Adopting senior dogs

Most people do not consider adopting an older dog from the animal shelter or breed rescue group, but the truth is that these senior citizens are probably the best choice for the family that would like a companion that is house-trained, obedience trained, and socialized around young children.

In many cases, these dogs have already been trained and have grown beyond many of the behavioral problems of younger dogs, calming down as they age and as arthritis or other health problems make it more difficult for them to bounce around the yard after playing tennis balls.

Yet, adopting the older dog involves some unique challenges. A dog that has lived with one family for years and suddenly loses its home may be confused and frightened. Dogs are very much creatures of routine. A senior dog in a rescue situation may be more confused at first, and they do mourn the loss of their people. They miss the family and other pets, too, and that is stressful. They may need a little extra patience as they adjust to their new situation.

When a senior dog suffers from health problems, training may also require some modification. An older, arthritic dog may find sitting to be painful, so you may want to train it to stand or lie down in aggression cases.

Older dogs with orthopedic problems, such as hip dysplasia, may also be limited in the tricks and behaviors they can learn, so be respectful of his or her physical limitations.

Older dogs with dental problems may need softer training treats, and those with digestive or kidney problems may need special treats that won’t upset their digestive systems. Senior dogs that have lost their sight are still easy to train using treats, because even if they can’t see the treat, they can still smell it.

Senior dogs with health problems don’t have the strenuous exercise requirements of younger dogs, nor the need to burn off so much energy. Many older dogs are already familiar with and fond of children, and are happy to have a loving home with gentle people to care for them.

If your older dog has not been obedience trained, start as if your senior was a puppy. Follow a positive training philosophy (offering praise and treats for a desired behavior), and the science is exactly the same as training a puppy.

And as a final note, you are encouraged to adopt that older dog the next time you or your family is considering another dog for the home. They need loving homes just as much as puppies, are usually housetrained, out of the chewing stage, and make immediate sweet and loving family companions.