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Adopting An Older Dog 

Adopting an older dog can be a win-win situation, but it's usually not the first thing new owners think about when looking to add a dog to their family.

Which is a huge shame, because when you adopt a dog rather than a puppy you give him a chance of happiness and love that was, statistically-speaking, a long-shot.

Girl with her adopted dogs

My eldest daughter with her 2 adult adoptions.
Candi (sitting) and George (who was 'Senior of the Week' at the pound!)

Plus, you get so much in return.

Most mature dogs seem to know when they've been given a second chance, and the love and devotion they lavish on you is almost embarrassing!

So, why do most potential new dog owners head for the puppy pens first?

For lots of reasons really, but here are some possibilities..... 

Perhaps they're worried that an adult dog will have bad habits, or are afraid that he won't love them enough.

Maybe they think that it will be hard work training an older dog, or that he/she will have health problems or other too much 'baggage'.

Then of course there's the 'cuteness' factor.

A puppy is just about the cutest thing on four legs, and while most adolescent, adult, or older dogs are wonderful and beautiful in their own right, quite often they're not 'cute'.

Some of these worries or concerns might actually be a reality, others are unlikely or even untrue.

I've owned dogs my whole life, and there's no-one more vulnerable to a puppy's charms, but I can honestly say that in my experience, adopting an older dog warms your heart the way nothing else can.

About 12 years ago I adopted an adult Rottweiler, 130 lbs of gorgeous lap dog, one of the best boys I've ever known. Sadly he died of heart failure 2 years ago.
I still miss him.

My eldest daughter adopted two older dogs (actually one was 'Senior of the Week') from the local pound about 6 years ago. Her Senior boy passed away 2 years ago, but I'm sure his final years were the best of his life.

A month ago I added an adult 'pound puppy' to my 'pack', and already I can't imagine life without him. I call him 'Ivan The Adorable', because he's just so sweet and he fit right in as though he was meant to be here.

Pros & Cons of Adopting Adult Dogs

There are two sides to every coin, and adopting a dog rather than a puppy isn't always smooth sailing (but then again, neither is adopting a pup!)

Let's take a look at some of the positive things, and negative ones, that you need to take into account before you make a decision.

The Positives:

  • Adult and older dogs almost always have excellent bladder and bowel control (senior dogs can be an exception) so they need less potty breaks, can stay in their crates longer, and are less likely to have 'accidents' indoors.

  • Even adolescent and young adult dogs are close to the height/weight they're going to be when mature, so there's very little guess-work involved as to their eventual size. It's pretty much 'what you see is what you get'. With puppies, especially mixed-breeds, this is NOT the case!

  • Most mature dogs have lower energy levels than they do as puppies, so exercise requirements are lower and they're not as likely to be bouncing off the walls. But terrier and herding breeds are high-energy even when mature, and some breeds (such as the Boxer) can be eternal puppies.

  • Many dogs waiting for adoption are housebroken and have some basic training. Of course this depends on their previous home (and some are lifelong strays or haven't even been taught the basics). In a new home these lessons will need to be reinforced within a predictable daily routine to prevent a relapse in training.

  • Older dogs seem to have a sixth-sense and they know when they've been given a second chance at happiness - and appreciate every minute. They also often bond very closely with their new owner and the relationship is priceless.

  • Puppies are adorable, but they're also destructive and exhausting! An older dog is unlikely to chew up your shoes or drapes, hang on your pant legs or run rings around the sofa in the evening (but I won't say it's never happens).

The Negatives:

  • Dogs are creatures of habit, and any behavior that has become an ingrained habit is difficult to change. Bad habits such as scent-marking, begging, barking at cats, or guarding possession will take time and patience to overcome. The longer the dog has had the habit, the longer it will take to fix it.

  • If a dog reaches maturity, or even old age, without being housebroken it can be a real challenge. Supervision, regular potty breaks and even doggie diapers can all help, but again it will take effort and patience to overcome this problem.

