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older woman with dog in forest

The essentials

  • Pet ownership has several benefits for older adults — Increased activity, healthy routines, and even a decrease in blood pressure and stress levels are a few of the perks of pet ownership.
  • The Shih Tzu is one of the best breeds for the elderly — With its affectionate disposition, small size, and moderate exercise needs, the Shih Tzu emerged as our top breed for older adults.
  • Temperament, size, and care needs are just a few factors to consider — Your budget, previous dog-owning experience, and tolerance for barking are a few more things to consider before buying or adopting. Compare your answers to our research on a breed’s typical behavior and requirements.

There’s a reason we call dogs man’s best friend. Their companionship is vital at any age, but it can be particularly beneficial for adults 65 and older. About 25% of older adults in the United States live alone, often leading to social isolation and increased loneliness. Caring for and owning a dog is a full-time responsibility that helps add purpose and routine, a reason to stay active, get out and about, and make new friends. Research even suggests that older pet owners saw higher cognitive test results than those without a pet.

However, not every dog breed is well-suited for a senior’s lifestyle. That’s why we’ve put together a comprehensive list of the best dog breeds for seniors so you can choose the best pet for your particular needs or those of a loved one.

Shih Tzu: Best overall dog breed for the elderly

Originally bred for kings and queens, the Shih Tzu is a particularly low-maintenance breed that likes to lounge on laps and spend afternoons curled up on the couch. Its size makes it perfect for apartments or smaller homes, and it does not need a big backyard to be perfectly content. The Shih Tzu’s small size also makes them easy to carry should the need arise. Shih Tzus tend to be both patient and affectionate, which makes them a good breed for people with younger grandchildren.

Shih tzu best breed for elderly

Challenges of owning a Shih Tzu

Shih Tzus are known for their long, luscious coats. Minimal shedding makes Shih Tzus a hypoallergenic breed, which can help pet owners allergic to pet dandruff. However, an inability to shed means that regular trips to the puppy spa may be necessary to keep those silky coats healthy and your dog happy. Shih Tzus also struggle with tear stains because of their short noses and excessive hair growth. We have some easy steps to help care for your dog’s tear stains.

👉 No dog breed is 100% hypoallergenic, but some are better than others for allergy sufferers. 

10 additional best dogs for seniors

While the Shih Tzu might be a great option for some, there’s no one-size-fits-all dog. Here are some other best dog breeds for seniors based on size, disposition, lifestyle needs, and more. Of course, this list is not exhaustive. While one breed is ideal for one household, it might not be the best fit for another. You know yourself best, so ultimately, you’ll be the best judge when it comes to adopting the best pup for you.

1. Cavalier King Charles spaniel

Known for its ability to read its owner’s emotional needs, the Cavalier King Charles spaniel makes an affectionate, loyal dog breed. On average, its weight ranges from 13 to 18 pounds, making it easy for many seniors to pick the dog up if necessary. It’s a great dog for seniors looking to maintain a healthy exercise routine. Cavalier King Charles spaniels are also easy to train, and because of their friendly nature, they get along well with children and other pets. Their long, silky coat does require regular grooming, and they are more prone to health issues such as obesity, hip dysplasia, and deafness, so keep up with your pet’s needs and watch for any changes in behavior.

Cavalier King Charles spaniel

2. Beagle

For those seniors looking for a breed to help get them out the door and on their way, look no further than the beagle. Bred as hunting dogs, beagles are famous for their energy, so prospective pet owners looking for a breed that will get them exercising may be well-matched. Beagles are scent-driven pups with a thirst for curiosity, so you will want a fenced-in yard to give them plenty of opportunities to run and play. Be sure to carefully store your beagle’s food, as they are prone to obesity — and talented at sniffing out an extra helping of supper. Dental problems are also common with this particular breed.

Beagle on the beach

3. Havanese

Perfectly pocket-sized, the Havanese is a compassionate, cheerful companion for retirees who can spend most days with their pets. They are fiercely intelligent and friendly pets, which makes them perfect for seniors with other pets or young grandchildren. As a toy breed, Havanese dogs have a fair amount of energy and enjoy daily walks or quick games of fetch in the backyard. Outside of daily brushing, which is necessary to protect from excessive shedding and matting, the breed requires little maintenance to keep them happy and healthy. Commonly known as “Velcro dogs,” Havanese tend to struggle with separation anxiety, so those looking to adopt a Havanese should stay as close to home as possible to keep their pup happy.

White Havanese dog

4. Poodle

Regal, proud, and highly intelligent, the poodle is a common choice among senior pet owners. While the standard poodle can weigh as much as 70 pounds, miniature poodles usually come in around 10 to 15 pounds, and toy poodles around four to six pounds, giving those looking to adopt several options to fit their needs. Poodles are easy to train because of their intelligence though they require plenty of attention and exercise to prevent boredom, which can lead to unhealthy behaviors such as excessive barking. While most dogs have fur, poodles have hair, which presents advantages and challenges to pet owners. They are hypoallergenic, ideal for seniors with asthma or other breathing conditions, but their ever-growing coat requires regular grooming. Poodle owners should look out for common health issues such as bloating, eye problems, and seizures.

