Old Owner, New Tricks?

There is a lot of information out there specifically about catering for the needs of our ageing and old dogs, from the first sign of slowing down to knowing just when is the right time to say goodbye.

The  Oldies Club, specialises in finding homes for older dogs.

Older people

We don’t read much about catering for the needs older people with dogs.

Because I myself am one of them, a lot older than other practising behaviourists that I know, I can hopefully get away with saying things about old people with dogs that a younger person can’t.

Due to my own age, I possibly attract more older people when clients are looking for someone who they feel may be on their wave length.

The benefits to older people of having a dog (or cat) are well documented.

There is, however, little information and advice that I can find to specifically help ageing and old people with their dogs.

The same goes for help in choosing a dog – or whether they should have one at all.

There are so many variables, too, where physical and mental circumstances are concerned. There can be no blanket advice. Individual support is needed.

The health benefits of a harmonious relationship with a dog are undisputed. From a quality of life point of view, living with a dog can be invaluable when all is going well but disastrous when it’s not.


Most of my older clients are those whose previous dog had died. Some have also lost their spouse or partner.

So, lonely, they get a new dog.

This is where most of the problems start. The new dog they chose isn’t suitable for them. They aren’t suitable for their dog. It’s not a good match.

Rescue dog or puppy?

The other big consideration is our own life span. If at 75 we get a puppy, it’s very likely he will outlive us. If we become ill, who will give the dog the care it needs?

Like most of us they will have chosen with their hearts and not their heads.

Many decide a puppy is less risky.

They may have had dogs all their lives, but I’m willing to bet they have forgotten just what hard work a puppy is. Probably they are now living alone and previous puppies had been part of a family. If we remember just what having a baby was like, few would choose to  have another, let alone to adopt one in old age.

They may always have had a certain breed – Border Collies, say. A brainy and active Border Collie is going to cause mayhem as well as being miserable unless exercised both mentally and physically.

In a hurry to get a dog

An elderly person may choose a rescue dog thinking it will be quick. After all, with less time ahead there is no time to lose.

I know many rescues who are very careful indeed about matching dog with new carer. This process can take time. If the person is in a hurry or if they have been turned down, they may look elsewhere.

I have been to older people with dogs from an uncertain past. I recently went to a retired couple who had adopted a dog that was so scared of bangs that she wouldn’t go out of the house.

I’ve been to newly adopted dogs that are rough. The skin of old people is thin so use of teeth either in play or otherwise isn’t good.

I went to a German Shepherd adopted by an elderly, disabled man from a so-called rescue. He had ‘had German Shepherds all his life’. By the third day it wouldn’t let anyone near him. The whole thing was a disaster resulting in the dog being put to sleep.

The man went back to the same ‘rescue’ a few days later and they let him take home another German Shepherd.

Trip hazard

Another ‘must’ for an older owner is to be able to walk the dog without being pulled over or tripped up.

Many rely on head halters in case the dog suddenly lunges. Although I hate them, I acknowledge in certain cases they are a necessary form of management . If the person is to walk their own dog, which is part of the point of having a dog, a priority is some concentrated loose-lead walking training from someone who only uses encouragement and reward (for both older human and dog).

Puppy teeth

Adorable Lucky

What finally prompted this Paws for Thought is a lady who phoned me a couple of weeks ago.

She told me she’s a pensioner, seventy years old (four years younger than myself).  She couldn’t cope with her puppy’s biting.

She has a 15-week-old Cavapoo puppy who was leaping about and grabbing her hands and her clothes.  When excited, Lucky flies at her. Outside, she plays tug with the lead or with her trousers.

Fortunately Lucky is tiny and light, but her teeth are very sharp. Old skin is thin and more fragile.

The lady doesn’t need to be young and as active as a younger person. She does, however, need to be on the ball. With a puppy one needs fast reactions. Constantly saying No is merely making Lucky jump, grab and bite more. It fires her up. It doesn’t teach her anything.

Management and training

Management is especially important. Lucky now has plenty on which to chew and vent her energy. There must be a safe place, a pen, where she can put Lucky at times.

Training Lucky to walk nicely is vital so she doesn’t trip the lady up by weaving about. With management, some training started and some simple cunning, the lady is now finding Lucky easier.

When she’s not just a puppy being a puppy, Lucky loves to be cuddled. She’s friendly and confident. A wonderful puppy. In this case everything will end well, I’m sure.

The lady had wisely already made sure her family would be ready to step in if there came a stage when she couldn’t cope or if she needs a break.

A sensible choice

One ideal dog for an older person, to my mind, would be a rescue greyhound from a good rescue who takes care in matching dog with new owner and then provides aftercare. The dog is no longer a puppy. He or she is normally loves lying about. He doesn’t need a lot of exercise. He’s tall so easier to reach for a fuss…….and just too many ex-racing greyhounds are in need of a good home.

