet Great Pyrenees. This is an excellent breed alternative to the Golden retriever, if Goldens prove too energetic. Their bright white coat may shed a bit but won’t tangle or collect dirt. A weekly brushing suffices.
Height: 23-28 inches
Weight: 70-115 pounds
Main Characteristic: Calm
Another large breed on this list is the Bernese Mountain dog. Known for their calm dispositions and undying devotion to their favorite person, these fluffballs make affectionate companions for seniors. Gentle with kids and keen on daily walks, they’re up for short hikes but really love cozy nights indoors.