  • Elderly or senior dogs may have incontinence problems related to old age. Sometimes your vet can help with this, sometimes not. Doggie diapers may be a reality for these dogs.

  • If an adult dog has never had experience of something (eg. cats, small pets, babies, pick-up trucks, car travel, vacuum cleaners etc.) he will most likely be afraid of it and act defensively... when it comes to cats, small pets and even potentially small children he may even act aggressively. 

  • In dog, just as in humans, age is often accompanied by health problems. Diabetes, obesity, arthritis, liver problems, vision and/or hearing loss, even heart trouble are all possible. Depending on the dog's history these may have been preventable, or may be hereditary or simply a result of aging. Treating or managing these will cost money. Puppies will eventually develop these issues too, but it will be further down the road obviously.

  • An older dog may be more difficult for any dog you already own to accept. Adult dogs instinctively 'go easy' on puppies but they may see an older dog as a rival or threat. In this area a lot depends on your resident dog. If he/she is usually friendly and tolerant of other dogs and has an easy-going nature, as long as the dog you bring home is similar there shouldn't be too many issues.

  • Older dogs may take a little longer to settle into a new home and routine, but pups and dogs of any age can be stressed by change. Be patient with your new dog and give him time to adjust at his own pace - the relief he feels at being in a 'proper home' will soon be obvious.
  • One last point, it's a sad one, but also has two sides. If you adopt an older, especially if it's a senior, dog then you will have less time to enjoy with him/her. That is sad for you, because losing a beloved pet is a heartbreak most of us know well, but that may be a selfish angle to view this from. The other side of that coin is that you will be filling the years he has left with love, tenderness and comfort. And don't all dogs deserve that? 

How To Choose The Right Dog For You

Dog pounds and rescue organizations are bursting at the seams with surrendered, abandoned and stray dogs.

There are literally millions of them waiting patiently (for as long as they are allowed to live) for a forever home.

Ivan showing me how happy he is to finally have a forever home.

It can be very difficult to separate emotion from logic when you're faced with row upon row of dogs, all frantically trying to get your attention, each one deserving of the love they currently don't get.

When I adopted my most recent addition, Ivan, I spent over 6 hours at the City Pound, and then had to go back the next day and do it all over again, before I could make a decision.

Even when I left with this adorable dog in tow, my heart was breaking for the dogs left behind.

I would have taken them all if I could... but I don't have a huge house and 4 dogs, 2 cats, a sugar-glider and a quaker parrot is about as much as it can hold :P

However the whole thing would have been even more difficult if I hadn't had some idea of the type of dog that would fit in with my home, lifestyle and other pets.

Before you set off to adopt an older dog it's a good idea to make a list of what you want, and what won't work.

This actually applies to puppies too, but it's more hit-and-miss with a pup because they're going to change so much as they grow.

Adopting Ivan

Here's what I had on my list during my fairly recent visit to the City Pound....

  • A mid-sized dog, NOT a large or extra-large breed. I LOVE big dogs (Rottweilers are my absolute favorite) but I'm not physically as strong as I was when younger, plus our house is already pretty crowded.

  • A male dog. We already have two very bossy female dogs, so adding another to the mix would have been asking for trouble!

  • Housebroken or partially housebroken. He would be living indoors with us and although I work full-time from home, I didn't want to be going outdoors every 30 minutes for a potty break, or have to watch the newcomer like a hawk 24/7.

  • A friendly dogwho could get along with other dogs, and preferably one who was familiar with, or at least not apt to eat, cats. As a multi-pet home this is important.

  • Preferably a dog who NEEDED me, or one who was having extra trouble being adopted. I have a soft-spot for the under-dog and if I was going to adopt a needy dog, I wanted to be sure and pick one who might be overlooked for whatever reason.

The two days I spent at the Pound paid off and I brought home a dog who fit every part of my wish list. 

He's a Great Dane/Basset Hound mix which is as odd as it sounds, Great Dane head (albeit scaled down a bit) and Basset Hound body and legs. Makes him look a bit like a cut-and-paste job.

