When you decide to bring a dog into the family home, it is a wonderfully exciting time. If you also choose to adopt from a shelter, firstly: Thank You . There are thousands of dogs in shelters that are looking for loving homes. I thoroughly encourage anyone wanting a dog to #adoptdontshop and visit your local shelter rather than heading for the abundance of online sellers.
Puppy farms are a real problem in today's world. Breeding mothers are kept in appalling conditions, forced into an unnatural number of pregnancies and any complications or medical ailments go untreated. The pups are often taken from them prematurely which leads to a diminished immune system and they easily contract serious illnesses. The only way we can stop these horrendous breeding farms is to cut off the demand for them.
Shelters are full of active adult and senior dogs looking for a loving family to spend their years with. They are just as much in need of a home as a puppy or young dog. Here are a few good reasons why you should consider adopting a senior dog.
Firstly, let's dispel a few myths...
Life in the old boy yet!
Adult and senior dogs are still very active. Activity levels are not just dependant on age. Taking all breeds into consideration, the average lifespan of a dog is 12-14 years. Some live much longer and remain healthy and active until the day they pass.
If you think that older dogs will not be able to join you on those hiking trails or keep up with the kids, then think again. This should not be a reason that stops you taking on a dog past the age of 5-6 years. All dogs that come from shelters go through a transition where their fitness levels build. They have, unfortunately, spent time confined in a relatively small area. However, if they do not burst out of the blocks from day one, it won't take long for their general stamina and well-being to increase.
Our 5 year old ex-racing greyhound often came on long rambling walks with us or spent an hour chasing a tennis ball in the park. It was not until his 12th year (and an illness) that he started to slow down.
All dogs can be trained
The old phrase 'you can't teach an old dog new tricks' means that it is often difficult to get people to try new ways of doing things, especially if they have been doing something in a particular way for a long time. However, you absolutely can train an older dog new tricks. They are equal to small pups when it comes to training. The added bonus when you have an older dog is their concentration span is better and they quickly understand what is being asked of them.
When it comes to potty training, almost all older dogs will already have an instinctive reluctance to pee or poop in their homes. Dogs are den animals and naturally do not want to soil the area they eat and sleep in. Some dogs may feel the need to "mark" when first entering a new home but one pee instead of months of potty training is a good reason to adopt a senior dog. After years of adoptions, potty training is rarely an issue that is brought up during the settling in period.
Not all dogs in shelters are from the streets. There are a high number of older dogs in care because their owners have passed away or family situations have changed and there was no-one else to take them on. These dogs have all the normal social manners you would expect of a dog. They have lived in a domestic home all their lives and have no reported behavioural problems. Training is not needed at all. Just a new loving family.
Training doesn't have to be hard
Of course, there will be dogs that have noted behavioural problems. The shelters will advise if certain dogs should not go to homes with cats or they have some dog-on-dog aggression. However, this again should not put you off adopting an older dog. These dogs have not been exposed to any training. With a little guidance and some time, all of these dogs can be taught that other dogs are fun to be around. And you have to understand that some dogs just like to chase cats no matter their age.
Older dogs are easier to assess
Dogs are assessed when they come into shelters. The older dogs are much easier to assess for temperament than younger ones. Their natural personalities have already developed and we can see which are out-going, shy, playful, lazy, child-friendly, cat-friendly, and dog-friendly.
One concern that owners with children understandably have is whether a dog is likely to hurt their child. Older dogs tend to quite quick to show their comfort levels around children. Either adoring the attention or moving away to a quiet space, watching them scream and play from a distance.
Puppies have sharp little teeth and no bite inhibition. Once they pass that stage, they move into the 'terrible two's' (dog teenage years) and tend to rebel against their owners as you would expect most teenagers to do. It is much more likely for an over-excited young dog to nip or knock down a child than an older dog.
Dogs love all family members and can be loving and adoringly protective with the younger members. Attacks are very rare. It is a last resort for most dogs, preferring to retreat to a quiet place rather than lash out. Only dogs that exhibit signs indicative to past trauma involving children could be the exception to the rule. Shelters and foster homes can identify dogs that are uncomfortable around children - these can include puppies - and should advise against putting them in a family home.
