When people talk about adopting a new dog, they rarely talk about owning a senior dog.
This lack of discussion is likely one reason why there are so many questions about senior dog ownership.
As someone who champions senior dogs, I thought that today I would address some of the most commonly asked questions about owning a senior dog.
Answers to Commonly Asked Questions About Owning a Senior Dog
Q: Won’t I get much less time with my dog if I adopt a senior dog?
A: Not necessarily! A dog is considered to be a “senior” at some point between 6 years and 11 years depending on their breed. With that said, while there are standard life span ranges for different breeds, there are always dogs that break the mold. Not only that, but there is no predicting what will happen within the lifespan of your dog! For example, if you adopt a puppy and God forbid they are hit by a car and killed at 2-years-old, you will have less time with that dog than a senior dog you adopt at 9-years-old who lives to be 15!
Q: Isn’t it much more expensive to own a senior dog?
A: No! Just like the lifespan of your dog varies, the health of your dog will vary on an individual basis as well! Take Jet, for example, he has been through the ringer when it comes to his health and that means that throughout his life he has been an expensive dog! There are also dogs who are healthy throughout their entire life. And yes, there are some dogs that become ill as they age and they will require medications, tests, or more frequent check-ups, but there is no telling what type of dog your dog will be!
Q: Aren’t senior dogs stubborn?
A: I always laugh when people ask me this. I know that it stems from the old adage “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks”, but it’s simply not true. Firstly, you can teach an old dog to do anything they are physically capable of. Secondly, a dog that is “stubborn” is the reflection of an owner who doesn’t know how to communicate clearly with their dog or who hasn’t found that dog’s motivation. Just like us, dogs need to be motivated to do something, for some dogs that motivation is food, for others it’s praise, and for others, it’s the thrill of chasing a tennis ball!
I once owned a border collie, she was the most hardheaded dog I have ever had the pleasure of owning. Over time I came to understand that her herding instinct was what drove her, she needed to work. If I gave her work to do, she would oblige me with anything I asked of her. In comparison, Jet is motivated by companionship and affection. For my senior boy to learn a new task or complete a task for me, all it takes is for me to love him. A kiss on the head, a scratch on the ears, a belly rub, it doesn’t matter, it is his motivation.
Q: Old dogs have more accidents in the house!
A: Have you ever owned a puppy?
Yes, it’s true that some senior dogs have accidents in the house, but not all senior dogs do and most of the time accidents are periodic and minimal. These accidents can usually be prevented by taking your senior dog out more frequently to use the bathroom or by using diapers or belly bands in the house. There are also medications available for some dogs that experience incontinence.
Now, let’s talk about puppies for a moment…
Puppies have accidents in the house as well. Not only will bathroom accidents happen, but puppies find all kinds of trouble to get into as well! Chewing baseboards, chewing furniture, pulling things from tables, tearing paper or clothing that’s within reach…
Every dog has the potential for having some kind of accident in the house!
Q: Owning a senior dog means watching a dog die, doesn’t it?
A: This goes back to the first question I answered. At some point, every dog is going to die. For some dogs, this happens at 2-years-old, for some dogs it happens at 9-years-old, and for some dogs, it happens at 15-years-old. There is no avoiding the inevitability of losing a dog.
Is there a chance that you won’t get as long to spend with a senior dog as you might with a puppy or adult dog? There certainly is, but there is something special about those senior years that you won’t find in puppyhood or adulthood.
Q: What do people mean when they say that there’s something special about owning a senior dog?
A: This is a tough one to answer, it’s like trying to explain the difference between good chocolate and fine chocolate. Both types of chocolate are good, but there’s just something special about fine chocolate that you don’t find in good chocolate.
When Jet was a puppy, he was constantly on the go. He spent his first four years investigating things, learning how to communicate and follow instruction, and generally figuring out how the world works. He was BUSY.
When Jet was an adult, he was independent. He still loved me and I knew that, but he was his own dog in a fast-paced doggy world. He lived for reward, for experience, for fun! He kept me BUSY.
Now that Jet is a senior, there’s a hum to life, a rhythm that just fits. He is content to let a fly go by without knocking over the coffee table to catch it. He is happy to nap for a few hours while I get some work done. He is comfortable with a short walk and a night of cuddling on the sofa.
It’s hard to explain unless you have known the love of a senior dog yourself, senior dogs are just comfortable.