But the result is a medium sized dog with a big cuddly head. My daughter says he was made especially for me :)

His odd 'look', combined with the fact that he was also suffering from Cherry Eye (read about his surgery and recovery on this page), ensured that everyone passed him by.

Great Dane/Basset Hound Mix with Cherry Eye

He'd been in the shelter for over a month (including the pre-Christmas and post-Christmas rush) and even on local TV, but no takers.

Although lots of people looked at him, they all walked away, some laughed others were kinder, but you could see the hurt in his face and the droop of his ears and tail each time (I know because I watched him for hours).

The staff were pretty sure he was housebroken.

If a dog keeps his pen clean whenever he can and tries to 'hold it' until his twice-daily trip to the big outdoors, then they assume he's potty trained.

And he was so gentle and friendly with everyone (human and canine).

I walked him around the cat rooms and although he looked at them, he didn't seem inclined to chase them and was more interested in the people and other dogs.

Plus, everyone - and I mean everyone - at the pound loved him and knew him by name.

When I went up to the front counter with his paperwork in hand everyone cheered and before he left he got a lot of hugs and kisses (yes, the staff at these organizations are amazing!).

Although there were half-a-dozen other dogs on my shortlist, I kept coming back to Ivan.

I had a feeling that if I walked out with any other dog I'd be haunted by the memory of him sitting quietly in his pen.

I also had a feeling that he'd be there a LOT longer, and even if adopted he may never get the treatment he needed for his eye.

Bottom line is, I'd checked all the boxes on my list so I'd honored the logical side of the equation, the rest of it came straight from the heart.

And I have to say I'm so grateful every day that I chose Ivan. He's the best boy in the world and we're inseparable (he's lying by my feet as I type this). He doesn't chew stuff up, or scent-mark indoors. He loves his bed, his toys and my daughters big fluffy orange cat. It's great!

Of course there were a hiccups. A couple of housebreaking 'mistakes' during his first week with us, and our Olde English Bulldogge isn't in love with him, but as long as we supervise carefully and limit their interactions somewhat things are okay.

The surgery for his eye cost a bit more than I was expecting, but is totally worth it to see both his vision no longer obscured by a big, pink swelling.

Other than that he's been a dream and I hope that if you're thinking about adopting an older dog my experience helps fuel that fire.

Things To Think About When Adopting An Adult Dog

The staff at pounds and rescues are amazing, and they are eager to make sure the dogs in their care go to the right homes (that way they won't end up back where they started), so you can rely on them to help you wherever they can.

If a dog has been owner-surrendered the shelter will have some basic info. on him, if he was picked up as a stray then they will only know what they've seen since he's been with them.

The longer a dog is in the rescue the more the staff will be familiar with him, but in big city pounds there are still WAY too many dogs for every member of staff to really know each dog individually. 

Ask around and find out whatever you can about the ones you're interested in, and spend as much time as you need with each dog you think is a potential 'keeper'.

We're all different, so are our homes, families, lifestyles, wants, dislikes and so on, and every dog is different too. Each one a unique individual with their own history, personality and 'quirks'.

Of course that means I can't guess at what you need in a dog, but I can give you some more suggestions as to what you might want to think about/ask or consider when you're making up your own 'wish list':

  • What size/breed of dog do you want? There are purebred rescue organizations across the country (and world) if you have your heart set on a specific breed. Also, somewhere around 30% of dogs in pounds and other rescue organizations are purebred.

    Size doesn't always matter, but if you have physical or environmental limitations, or simply prefer small (or large) dogs, that's important.

  • What sex? If you already have a dog, it's a good idea to add a second dog of the opposite sex. Less potential to conflict. If you don't have a dog at home then it's personal preference.

  • What are your plans for this dog? By that I mean are you looking for a jogging partner, playmate or lap dog? Do you want to take your new best friend to obedience classes, agility, hunting and so on or will he be just chilling at home with you?