Poodle at the park

5. Maltese

Like the Shih Tzu, the Maltese were once a favored breed among royals. Rivals Mary, Queen of Scots and Queen Elizabeth I both kept Maltese dogs at their respective palaces. Famous for its silky white coats, this breed is known for its tendency to curl up on its owner’s lap. They are known for their gentle, obedient, and loyal disposition, but they tend to struggle with separation anxiety, so owners should prepare to spend a lot of time with their four-legged friend. Since they don’t require much exercise, they are great for less mobile seniors. Maltese require relatively little maintenance and do not shed, but their coats require daily brushing and periodic grooming to keep their shine.

Maltese dog

6. Labrador and golden retrievers

There is a reason Labrador and golden retrievers are the most popular dog breeds in America. With their addictive energy and friendly nature, they make for the perfect companion. Labs and goldens alike are even-tempered, gentle dogs in tune with their owner’s emotions, which is why they often make great therapy dogs. However, they are a high-energy breed, particularly as puppies, so seniors looking to adopt a Labrador or a golden retriever should prepare for regular exercise. Labs and goldens do best with a fenced-in yard and plenty of space to run and play. They also adore water, so pet owners who live near a lake or pond should keep a lookout in case their pup comes back nice and soaked after a good swim.

Golden labrador

7. Greyhound

Most people associate hunting dogs with high energy, but that’s not necessarily true for the greyhound. Tall and lean, this gentle breed tends to enjoy a relaxing day lounging on the couch with its owner. Because they were bred to chase game, greyhounds require daily walks and enjoy the chance to run in the backyard. However, the breed’s calm, even-tempered disposition helps greyhound dogs thrive in almost any environment, including apartments, condos, and townhouses. It isn’t uncommon to find greyhounds napping throughout the day, and because they do not have many grooming needs, they’re quite low-maintenance dogs. Potential owners should be aware that greyhounds tend to be timid or even slightly aggressive when encountering strange people or pets for the first time, and they are prone to some health issues, such as gastrointestinal problems.

Senior lady with greyhound

8. Mini schnauzer

For more active seniors who don’t mind the occasional barking fit, a miniature schnauzer is a great option. Easily identified by their bold eyebrows and scraggly beards, this “little old man” dog is the perfect size to tote around or take on walks. They do not shed regularly and require a surprisingly minimal amount of grooming. However, like other breeds their size, they tend to struggle with separation anxiety, so owners should be willing to spend plenty of time with their pup. They are also the most active breed on this list, including the Labrador and golden retriever, so people seeking to adopt a mini schnauzer should be prepared for several walks a day. Like the greyhound, mini schnauzers can be aggressive toward strangers, so train them early to prevent excessive barking or growling.

Mini schnauzer

9. Lhasa apso

Known for its calm temperament and gorgeous, flowing coat, the Lhasa apso is perhaps one of the most independent and best small dogs for seniors. They also tend to be robust and healthy, though they may be predisposed to rare hereditary kidney dysfunction. For seniors looking for best lap dogs, the Lhasa apso is a great choice, as they don’t require much exercise to stay happy and healthy. Due to its small size, this breed thrives in most environments, including small apartments and condominiums. They tend not to bark unless provoked, but they are not known for playing nice with other dogs and may be alarmed by younger children. Because of their long, thick coat, they do require regular grooming, and their trips to the dog spa may make them a more expensive breed than the miniature schnauzer or the beagle.

Lhasa apso with pink bow

10. Pembroke Welsh corgi

You’ll feel like the Queen of England herself when you adopt a Pembroke Welsh corgi. Famously mild-mannered and well-behaved, the corgi is known for its stout little legs and a wide smile. They were originally bred as herding dogs, so pet owners will want to make sure they get routine exercise. This can be something as simple as a daily walk. Weighing anywhere between 27 and 30 pounds, corgis are surprisingly sturdy, but they can still be picked up with minimal effort. They’re quite energetic and affectionate and don’t often struggle with separation anxiety, so seniors looking to get out regularly can leave them at home without fear of upsetting them. Of all the breeds listed here, they are the most prone to von Willebrand disease, a genetic bleeding disorder. Owners should be on the lookout for excessive bleeding and bruising and be sure to visit a vet right away should these symptoms begin.

Pembroke Welsh corgi

Other considerations when choosing the best breeds for the elderly

Now that you know more about the best dogs for seniors, you may be aching to get out there and adopt your new furry companion. However, there are a few more things to consider before heading to your nearest rescue.

If you’ve recently downsized or moved to a retirement community, you may not have the right amount of space for larger, energetic breeds like a Labrador or golden retriever while smaller, more relaxed breeds like the Maltese or Havanese might be perfect for your living quarters. You’ll also want to be mindful of the individual needs that come with each pet, regardless of their breed. Special needs dogs or elderly dogs may not be the best choice for a senior lifestyle.

Is the dog a pet?

