Dogcharmer: A dog for your golden years?

Here’s how to shop for a pup or a rescue.

A small dog is a good choice when a senior citizen is deciding on a pet. — Jamie Kageleiry

Dear Dogcharmer, 

My husband and I are thinking about getting a dog in the future. Most likely, we will look at one of the smaller breeds, just for ease of handling as we get older. Not sure if we want a puppy or a rescue dog. I realize there is no such thing as a canine crystal ball, but are there any techniques to use when trying to determine a dog’s temperament and personality? We’d appreciate any insight you can give us before we jump back into dog “parenting” again. 

Thank you, 


Dear Roberta,

I agree: As we continue not getting younger, I think getting a small dog is a good idea. I just recently acclimated a 90-pound dog owned by a 100-pound, 80-year-old lady to a device called a “gentle leader,” to eliminate 90 percent of the dog’s ability to accidentally pull the lady down. 

If you decide to get a young puppy, I’d suggest the following. If feasible, observe the puppy’s interactions with other young pups. What you’re looking for is middle-of-the-road, not overly bold or pushy, and not fearful. If you squat down and call her when she’s looking at you and she comes happily to you, that’s great. You should be able to pick her up and cradle her on her back in your arms. If she fights it and squirms, press the point and hold her there till she gives in and relaxes. If it just feels like she’s fighting the position too long, I’d be hesitant choosing her. When she’s not paying attention, without her seeing you doing it, try startling her by dropping something like a clump of keys near her. You’re looking for her to jump back in startlement, but then come forward to investigate the keys, as opposed to running out of the room or attacking the keys.

If you choose an older dog, see if she’ll come to you when you stoop down and call her. You don’t have to cradle her on her back in your arms, but see if she’s OK with you picking her up and holding her. If feasible, put a leash on her and take her for a walk to see how socialized she is. What you’re looking for is an attitude of “been there, done that, seen that, no big deal.” See how she reacts to other leashed dogs. (When I’m with my dog and come across another dog, I always ask, “Your dog friendly?” If there’s the slightest hesitation in the answer, pass without interacting.) Ask a lot of questions from whomever you’re getting the dog — How’s her housebreaking coming along? Does she mind being petted when she’s eating? How does she react to little kids? Other dogs? Squirrels? Loud noises? Health issues? How is she when left alone?

The addition of a four-legged significant other is likely to add a lot of joy to your household, and statistically, older people who have dogs tend to live longer than “dogless” people.

Best of luck,

Dogcharmer Tom 

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