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Spending the Golden Years with Dogs

You might need to make some adjustments, but you can absolutely continue to share your life with dogs as you age.

Well, it’s gonna happen: I will reach the age where I look forward to Social Security payments arriving in my bank account every month! With that significant milestone will come some new perspectives on life with dogs as a senior citizen.

Not the least of these is the sobering realization that I have a finite number of dogs left to share my life with, making each one an even greater treasure.

Just as daunting is the awareness that, if and when my husband and I do add more new canines to our family, we might need to revise our checklist of desirable adoption-dog characteristics. If you, too, are reaching your golden years or have dog-loving family members who are, you may find the following suggestions useful.

Don’t get me wrong! If you’re like me, you’re still quite agile and active. I do kennel chores every day, play in the with my dogs, and carry a few 50 lb bags of kibble. Check out any agility competition and you can be reassured that there are plenty of aging dog-lovers who can still get around quite handily. These tips are not just for doddering centenarians – just some of the things you might want to think about as you contemplate your future with your four-legged family members.

The Good Stuff

Aging with dogs isn’t all accommodations; there are lots of good things about being a senior dog owner:

You will likely be home more. With retirement comes more time to spend with your dogs. They will love this! So will you! If you, like me, have lots of active years ahead, you can do more training, more hiking, more playing, more cuddling, and just have more all-around fun together.

You might travel more together. It’s not uncommon for retirees to travel the country in a motor home, touring national parks and monuments, visiting out-of-the-way places, and crossing off bucket-list adventures.

Motor home travel is ideally suited for dogs; your dogs are cozy in their own home away from home and they get to go everywhere with you. You can even visit relatives without imposing your furry companions on them; if they don’t have dog-friendly homes yours can hang in their own space, parked just outside. You can even live in it full time and forget about those mortgage payments!

You could possibly qualify for a service dog.No, not that we want you to be disabled, but if you are, you could consider this an opportunity to have a super well-trained dog who could go with you virtually anywhere (with just a few very rare, limited exceptions).

Qualified dog training professionals are starting to offer more opportunities for people to train their own service dogs and avoid the high cost of purchasing a well-trained service dog. Of course, your dog has to be appropriate service-dog material – and under no circumstances should you join the sad ranks of those who fraudulently pretend their dogs are service dogs just to gain access for them.

Keeping a canine companion for company is good for you! An increasing number of retirement villages, assisted-living facilities, and managed-care homes now welcome companion animals, recognizing that this can improve both the mental and physical health of their human residents. Having an animal companion helps ease loneliness and stress, and animal-care tasks keep residents more active and social. If and when that time comes, you should be able to find a facility that will welcome you and your dog.

Cautions for Seniors Raising Dogs

So, what’s the down side? Here are some of the not-as-fun things to think about as you approach your golden years with dogs.

Providing proper care for dogs can be costly.Unless you’re one of the minority of Americans who have planned adequately for luxuries in your retirement years (kudos to you if you are!) the expense of caring for a dog can overwhelm a tight budget.

Top-notch pet insurance programs can help offset some of these costs, but it’s something to keep in mind as you consider how many (or how many more) animal companions you can reasonably provide for. It would be devastating to have to give up your beloved dog because you can’t afford to care for her!

That said, some expenses (such as pet-sitting/walking and doggie daycare) might decrease after retirement and help offset the cost of your dog’s medical needs.

Seniors must be sure, more than ever before in their lives, to make good adoption choices. If you’ve had Labrador Retrievers all your life, and lose your beloved 15-year-old Festus to old age when you are 70, you might automatically think to get another Lab puppy. After all, you’ve always had them!

Remember, however, that you were a spry 55 years old when you adopted Festus, and he ran you ragged then, until he grew up and became perfect. It’s easy to forget how hard Festus pulled on-leash as a youngster, but you likely remember how much your arthritis hurts on some days; that might not be a good combination.

Again, I empathize. When my husband and I were looking to adopt recently, a dog-trainer friend told us about one of her clients who was looking to rehome his large, active German Shepherd. We considered it seriously; my husband loves GSDs. But in the end, we adopted a Pomeranian-mix, Sunny – and we are very happy with him!

If you’ve always been a “big-dog person” it might be time to think smaller. You may have more and more physical limitations – could you still lift an injured big dog into the car if you had to? And if you think an assisted-living facility, or even just a downsized home in a condominium complex, might be in your future, be aware that both often restrict the size of the dogs they will accept.

On the other hand, be aware that very tiny dogs (especially tiny dogs who are very zippy and active) can be a tripping hazard for a slower adult, or one with mobility challenges, so keep that in mind as well.

Dog Training and Equipment Tips for Seniors

Now for more good stuff. Think of all you can teach your dog, with all that time on your hands! Even if you don’t need a service dog, yours can certainly help you around the house – finding, picking up, and bringing you things, closing doors and drawers, and more.

A good trainer can help you with these and other tasks you’d like your dog to learn. Some trainers even offer classes specifically for older humans, where the pace of the class might be a little slower, and the focus is on helping to meet the training needs of seniors!

In-Home Professional Training

If you need help with training and can’t attend a class because getting out of the house is hard, there are many good, positive trainers who will come to your home. Just be sure, as always, to research them carefully to make sure you’re getting a bona fide force-free trainer who will help you train your dog without hurting or scaring him.

Front-Clip Harnesses

Of course, the right equipment can also make life easier for our aging bodies. Front-clip harnessescan ease the pain of leash pulling; even smaller dogs can sometimes pull surprisingly hard!

Waist Belt