Another great dog would be anything smaller with a known history, well-socialised and not too young or energetic.

We oldies can look after dogs just like anyone else. Our dog is unlikely to be left alone for hours on end. Without the demands of working life, we may have more time and possibly more patience. If we are short of physical energy, there are lots of brain games we can play with our dog. If we can’t walk far we can hire a dog walker.

Having a dog along with the exercise it gives us undoubtedly aids our mental and physical health and longevity. The Health Benefits of Pets for Older Adults.

I visited a Cavapoo in an old people’s care home a while ago. The dog belonged to the home, for the benefit of the residents. Unsurprisingly he ruled the roost! Here is Cavapoo Pip’s story.

Dogs cost money

Like anyone else taking on a dog, we must consider our finances. An older person may need to pay for a walker, vet bills, insurance, good food and training – all on a pension. If we can’t afford to give the dog what it needs, then it’s better not to have one.

Three of my four dogs

I still have four dogs and they are ageing with me. The oldest is now 13 and the youngest 7. In the mix I have an  8-year-old Cocker Spaniel, Pickle, who is still a doggie dynamo. Outwitting him can be fun. A sense of humour is vital.

I am able to have my four dogs because I have a suitable environment – with a field. I earn money so I can afford to buy good food for them and insure them against any sudden and unmanageable payouts for vet bills. I also have back-up should I want to go away for a couple of days.

I am very fortunate with my own health and mobility and have been known to do bursts of running if necessary. I’m lucky – so far. I’m sure in part I have my dogs to thank for this.

Hopefully in this ‘Paws’ I will get away with some of these ‘non-PC’ but honest points, being an oldie myself.

The last word can be about a wonderful old lady in her eighties I helped with her rescue greyhound. When he died, she got herself a house hen to love!


About Theo Stewart

I am a dog Behaviourist C.C.B (Certified Canine Behaviourist) INTODogs). I have helped over 3000 dog owners over eighteen years. In addition to online consultations all over the world, I cover Beds, Herts, Cambs and Bucks for home visits. A 'Victoria Stilwell' Positively Dog Trainer (VSPDT) and a full member of the IMDT. Graduate ISCP, International School for Canine Practitioners. My main site: www.dogidog.co.uk
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5 Responses to Old Owner, New Tricks?

  1. Fabulous article, a subject that tends not to get much coverage. Absolutely spot on advice, thanks so much.


  2. Lyn says:

    Another great article Theo 🙂

    As an older owner myself, with a new puppy, now 9mth I can honestly say she is the perfect pup, gets on with everyone, human and dog alike, unfailingly happy and only had about 6 ‘accidents’ since I got her at 10wks, however she is a real live-wire and has been totally exhausting.

    While I can truly say the past months have been a really happy time I wouldn’t want to be taking on another pup, say in 5 – 10yrs time. Puppies do need a huge commitment in time and energy.


    • Theo Stewart says:

      Thank you Lyn. Are we friends on FB?
      I would just LOVE one more puppy. I don’t mind getting up in the night and all the hard work. That lovely puppy smell!! The cuddles in the night (mine always start off sleeping with me). It would, however, be completely irresponsible looking ahead. I’m sure, having just got through puppy months, I also would say never again – but that fades! Sadly, no more puppies for me either.


  3. Sandra Lawrence says:

    I am 72 and after spending several months unsuccessfully searching for a suitable companion for my ex puppy farm dog, you suggested a greyhound. I confess I could not imagine a greyhound with my little JR (little and large), but nevertheless devoted time scanning through the various rescue centres for one that would fit the bill. Searching for the right dog is not as easy as one might think. It was especially difficult being on my own with limitations imposed due to Meggie’s nervousness – she couldn’t be left, not used to travelling far and certainly not able to take her to meet at kennels, and so 9 months later I decided safest bet was to check out any breed as long as they were in foster care …… You know the rest Theo!! I succumbed to a cocker who looked just like a previous rescue I had (heart ruling head moment!!!). She turned out to be a working cocker and not show cocker as I’d thought. She was supposedly lead trained, happy to be left, preferring dogs to people etc., which I’m afraid was not the case. Thankfully with all the support and help you’d previously given me, I was able to implement the best approach for her (there was no way I could return her with such problems, only to be passed from home to home). Georgie stayed and I’m happy to say I have the most wonderful loving dog (complete with problems ☺️). I back your advice wholeheartedly and would like to add, if possible, find someone to go with you when checking out a potential new companion, make sure your sensible hat is firmly pinned down, keeping heart decisions in check.


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