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The Five Best Dog Breeds for Senior Citizens

Dr. Mark is a veterinarian. He has been working with dogs for more than 40 years.

What are the best dogs for senior citizens?

What are the best dogs for senior citizens?

Dogs to Complete a Senior Citizen's Life

If you are a senior citizen or are researching the best dog breed for a senior citizen in your family, I urge you to pick one of these dogs to make that senior's life more complete. Having a dog will make you live longer and keep you healthier. Dogs are entertaining and will tend to lower your blood pressure, and they keep all of us active when they look up with sad eyes and “request” a daily walk.

Am I “preaching to the choir”? If you are searching for this topic, you already know that getting a new dog will be the best way to improve your life.

But which are the five best dog breeds for seniors? We'll take a look at the following:

  1. Lhasa Apso
  2. Shih Tzu
  3. Yorkshire Terrier
  4. Chihuahua
  5. Maltese

1. Lhasa Apso

This is a great dog because most of them enjoy being around the house and “chilling.” They are small, usually not more than 15 pounds, but not too small nor too frail like an Italian Greyhound or Chihuahua. They are happy to treat you like a Tibetan monk and just sit on your lap or lie on your feet and keep them company, but they also make great watchdogs. Since they bark a lot, a Lhasa Apso will alert you to a visitor at the door.

If you like the way they look and decide to get one of these dogs, a great point in their favor is that they do not shed much. No dogs are truly hypoallergenic, but this breed is fairly clean, and that makes them a good choice for someone with allergies. Like any breed of dog, they need training, and if you don’t do this early and effectively, they may become aggressive with visitors or grandchildren.

They are usually pretty healthy dogs, but your dog might have skin and eye problems. A lot of these great dogs are problem-free for about 14 years, their average life span. This makes them one of the longest-living breeds of dog.

A Shih Tzu is ideal for seniors.

A Shih Tzu is ideal for seniors.

2. Shih Tzu

This Chinese dog is a little smaller than the Lhasa Apso, also usually under 15 pounds, and they have long, silky hair like their cousins from Tibet. Most Shih Tzu owners will describe their dog as a lot more friendly than the Lhasa, although they are still willing to bark at strangers and are well-known as a watchdog.

They do not shed much, so they are another breed great for anyone prone to allergies. They need training and a daily walk but are usually happy with visitors and much friendlier towards kids.

Getting used to the face and underbite is easy for some, but not for others. (If you are adamant about finding a dog who does not snore, stay away from this little Chinese lion dog.) If you like them and are interested in getting a Shih Tzu, you need to look out for a trick knee, ear infections, and eye problems.

They live around 13 years, so almost as long as the Lhasa Apso, and they are also one of the longest living breeds of dog.

Yorkshire Terriers do not shed much.

Yorkshire Terriers do not shed much.

3. Yorkshire Terrier

This active and vocal little dog does not shed much, but it does require regular grooming, like the Shih Tzu, Lhasa Apso, and his cousin the Maltese. They come from England, like their name suggests, and breeders there selected a dog that would lose hairs only when brushed or broken. The Yorkie is a good choice for someone prone to allergies.

According to Dr. Coren's book The Intelligence of Dogs, Yorkies are rated 27th, which is good for a small breed, and they do better in obedience training than many small dog breeds. They were bred to hunt rats but now are mostly companions.

The breed does have some serious health issues, so if you like the way they look and have decided on one of these dogs, you need to look out for the following:

  • low blood sugar
  • retained puppy teeth and trick knees in a puppy
  • eyelash problems that cause excessive tearing and corneal damage
  • more serious problems like tracheal collapse and a portosystemic shunt

They are also prone to periodontal disease, like all the small breeds, and daily toothbrushing is really a good idea.

If your Yorkie avoids serious health problems, she can be one of the longest living breeds of dog, averaging around 17 years.

Chihuahuas enjoy seniors and each other.

Chihuahuas enjoy seniors and each other.

4. Chihuahua

This is the smallest breed of dog, an ancient companion dog from Mexico, and they're the best choice for someone not able to spend a lot of time walking every day. Most Chihuahuas will appreciate getting out, tearing up the trails, or visiting the dog park, but they will still do okay if not exercised consistently.

Most Chihuahua owners will tell you that their dogs are not good with kids. A lot of them do not get along with other breeds of dogs, either, so this should be a consideration when choosing your new dog.

Chihuahuas are also great because they are one of the longest-living dog breeds. If the dog is around the house most of the time, however, the owner must be careful not to overfeed because they are prone to obesity. They can also suffer from epilepsy, tracheal collapse, and bronchitis, and, unfortunately, many of them are prone to a trick knee. Many Chihuahuas have dental problems if their teeth are not brushed daily.

If you are interested in finding a little Chihuahua to keep you company, be sure to check with all of the local shelters, rescues, and Some shelters will adopt out purebred Chihuahuas; others will have mixed breed dogs available.

5. Maltese

This slacker dog is great for several reasons:

  • He is usually content to sit around and keep you company when he can't be walked.
  • If his new owners have never owned a dog before, he will forgive a lot of mistakes.
  • The Maltese does not shed much (making him a great choice for anyone suffering from allergies) but does like to bark.
  • Most of them also like cats, and they are also more likely to get along with the grandkids when they come to visit, but they should be supervised, like all dogs.

