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Best Dog Breeds for Assisted Living

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Big or small, noisy or quiet, active or calm — choosing the right dog breed is important when you plan to be a pet owner in an assisted living community.

Moving into assisted living does not mean you have to give up the benefits of furry companionship. The number of pet-friendly assisted living communities is steadily increasing because facilities are recognizing the positive health outcomes that can be conferred by dog ownership. Now a days, more seniors than ever can keep their longtime companions with them in the next stage of their lives. If you or a loved one is in assisted living and would like to own a pet, numerous dog breeds are especially well-suited to senior citizens and fit the requirements of senior communities.

The Benefits of Dog Ownership for Seniors

Research studies have repeatedly found that pet ownership has significant benefits for seniors’ mental, physical, and emotional health — in other words, pets are good for your body AND soul. Dogs, in particular, are great for providing physical exercise, socialization, and overall day-to-day companionship for senior adults. Getting out for a daily walk, or even simply playing with a dog indoors, is an enjoyable form of activity, and seniors can choose a dog whose exercise demands are commensurate with their own needs and physical limitations. Even more profound, perhaps, than the fitness benefits of dog ownership are the enhancements to quality of life that a canine pal can provide. Furry friends can be downright therapeutic, promoting the flow of feel-good hormones in the brain and body, thereby lowering stress, heart rate, and blood pressure. Over the long run, canine companionship has even been correlated with lower risks of heart disease, stroke, and depression.

What Are the Best Dogs for Seniors?

Several factors go into deciding what type of dog breed is best for seniors. Just like people, dogs vary greatly in personality, size, exercise needs, and general care requirements. Finding a shaggy sidekick to match your lifestyle is important — would you benefit more from an active puppy that will keep you on your toes? Or would you mesh better with a calm, affectionate lapdog that you can relax with simply by brushing and cuddling them? Older dogs make wonderful companions for seniors, as adult dogs don’t usually require basic training and are often already potty-trained, too. Some seniors may thrive more with a younger dog, though, as a puppy can keep you active and on a schedule. To find the perfect match, you should consider your lifestyle, the dog’s needs, and any rules or limitations that the facility may have in regard to canine comrades.

Tips for Owning a Dog in Assisted Living

If you or a loved one are trying to decide on the perfect dog to bring into an assisted living community, there are various individual considerations you must keep in mind before making your choice. Not only is the breed of the dog an important factor, but you should also consider your own needs and the regulations of the assisted living community. Here’s a list of points to keep in mind as you research:

  • Breed: As we age, a large dog or a very active one might not be the right choice for us, especially if the dog owner has physical limitations that could cause safety concerns. Different dog breeds also have different requirements for grooming, different levels of trainability, and — particularly important for residents of a shared community — different levels of noisiness. Some dog breeds are also more susceptible to health issues.
  • Age of the Dog: Senior dogs often make great companions for senior humans — they may already be trained, and they are usually less active and demanding than a puppy. Older dogs’ mellow natures are usually a good match for senior citizens. Another age-related consideration is a dog’s overall life expectancy; small dogs generally live longer than large ones.
  • Temperament: The temperament of a dog (and how it meshes with the owner’s temperament) is extremely individual, even taking breed into account. Any potential dog owner will want to take the opportunity to interact and play with an animal before deciding if it’s a match made in dog heaven.
  • Owner’s Medical Needs: Consider carefully your own physical limitations. If you have mobility issues, will this pose a problem for a dog that needs daily walks? Do you have oxygen tubing, which might present a playful puppy with the temptation to chew?
  • Care Resources: What resources are available to help care for the dog, in the event the owner is not fully able to handle the responsibility? Can you afford to pay for grooming, veterinary visits, supplies, or pet sitting when you’re traveling? What resources are provided by the assisted living community? Do they have a pet care coordinator?
  • Community Requirements: Be sure to carefully check the regulations of the assisted living community regarding animal friends: many communities have size limitations (for instance, Aegis of Kirkland welcomes pets under 25 pounds, while Merrill Gardens at Tacoma welcomes dogs up to 50 pounds). You might need to get your dog pre-approved, prove that it is house-trained, and/or provide a statement of veterinary health.

Top 10 Dog Breeds for Assisted Living

We’ve scoured the web for advice from dog lovers and dog experts alike, and these 10 dog breeds are mentioned again and again as great choices for seniors — and, more importantly, they possess many of the traits necessary for a successful, happy life with their human companions in assisted living homes.

What Are the Best Small Dogs for Seniors?

Though many assisted living facilities enforce weight or size restrictions, that doesn’t mean you can’t find the perfect pint-sized puppy pal. Many small dogs feel at home in an apartment and will make great sidekicks as long as they get short walks and plenty of love. Here are some of the best small dog breeds to consider when looking for your assisted-living buddy.