Owners need to ask themselves whether they’re looking for a pet or a service, therapy, or support animal. Service and therapy animals require special certification, but they are protected under the Fair Housing Act and can help seniors struggling with disabilities or health conditions such as macular degeneration or seizure disorders. Emotional support animals are also protected by the Fair Housing Act and are trained in helping people with emotional or mental disabilities. Before you adopt, consider whether you’re simply looking for companionship or have additional needs, as this will affect how and where you adopt your dog as well your pet’s relationship with your housing arrangement.

Are there any pet restrictions where you live?

When looking to adopt a dog, seniors must consider the limitations of their place of residence. Those who live alone in a home they own may not have any rules to consider, but smaller apartment complexes and assisted living facilities may have certain restrictions that prohibit potential pet owners from keeping certain dogs. It’s also important to consider the dog’s behavioral needs when you’re looking to adopt: do they need plenty of space to run and play, like the Labrador, or are they okay lounging on the couch, like the greyhound? Do they tend to bark, and how will that affect your relationship with the neighbors? These are all important questions to ask when looking to adopt a pet.

How long will the dog live?

A dog’s lifespan is something senior dog owners should consider when looking to adopt. Smaller dogs, such as the miniature schnauzer, tend to have longer lifespans, so older pet owners should have a plan for what happens should their pets outlive them. While senior dogs often come with their own set of needs, younger adult dogs about two or three years old may be a great option for seniors who don’t necessarily want the responsibility of housetraining a puppy but want to have a companion for about a decade.

What is the dog’s disposition?

Attitude is everything, particularly when a senior is looking to adopt a pet. Before welcoming a new furry friend to the home, here are three tips when considering their disposition.

  • Assess their energy level — If the breed is particularly energetic, like the beagle or the poodle, you will want to ask yourself how much energy you can devote to regular exercise and playtime. If you want a dog that gets you up and moving, opt for a more playful breed. If slow-paced is more your thing, consider some of the more laid-back, easygoing breeds on our list.
  • Research their temperaments — Some dogs, like miniature schnauzers, are infamous for their barking and might not be a great fit for people living in apartments or assisted living homes. For those who love cats as much as dogs, some breeds, like greyhounds, tend not to play nice with their feline companions, while the beagle and Maltese usually enjoy their company,
  • Note their emotional needs, too — The choice to adopt is often motivated by a desire for companionship, but you need to assess how much attention you can give to your pup — and how much attention they need to be happy. If a breed is prone to separation anxiety and you travel often, it might not be the best dog for you.

How big does the breed get?

You will want to know exactly how big the breed gets before deciding to welcome a dog into your home. For seniors especially, size is a crucial factor to consider, as some dogs will need to be moved or picked up for a variety of reasons. Larger dogs tend to struggle in smaller spaces and require more regular exercise, so if one or both of these factors present a challenge, consider a smaller breed instead. In general, smaller breeds tend to be easier to manage and less of a financial burden, but if your heart belongs to a larger breed, consider calmer, more even-tempered dogs, such as the greyhound or a mature Labrador retriever.

What are the dog’s regular needs?

You will want to be aware of your pet’s grooming needs before you adopt. For example, breeds with long hair, such as the Lhasa apso, will require regular trips to the salon to keep their coat healthy. Other dogs, like greyhounds and schnauzers, require less grooming and may be easier (and less expensive) to manage. You’ll also want to consider the breed’s energy level and need for exercise, including how often the dog should be walked and how long each walk should be. Finally, certain breeds exhibit specific health issues, such as hip dysplasia and other conditions. Be aware of these conditions so you know how often you might need to take your pup to the vet.

Is the financial responsibility feasible?

Caring for a pet, like caring for a human, can be expensive. We’ve found that caring for a dog can cost anywhere from $150 to $300 a month. These expenses include food, veterinary care, grooming, and miscellaneous costs that may crop up from time to time. It’s also important to acknowledge the differences between large and small breeds. Larger dogs require more food, which will mean more money for proper care. Certain breeds, like poodles, Shih Tzus, and Lhasa apsos, require regular grooming appointments, while others will need toys and other forms of mental stimulation to stay happy and healthy. Finally, it’s important to consider which health conditions your dog may be predisposed to so you can plan for regular visits to the vet.

People enjoy the emotional stimulation and affection that comes with companionship. Adopting a pet can be a great way to add purpose and routine back into your life. However, each dog breed is different, so do your research to find the right companion for you.

Frequently asked questions

What is the best type of dog for an older person?

Because of its affectionate nature and low-maintenance needs, the Shih Tzu proved to be the overall best dog for older people in our research.

What dog is the easiest dog to take care of?

Several breeds are easy to take care of, but the Shih Tzu and greyhound seem to be the easiest in terms of behavior and exercise needs. Overall, smaller breeds tend to be easier to manage than larger, more energetic breeds.

What breed of dog is best for a disabled person?

Many breeds make great service dogs, but a disabled person will want to be sure the dog is certified before adoption. Poodles, Labradors, and golden retrievers are particularly popular service dogs as they are easy to train and may be more helpful in physically assisting disabled individuals.

Can you have a dog in a care home?

It depends on the rules and regulations of the individual home. Emotional support and service dogs are protected under the Fair Housing Act, but you will want to check with your care home for specific directions on whether pets are allowed in the facility.