With kids getting older or leaving home, you may be thinking about some of the things you want to do next. You may have been putting off getting a dog because you felt you were too busy to train or have a pet. Well, guess what? Now may be the perfect moment.
Besides the pure joy of our furry friends, dog ownership has some added health benefits. A study from Sweden, published in Scientific Reports, finds that dog owners reduce their risk for cardiovascular disease (a 33% reduction in risk for death for those living alone and 11% for those living with others). And numerous other studies link pet ownership with healthy benefits such as lowered blood pressure and stress—and reduced levels of anxiety and depression.
Of course, you can reap many of these benefits with easier-to-care-for pets such as cats. But if you have your heart set on a dog, how can you find the perfect one? Many factors—including your financial situation, your overall health, how you spend your free time and your living arrangements—come into play when choosing a dog. Example: Retirees who plan to split their time between summer and winter residences will need a dog with both the temperament and size to handle traveling.
As you select a dog that’s just right for you in the coming years…
Don’t overlook getting an older dog. A puppy may seem like an adorable choice, but there are plenty of benefits to choosing a more mature dog. An older dog will be housebroken and past the destructive chewing phase. Plus, an older dog may know simple commands such as sit and stay. Warning: An older dog may need additional training to change bad habits acquired in the past, such as begging or digging—and you may not discover these traits until you take the dog home.
A more mature dog won’t have a puppy’s high energy and lack of control, which could help reduce the chance of your falling during a walk. That’s a big benefit, as dog walking–related bone fractures have more than doubled since 2004, according to a study from the Perelman School of Medicine at University of Pennsylvania.
Some questions to ask when adopting an older dog: Why does he/she need a new home? (Is there a behavior problem?) Does he have any medical conditions? What kind of lifestyle is he used to (hanging out or hiking in the hills)?
To find the right dog for you, consider reaching out to a particular breed club website. Example: If you are interested in border terriers, go to the Border Terrier Club of America for breeder referrals or to find older adoptable dogs.
Smaller may be better for you. Smaller dogs are better suited to certain lifestyles. Example: If you are fairly sedentary, small dogs need only a short stroll to keep them fit and happy. And small dogs win in the portability department—they’re easy to carry and typically can come into the plane cabin with you in a doggie travel bag. They’ll also cost far less to feed than their larger counterparts. (Cost can range from $120 to $900 or more a year depending on the dog’s size and the type of dog food purchased.)
Budget for medical bills. Pet health care can put a sizable dent in your retirement budget. Every dog will need regular immunizations and wellness visits, along with the occasional unexpected visit to the vet—costing between $700 and $1,500 a year, on average. If you get a puppy, there will be additional expenses in the first year that may include immunizations, sick visits (puppies eat lots of things they shouldn’t), spaying/neutering and perhaps other more expensive surgeries, such as to prevent bloat in susceptible breeds. Pet insurance may be worth considering to reduce the financial risk for an expensive illness or accident.
Do your research before you fall in love with a particular breed—some breeds may be more prone to chronic medical conditions.
Assess the dog’s temperament. Purebred dogs generally are pretty consistent within their breed in personality and temperament, so researching the attributes of a breed online or talking to reputable breeders will give you a good sense of their care and maintenance. Example: Springer spaniels are highly trainable dogs that crave human company and physical activity. It won’t be a happy match if you plan to be away from home all day. You can evaluate and compare different breeds at the American Kennel Club website, AKC.org.
Of course, interacting with a dog before you make a decision is your best bet. Spend some time playing, holding him on your lap and engaging with him. If the dog exhibits skittish, aggressive or mean behavior, this is not the dog for you.
Plan for the future. Some dog breeds—especially smaller dogs—can live for more than 14 years. And a lot can change in your life and health during your canine companion’s life span. It’s a good idea to designate a doggie guardian in your will, a person who can take ownership of your dog in case your health declines and you find yourself unable to properly care for him.
Get your dog a top-notch education. Excellent training can help make walking and exercising your dog safer for you and ensure that your pet is a well-behaved doggie citizen. Look for obedience classes near you (you can find links to some classes and training programs at AKC.org to help your dog master basic commands and learn how to walk without pulling on a leash.
6 Dog Breeds You’ll Love
Why they are a good match: These happy-go-lucky dogs are small in stature (12 to 18 pounds) but have a lot of personality, making them an ideal companion dog. They’re prone to some spurts of high energy, but they can easily get their workout in by running laps around the house.
What to consider: Bichon Frise dogs require regular grooming to help keep their coat neat and trim—but they don’t shed.
Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
Why they are a good match: At 13 to 18 pounds, this toy breed favorite was bred to be a lap dog—but they are remarkably adaptable to different lifestyles and make good travelers. They are equally content living life as a couch potato or with a more active family.
What to consider: Cavalier King Charles spaniels are shedders. They might be prone to some medical issues, so discuss this with the breeder and see if appropriate health tests have been performed.
Why they are a good match: When nothing but a big dog will do, an Irish Wolfhound could be the gentle giant you seek, with a calm personality, little shedding and low-maintenance grooming.
What to consider: You’ll need a large, fenced yard or time for long walks to get the dog the exercise he needs. At 100 to 150 pounds, an Irish Wolfhound is a lot of dog. Be sure he’s trained so that you are in control. Also, if he is ever unable to get up, consider how you would get such a big dog to the vet. Do you have friends nearby who could help you?
Why they are a good match: This smart, high-spirited small breed (18 to 22 pounds), prized for their loyalty to their families, makes an excellent watchdog. Scottish Terriers need regular exercise with ample playtime and walks to help keep them happy.
What to consider: Their independent streak can make them a challenge to train. And they need occasional trips to the groomer.
Why they are a good match: This popular toy breed (9 to 16 pounds) needs minimal exercise, and these dogs make charming and sweet companions to kids and adults.
What to consider: Shih Tzus need daily brushing if you opt to keep the coat long—or you can have the coat regularly clipped down.
West Highland WHITE Terriers
Why they are a good match: Commonly known as Westies, these shaggy, white-coated terriers (15 to 20 pounds) often are called a “big dog in a small body.” They’re intelligent, easy to train and very independent dogs who love a good game of chase and an active lifestyle.
What to consider: Westies are notorious diggers, so your garden beds may pay the price. They need periodic trips to the groomer.