Ultimately, all dogs can be unpredictable whether they have been with your family from a puppy or from an older age. Introduction periods should be monitored. Children should be taught how to interact with dogs. A dog needs a safe space to retreat if the environment is becoming overwhelming.
And now all the good reasons...
Most suitable option for you
Because older dogs are easier to assess, it is far easier to pair an older shelter dog with your lifestyle. Selecting the right dog to suit your everyday life is crucial. By researching breed, temperament, and energy levels and understanding which dog is most suited to you, you can ensure that you live a long and happy life together. Try reading my blog: What is the Best Dog for Me? for help with this.
When you decide to adopt, shelters help you decide which dogs are going to fit into your family best. They have become familiar with a dog's behaviour and characteristics as they interact with them each and every day. Older dog's personalities are full formed, there doesn't tend to be any surprises. You can just take home your new best friend.
Older dogs are more independent
Adult and senior dogs tend to be more independent. Of course, they will love to follow you around and spend time with you. But, they would have also mastered the art of amusing themselves or enjoying a little downtime snooze.
Puppies can be overwhelmingly demanding as they start to explore the world with their teeth as well as their minds. Just like toddlers, they are curious of everything and can bore easily. Puppies need a lot more attention than adult or senior dogs. After a long walk (and with a comfy bed) most adult and senior dogs are happy to have a nap for a few hours. But not pups - they are ready to get going again much sooner and when they wake, don't forget to get them outside for a pee because you will be potty training.
They make excellent companions
Dogs are not called Man's Best Friend for no reason. They make excellent companions. Their eagerness to love us and be loved by us makes them a joy to be around. An adult or senior dog has left it's wild days behind them and can make an ideal companion.
After suffering a loss or hardship, dogs can be an ideal therapy for grief and loneliness. Dogs get people moving again. They give each owner a sense of purpose and a duty of care. In return they provide unconditional love and a good sofa cuddle partner.
Pets as Therapy, and other organisations, have long known the therapeutic benefits of sharing time with animals. They work with dog owner volunteers to assess dogs (they must ensure the dogs will also benefit) and take them to care homes, nursing homes, hospitals and disability schools to spend time with the people there. Dogs enrich our lives in many ways and this is never more true than when you see the reaction of both person and dog at a PAT visit.
Adult and senior dogs can be very calming influences over young dogs and fearful dogs. They can take the lead and show youngsters how to behave in social situations and encourage fearful dogs to follow them. Older dogs are able to teach the pups when they are nipping too much, show them that they should go to toilet outside, and give them a mature and knowledgeable playmate. Dog communication is complex and while we train our dogs to behave well in human social situations, the best way for a dog to learn is from other dogs.
If you are considering taking on two dogs so that they have company when you are not around, taking two pups together can lead to a lot of future problems. They build a special relationship which is great but they also rebel together. There is a lot of research on avoiding taking on puppies together, whether they are siblings or not. Having at least one older dog will help with a more harmonious household as they bring their calming influence to it.
I have worked with trainers that have suggested taking on an adult dog to help with both unmanageable puppies and other dogs that lack confidence. This can produce outstanding results in just a matter of weeks.
BE A HERO!
Dog shelters are full of dogs that need loving homes and it is the older ones that tend to struggle to find forever homes and have to see out the last of their days in the shelter. There are a handful of new owners that will take on a senior dog but it is fewer than you may think. Surveys carried out by Petfinder.com revealed that older dogs spend nearly four times longer in a shelter than puppies and young dogs.
November is National Adopt a Senior Pet Month. A month dedicated to finding senior dogs loving homes to spend the rest of their years in. Rescue centres and shelters across the world will be hoping those looking to adopt a new friend will consider a more mature dog for the family home. Will you be one of those people?
Be a Hero! Help a senior dog find their forever home because you CAN teach an old dog new tricks!