  • Pug: Pugs are known as adaptable, charming, and eager to please — affectionate and playful without requiring a lot of exercise to maintain their health. They are small, so they generally meet the size requirements of assisted living communities. They can be a bit mischievous, and they tend to shed quite a bit, especially in warmer climates.
  • Shih Tzu: Though Shih Tzu dogs tend to bark, they are also known for their friendly, playful, and alert nature. They are also small, which is ideal for apartment living. Bred to be companions, with daily walks and indoor playtime, they tend to be healthy and long-lived and enjoy sitting on their owner’s lap. Their long, luxurious coat does require a bit of time devoted to grooming, however. The good news is that brushing a Shih Tzu dog can be a therapeutic, calming activity.1
  • Pomeranian: Another tiny dog that will easily fit within most communities’ size limitations, the Pomeranian is an intelligent little people-pleaser and (though, as a former Pom owner, I might be biased) one of the cutest dogs you’ll ever see. Being small and lightweight, they are easy to handle, and, though energetic, don’t require a lot of exercise as long as they get their allotment of attention. Besides regularly brushing their thick coat, their grooming needs are fairly straightforward. They can be a bit noisy, though. Of course, as any dog lover will tell you, every dog is an individual; so, while rule-of-thumb descriptions of specific breeds can serve as a useful guideline, being able to observe and interact with a specific pet before making a final decision will help you pinpoint the perfect dog with a personality that’s compatible with yours.
  • Boston Terrier: Boston Terriers often make the list of top dogs for seniors because of their manageable size, friendliness, ease of grooming, and love of spending time with their owners. “Boston Terriers are bred to be companion dogs,” says Dane LaJoye, president of the Boston Terrier Club of America, in an article on PBS’s NextAvenue. “They like nothing more than to be with their owner, on the sofa watching TV, or curled up next to their owner in bed. The breed is happy-go-lucky and playful, yet attentive to their owners’ needs.”

What Is the Best Small Dog Up to 10 Pounds for Seniors?

If you’re looking for a very small dog — either to abide by facility rules or due to physical limitations — here are some great types of dogs to consider. Even as adults, these pooches stay tiny and will not be likely to break any community regulations.

  • Chihuahua: If you live in a small assisted living apartment, why not consider one of the smallest dogs there is? Chihuahuas have a ton of personality for their size and love being showered with affection. On the flip side, they are so loyal and protective that they tend to bark a lot and might need a bit of training before dealing with children. They can be active, but being small, they can often get sufficient exercise by playing indoors.
  • Yorkshire Terrier: Though a Yorkshire Terrier (or Yorkie) has long hair that requires a lot of grooming, they are small and adaptable, making them a good option for assisted living. They’re intelligent, loyal, and lively, and usually get enough exercise with a daily walk. With a long history as companion animals, they enjoy daily interaction with their people; they can get a bit bossy, though, says the American Kennel Club.

What Medium-Sized Dogs Are Best for Seniors?

  • Cocker Spaniel: Cocker Spaniels tend to be medium-sized (about 20 pounds), so they might not be suitable for every AL community, but they have enjoyed ongoing popularity as a breed with an even temperament — happy, affectionate, loyal, and charming. Bear in mind that they tend to be energetic and also require a bit more grooming.
  • Beagle: Beagles are cute (think Snoopy), funny, loyal, and friendly, enjoying the company of other dogs and humans. Beagles love to play and are excellent family dogs. They can also be independent, which may make training a challenge, and they do need plenty of exercise – which is great for fitness-minded seniors. They shed a lot, but their coat is relatively easy to care for with regular brushing.
  • Schnauzer: Schnauzers come in various sizes, including miniature, so they offer a lot of choices to a senior trying to meet a community’s pet size requirements. They are energetic, playful, trainable, and good with children, although they can have strong guarding instincts. They can be quite active; the AKC notes that they have a medium energy level, so playtime with your schnauzer can help keep you active as well.
  • Poodle: Coming in different sizes from large to tiny, there’s a poodle out there for everyone, even if you live in a small apartment. According to the AKC, poodles are known to be smart, proud, and active dogs. It’s no surprise that poodles are the 7th most popular breed overall. They’re easily trained and enjoy a variety of activities, which makes them very adaptable to different-sized living situations. Their coats require regular grooming, but they are also hypo-allergenic.

So, Which Dog Breeds Are Best for Seniors?

All of these dog breeds have been routinely identified as compatible with the senior lifestyle. The size, personality, grooming needs, and activity level of each dog may vary, so be sure to meet with a potential future furry friend before finalizing anything. Spend some time getting to know it so you can be sure you’re making a good choice. No matter what you’re looking for — a low-energy, older hound or a playful young pup — there is a match to be made. When it comes to pooches, many seniors prefer adults, so don’t count out the older dogs you meet. From beagles to Yorkies and beyond, there are many types of dogs waiting to become your best buddy.

Attention dog lovers: what do you think is the best dog breed for seniors in assisted living? We’d like to hear in the comments below.

1Anderson, J. (2018, August 13). National Pet Month: Companion and Healing Pets at Senior Living. Retrieved from

Best Dog Breeds for Assisted Living posted by Sarah Stevenson