Dogs wiggle into our hearts at all ages. The joy of watching a puppy discover the world is truly exciting, but there’s a lot to be said for adopting older dogs too. With older dogs, we get a good sense of who they are, their personality and maturity. We get to skip the house training and extra hours of being a baby dog pet parent and skip directly to the joy of having a grown companion and protector. For the most part, we know what and who we’re getting in an adult dog.
Why People Give Up Older Dogs to Shelters
Many people shy away from adopting an older dog, fearing the animal may have undesirable or “bad” traits. “Why else,” they ask, “would their owners have given them up?” The fact is, most adult dogs are good dogs who have owners with issues. According to the National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy (NCPPSP) and published in the July issue of the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science (JAAWS), researchers went into 12 selected animal shelters in the United States for one year to find out why people give up their animals. What they found was most reasons had nothing to do with the animal itself, and everything to do with the owner:
- Moving (7%)
- Landlord not allowing pet (6%)
- Too many animals in the household (4%)
- Cost of pet maintenance (5%)
- Owner having personal problems (4%)
- Inadequate facilities (4%)
- No homes available for litter mates (3%)
- Having no time for pet (4%)
- Pet illness(es) (4%)
- Biting (3%)
(The percentages do not add up to 100% because they represent only the top ten, not all reasons given by owners for relinquishment of animals to shelters.)
Characteristics of Pets Being Relinquished
In addition to the reasons for relinquishment, the study collected data on the pets being relinquished. According to the study:
- The majority of the surrendered dogs (47.7%) were between 5 months and 3 years of age.
- The majority of dogs (37.1%) had been owned from 7 months to 1 year.
- Approximately half of the pets (42.8% of dogs) surrendered were not neutered. Many of the pets relinquished (33% of dogs) had not been to a veterinarian.
- Animals acquired from friends were relinquished in higher numbers (31.4% of dogs) than from any other source.
- Most dogs (96%) had not received any obedience training.
Shelter employees will generally rule out unadoptable dogs - dogs with biting, aggression, or anti-social personalities or problems. If the dog is up for adoption, chances are it’s not because of the animal’s behavior. You can always ask, and shelters will give you all the background on the animal and why it was surrendered.
3 Types of “Older” Dogs: Adolescents, Adults and Seniors
Adolescents Age 1-3
Most people surrender their teenage dogs, usually 1-3 years old, to shelters because they can’t deal with normal behavior that is simply part of a dog’s adolescence - the teenage years. They don’t realize that if they stick it out, train and discipline, and work with their often boundaryless pet, they’ll reap the rewards of canine maturity. Sadly, they give up too quickly, leaving a confused teenage dog to start life over with a new family. If you’re patient and are an experienced dog owner, you’ll do well to consider adopting an adolescent dog. This is the hardest age for many owners, yet with the right dog, can prove to be the best age.
- Their bladders have matured, and they can “hold” their urine through the night.
- They’re house trained and know a few basic commands.
- They’ve made the treat and reward connection and are easier to train - when you can get their attention.
- They’re full of energy and mature enough physically to go on long walks and keep up with their owners.
- Adolescent dogs may have bad habits - like garbage diving, shoe and sofa shredding, and counter surfing. Those habits are probably what got them into the shelter. They’re not always angels, and depending on the level, or lack of training from their prior home, they may take some serious retraining and a ton of patience.
- Adolescent dogs are high energy and need a lot of attention and training.
- Adolescent dogs may have anxiety and suffer from separation anxiety.
Adults Age 3-6
Adult dogs ages 3-6 tend to be released to shelters because an owner is moving, or changing jobs, or residences and can no longer keep the dog. These dogs are past the high energy, unfocused and wild uncontrollability of adolescence, and tend to be calmer, but energetic pets more focused on pleasing their owners.
- They’re house-trained and know basic commands like sit, stay, come, leave it.
- They make excellent therapy dogs and companions for seniors.
- They’ve still got a lot of energy and are able to participate fully in your life as well.
- They’re more mellow, less frenetic and spastic.
- Adult dogs, especially the “people friendly” breeds bond quickly with new owners and see life as an adventure.
- When you sleep, they sleep. Older dogs tend to adjust to your schedule, relaxing when you relax.
- They’re more likely to fit into a new family quickly.
- Adult dogs, especially in certain breeds, tend to be “one-owner” dogs and never fully bond with a new owner.
- They may be depressed as they grieve their old life, habits, and environment. If the new life is better, they quickly adapt. If they’re used to long walks, hikes, and a lot of activity and you want them to be indoor dogs, there will be issues.
- Unknown habits, fears, and quirks may not surface immediately.
Seniors Age 6-11
What’s not to love about a senior dog? From their graying muzzles to their slow, patient and appreciative natures, senior dogs are the most loving of all ages of dog. They may have some incontinence issues, be going deaf or blind, but they absolutely and totally love just being part of a family or a senior human’s life.
- They require less exercise and food.
- They are independent.- Senior dogs love to be by their owners’ sides, but they have also mastered the art of amusing themselves
- They make excellent therapy dogs and companions for seniors.
- Older dogs tend to adjust to your schedule, relaxing when you relax, sleeping when you sleep.
- Already trained, yet contrary to the old adage about not being able to teach an old dog new tricks - they do learn new things, often easier because they’re experienced learners.
- They’re generally more trusting, less anxious and less aggressive.
- They seem grateful and thrilled to still be alive.
- They are very evenly tempered.
- They’re happy just to be with a human and are content to sleep or just be in the same room with their owner.
- Adopting an older dog may save its life. By adopting a senior dog, you are not only providing it with a better life but are also saving it from being put down or living out its life in a shelter.
- They have age-related health issues - from blindness, deafness, dental issues, incontinence.
- They may have undesirable and irreversible habits and behaviors they can’t be trained out of.
- They may need help getting into a car, or up on the bed or couch (if allowed).
- You won’t have a lot of time left with them - maybe 1-3 years.
Dogs are adoptable at every stage of life. There’s one out there that will be perfect for you and your family, and you’ll know it the minute you find them.
Training a dog at any age takes time, and patience, but when they are performing an undesirable behavior due to medical or mobility issues - it’s only fair to give them the same treatment you would expect if you were in their shoes.