  • What sort of shape are your finances in? When you adopt from a rescue organization you will pay an adoption fee which is usually somewhere between $75 and $100 (some have reduced rates for dogs who have been there a long time or are over a certain age etc.). Your dog will have been vaccinated and neutered/spayed.

    This saves you money to start with. But if he has health issues, then you might be looking at additional vet bills down the road. Also, the larger the dog the bigger the expenses, so if you're on a tight budget a small to medium sized dog might be the best choice.

  • What is your family/home life like? Dogs are individuals and not all of them love kids, tolerate cats, want to nap on the rug all day, or have the ability to hike with you on weekends.

    I'd recommend taking as many family members as you feel comfortable with to look at the dogs, and let them all interact with the ones on your short-list. Don't terrify the dog by all clamoring over him at once, but if you have children, do make sure he's okay with them before you bring him home.
  • How much time do you have for this dog? Puppies take up a LOT of time, most older dogs are less time-intensive in their needs, but each breed (and mixed breeds can carry several breed traits) and each personality is different. 

    Younger, bouncy dogs or those from herding or terrier breeds usually have a lot of energy, and can become bored/destructive/neurotic if this isn't channeled properly, plus they will need lots of exercise. 

    An adolescent pup will probably need more time spent on training and manners than an older dog who's spent time in a family home. 

Adopting An Older Dog: Tips For The First Few Days

Whenever we bring a new dog into our home, the first few days are exciting for us but can be unsettling for him.

Here are a few tips to help things run smoothly:

  • Give your new dog some space. Let him explore, nap, dream or sit on your feet.. just at his own pace. Also allow the resident pets time and space to adjust to him!

  • Take him to your vet for a check-up. The rescue/pound probably dealt with anything major, or urgent, but it's a good idea to make sure there are no underlying problems that you can't see or aren't aware of.

  • Get him a sturdy collar and firmly attach a dog id tag. Your new dog may have been in several different places recently, or he may have been a stray. He doesn't know your house is home yet. If he wanders off, you want someone to know who he belongs to.

  • Set up a predictable daily routine. He'll feel much happier and more secure when he knows what to expect each day. It doesn't have to be set in stone, but setting aside specific time for meals, walks, games and crate time are a good idea.

  • Don't change his diet too much. If possible find out what food your dog was eating at the pound and buy the same one to start with, this will prevent him getting an upset tummy from a sudden change in diet.

    If you don't have this info. then just choose a premium dog food that is a good fit for his size/age and add a handful of cooked, white rice to his meals for the first few days to minimize problems.

  • Be patient, loving and consistent. Try to put yourself in your dog's shoes (or bootees) and imagine what he's feeling. He's been through a lot so it's not surprising if he seems anxious, loses his appetite, cries or whines, yawns a lot, seems to be unusually thirsty, has loose stools or won't settle down at first. 

    All of these are signs of stress in dogs.Just stay calm, be loving and gentle, and be patient with him. Within a week or two the vast majority of dogs are feeling right at home and life is great. 

    But if this behavior lasts for more than a few days, or he vomits/has diarrhea/refuses to eat or seems unwell, have your vet check him out.
Labrador Retriever At Sunset

  • Start out the way you mean to go on. Don't allow things now that you don't intend to allow later. For example, don't let your adopted dog sleep on your bed that first night if you're not going to let him do it later on.

    Don't feed him table scraps or treats because he won't eat if you expect him not to turn up his nose at his dog food tomorrow. He'll be confused if you change the rules on him later on.

    Right now it's ALL new, and it's easier to start off with the right habits, than to undo the wrong ones later.

  • Don't expect too much. Chances are excellent that you and your new dog are going to enjoy a long, loving relationship. He will be your best friend, confidante, walking buddy, body guard and much more. 

    But relationships take time and effort. Even if you and Fido are joined at the hip from day one, the longer you're together the better you will understand each other and the deeper the bond. Take your time and enjoy every moment, your dog will!

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