Am I Too Old to Get a Dog?

One of the first articles I ever wrote was called “A Pet for Your Parents.” I’m sure I wrote about all the right things, but now the shoe is on the other foot. Now I am the old person. Now I can tell the story in a much more personal way.

Some people feel it’s wrong to get a dog when you yourself are old. To me, the saddest thing, the unthinkable thing, would be to be old and not have a dog. A dog can mitigate so much of what may be difficult in old age.

Benefits of a Dog

For one thing, there’s company. There are the walks your dog will need you to take with him. There’s someone to eat dinner with, even if there’s no candlelight.  There’s someone to talk to–and yes, we all do that, and yes, it’s fine. There’s someone over-the-moon happy to see you when you come home–or just get up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night. And there are human conversations and human friendships that happen because there’s a dog at your side.  Trust me. This is true. Old people with dogs are not invisible.

Canine Considerations

Of course, there are things to think about and arrange. First and foremost, you do not need someone to promise to take your dog should you die first. People’s circumstances may change radically over time so a sincere promise might be impossible to keep should the time come.

Instead, you need someone to promise to find your dog a good and loving home should you die first. That home might be their home. Or it might be someone else’s home, someone who will love and care for your beloved dog almost as well as you do now.

Also, if you are of a certain age, it’s a good idea to write out your dog’s routine, his food, the contact information for his veterinarian, what cues or tricks he knows, any issues he might have, and any medications he needs. Keep that information with the name and number of the person who will take care of him should you be ill or worse. Put this in an envelope, mark the envelope “In case of emergency” and tape it to the door of your refrigerator, which is where emergency personnel will look for instructions. Then you can relax and outlive everyone!

What Kind of Dog?

Your choice of a dog is important. How much dog can you handle? Perhaps you’ve always had big dogs but now you’re over 75 and maybe a smaller dog would be safer and easier. Can you afford to feed a big dog? Or handle a big dog on leash? Will you need to go to class or hire a private trainer? Is it safe where you live to walk a dog after dark? Are you able to get up and out early in the morning to walk a dog? If not, and if there’s no yard, should you think about a little dog who can use a wee wee pad?

There’s more to think about–the age of the dog, for example.  Do you want to go through the formidable work of raising a puppy? Can you handle a dorky adolescent? Perhaps a more sedate older dog would work better. Or a more sedate breed might work better.

The answer depends in part in how you will live with your dog and what you will expect from him. Since I am raising a service dog, it was best for me to begin with a puppy who could learn from watching my older service dog and could learn what he needs to know from me without having to unlearn things from his previous life. But for many other seniors, an adult dog, one past adolescence, can be easiest and work best. After you think it over, do your research and listen to advice, the decision is yours to make.

Too Old? Maybe Not

If, like me, you are an avid dog lover, if being with a dog gives you comfort, makes you laugh and makes you feel whole, you might ask yourself, “Am I too old to get a dog?” My answer was yes, but I got one anyway! Truly, there’s no need to imagine yourself without a best friend as you age. With some careful choices and a little planning, you can and should have a dog at any time in your life. As it turns out, when you are not a kid any longer, that may be when you want a dog most.

This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.

Carol Lea Benjamin is a noted dog trainer, who, in 2002, was elected to The International Association of Canine Professionals Hall of Fame for “a lifetime of dedication to dogs and their training.”  She is the author of numerous award-winning books on dog behavior as well as the Shamus Award-winning Rachel Alexander and Dash mystery series.  Benjamin lives in New York City with her two dogs, Sky, a Border Collie, and Ziggy, an English Shepherd.