The Maltese is also easy to handle. He usually weighs less than 10 pounds, often even less than 8. That makes the home physical exam easy to do, and it makes him easy to manage during training, although Dr. Coren ranks the dog at only 59 out of 69 breeds tested for intelligence. Most Maltese owners will disagree on that intelligence rating and are happy with their dog's performance in obedience classes.

If you like the looks of this small white dog and want to add him to your household, there are a few health issues to consider. Out on a long walk, they can become sunburned; in the house all the time, they are prone to tear staining, chills, and dental disease.

What if a Senior Wants a Larger Dog?

There will be many people that disagree with me because some people are only interested in a larger dog. If none of these smaller dogs hold any interest, the only larger dog I can recommend for a senior citizen is a rescued racing greyhound.

Rescued Greyhounds

Retired racing greyhounds are already adults by the time they are adopted, so there are no issues with puppy misbehavior. They are also used to being locked up in a crate all day long, so they will stay quiet if they have to be confined. They are usually healthy, don't bark much, do well in small spaces (even an apartment), and will be okay if taken out for a walk on the leash or run at the dog park once a day. They are also among the skinniest dog breeds.

If you cannot take your dog out once a day, however, this dog is not a good choice. Also, you need to be careful if you have small dogs or cats in the house. Greyhounds have a high prey drive and will sometimes go after small animals.

Finding That New Dog

If you decide to get one of the dogs on this list (or any other dog), consider visiting your local animal shelter or contacting a rescue group to ask about the type of dog you want to adopt. You may find a mixed breed or purebred of just the type you are searching for.

Consider Adopting an Older Dog

Also, do not forget about looking at the older adult and senior dogs at the shelter. There are a lot of advantages to adopting an adult dog instead of a puppy, like avoiding housetraining, excessive chewing and nipping, and sometimes an older dog will even be obedience trained. Take a few minutes to find out who is available.

If the shelter or rescue does not work out, contact a breeder. DO NOT buy a puppy from a pet shop. You will be supporting a puppy mill, and the new dog may have the kind of housetraining issue you do not want to deal with.

Whatever you decide on, find a dog today!

Even More About Finding the Best Dogs . . .

  • 5 Best Family Guard Dog Breeds
    A guard dog can protect your family when no one else is around. These are the five best breeds for a family, plus photos, videos, and detailed descriptions of why they're perfect for homes with kids.
  • 6 Small Dog Breeds That Don't Bark (A Lot!)
    If you are searching for a little breed of dog that does not bark much, check out the five best! Videos, photos, and a description of each dog will help you make the right choice.

Questions & Answers

Question: How often should Maltese be groomed?

Answer: If you want to leave your dog with a long hair coat, he or she needs to be bathed roughly every two weeks and brushed daily to prevent matting. If you want to keep your dog with short hair (a puppy cut), the hair needs to be clipped about every six weeks. They will not need to be brushed as thoroughly, but still deserves a combing for a few minutes every day.

Question: Are airedales too active for seniors?

Answer: Airedales can be very active and are strong dogs. I would not recommend them for most seniors because if they get too excited and want to attack another dog, for instance, they could pull the person off of his feet. A small dog is definitely better for this reason.

One of my neighbors, at 80+, decided that he wanted a Rottie to protect his home. When he walked the dog every day he could barely control him.

Question: Are Maltese dogs good with kids?

Answer: Many Maltese dogs are good with kids. They are not the best, however. Breeds like the Bichon Frisé are a lot more cheerful. If getting a Maltese, make sure that your kids or grandkids are not toddlers. Maltese are very tiny and can be injured by a toddler just playing around. (I waited until my son was four before getting one for our family.)

© 2013 Mark dos Anjos DVM


Mark dos Anjos DVM (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on May 25, 2015:

Thats great! My father is about that age and recently adopted a Maltese cross to go on walks with him--it has made a big difference in both of their lives.

McKenna Meyers on May 24, 2015:

My 77-year-old me mom just adopted a little dog from a shelter. What a great thing! She had a stroke a year ago and was making a slow recovery. This dog has given her the motivation to get up in the morning and take a walk. She goes to the nearby dog park twice a day. She's now talking about having her dog become a therapy dog, visiting patients at nursing homes.

Mark dos Anjos DVM (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on May 28, 2014:

Hi Wylie I agree that Goldens are affectionate and great for families but I would not recommend them for senior citizens. Goldens are big, and when they develop a problem like a torn knee or arthritis, if the owner is a senior the dog is most likely going to be put down. It is a sad truth, and. unless that person with hearing or vision problems has a base of support, the dog might eventually suffer.

Mark dos Anjos DVM (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on February 06, 2013:

pstraubie48, it is a pleasure to see you hear and read your nice comment. I hope you find the perfect little angel!

Mark dos Anjos DVM (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on February 06, 2013:

Thanks for that comment, craftybegonia. Buddy sounds like a wonderful dog, and he must have been a great companion for your mom. (?)

Patricia Scott from North Central Florida on February 05, 2013:

This has really made me want to have a dog again. But choosing the one will be a huge decision for me. I definitely want a tiny dog so will be able to narrow down my choices a bit. And you are so right...choosing a more mature dog is a good suggestion as puppies do require much training. thank you for sharing this with us...Sending Angels your way :) ps

craftybegonia from Southwestern, United States on February 05, 2013:

Wonderful topic! I know just how much our dog Buddy loved my mom. She was his favorite person in all the family for some reason, thou he loved us all. He was very protective of "his" grandma, and they had a wonderful relationship, so I know how wonderful a dog can be during the golden years.