Great dog breeds for seniors

Written by:
January 16, 2021
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Great dog breeds for seniors

Dogs provide love and comfort to millions of Americans. In fact, more than 43 million households are home to canine companions. But for all the benefits that come with owning a furry friend, dogs are a big responsibility. There's the expense of food and vet bills, the exercise and play time, and the obedience training—all factors that might keep some senior adults from taking on a commitment that can last a decade or more. That's why it is a good idea for older adults to consider dog breeds that are compatible with their lifestyles.

Do you hope to travel with a small dog? Do you wish to remain active and want a dog that can run and hike long distances? Do you want an affectionate companion that will be safe around younger family members? Because neither dogs nor senior adults come in one-size-fits-all, Stacker has compiled this alphabetical list of breed choices to keep in mind if you have a bit of yard space, time for obedience training, and can deal with some occasional shedding and barking. Dog breeds are ranked based on the American Kennel Club's 2019 popularity rankings, and were chosen based on our independent research of breed characteristics.

Dogs like these can be purchased from a reputable pet breeder or adopted from a local animal shelter or pet rescue facility. The life expectancy for most of these breeds is approximately 12–15 years. Keep reading to see which dog breeds best fit your lifestyle.

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#30. German spitz

- 2019 popularity rank: Not ranked

The German spitz is a small dog with a fun personality that rewards lots of play time on the part of its owner. Seniors might appreciate that with some training, this dog's barking can be focused on times when barking is appreciated, such as when a stranger approaches. Their thick coats will shed out a few times a year, so think of brushing as yet more bonding time.

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#29. Cesky terrier

- 2019 popularity rank: #188 (of 193)

Described as clever, adventurous, and family oriented, the Cesky terrier is a great dog for the active senior. If the word "terrier" conjures images of backyard digging and relentless squeaky toys, know that this breed is considered mellow, as terriers go. They provide the same entertainment level with less chaos for seniors who prefer to spend minimal time repairing the garden.

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Kindall // Wikimedia Commons

#28. Glen of Imaal terrier

- 2019 popularity rank: #168 (of 193)

The Glen of Imaal terrier, originally from Ireland, is small, playful, and energetic, but they don't wear their owners out with incessant running or barking. Because they sometimes view other animals as the prey they were bred to hunt, caution is recommended around small dogs and cats. They are great for seniors who have time for training a dog not just basic obedience, but charming and entertaining tricks.

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Ainos // Wikimedia Commons

#27. Lowchen

- 2019 popularity rank: #158 (of 193)

The lowchen is a 15-pound cuddly cutie whose name means little lion. Part of the reason for the name is its brave personality. The other is its traditional grooming, which entails clipping the tail and hindquarters close to the skin. Frequent grooming can mean more expense and effort than some seniors desire. The good news is that lion cut is not required to maintain this dog’s appeal although occasional clipping is best.

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#26. Affenpinscher

- 2019 popularity rank: #150 (of 193)

Instantly recognized by its nickname “monkey dog,” the affenpinscher is small, portable, and playful. Their diminutive size makes them well-suited to a small home, apartment, or retirement complex. Daily walks will help both dog and owner get some exercise and socialize with others.

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#25. Norfolk terrier

- 2019 popularity rank: #131 (of 193)

Lock up your ferrets, folks, especially if a Norfolk terrier is in the house. This breed is affectionate but more of a hunter than a lapdog. It can get ample exercise at the end of a leash or an enclosed backyard. For seniors who enjoy travel, this small dog is game for adventure. That also goes for its close cousin, the Norwich terrier.

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#24. American Eskimo dog

- 2019 popularity rank: #120 (of 193)

The American Eskimo dog comes in toy, miniature, and standard sizes. This breed needs to be part of a group, so they pair nicely with retirees who are home more often to enjoy this highly trainable, social breed.

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Tom Mooring // Wikimedia Commons

#23. Japanese Chin

- 2019 popularity rank: #108 (of 193)

The Japanese Chin was literally bred for the purpose of sitting quietly on the laps of Chinese aristocrats (in spite of the name). This dog will enjoy playtime, exercise, and grooming, mostly because any time with you is what it is all about. For seniors who have a laid-back lifestyle, this is an ideal dog breed, although its lifespan is only 10–12 years.

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#22. Schipperke

- 2019 popularity rank: #106 (of 193)

The schipperke is a small black dog with a fox-like face, thick mane of fur, and usually docked tail. They have high energy and an independent streak, and while shy around strangers, they make excellent and alert watchdogs. Their weight of under 16 pounds makes them great for small spaces stocked with plenty of toys. They are perfect for a newly retired senior who wants to stay busy.

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#21. Keeshond

- 2019 popularity rank: #88 (of 193)

The keeshond weighs between 34–45 pounds as an adult but looks larger because of their thick coat. They are friendly to other dogs and people but will certainly bark when the mood strikes them. That is a nice trait for seniors who want a warning before someone shows up unexpectedly at the door. This cuddly breed will stick close to your side, whether on the couch or in the kitchen. They love water and have the urge to dig, so they need to have supervision in the backyard.

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Bill Thompson // Flickr

#20. Border terrier

- 2019 popularity rank: #84 (of 193)

Long legs and an otter-shaped head are distinguishing characteristics of the border terrier. Seniors who have access to land will find it easy to exercise this little guy, but in town adequate exercise may involve lots of time on the leash. They are friendly to kids although squirrels may tell it differently. They weigh 13 to 15 pounds and have an easy-to-care-for, wiry coat.

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Ronald Muller-Hagen // Wikimedia Commons

#19. Cairn terrier

- 2019 popularity rank: #72 (of 193)

The cairn terrier is described as an alert, busy, cheerful little dog who can be a great companion dog around the house—or Oz, as Toto the Cairn terrier discovered—for folks no longer busied by careers and raising families. They like exploring, which might include backyard digging whilst on the end of a leash during strolls through the neighborhood. Cairn terriers may need a little supervision around grandkids or other dogs, but their coats don't require prolonged grooming.

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#18. Italian greyhound

- 2019 popularity rank: #67 (of 193)

As the name implies, the Italian greyhound is a miniature version of the sleek racing dog that can run for miles at a time. This 15-inch version makes a great companion for home-loving seniors because it loves to cuddle close to stay warm. However, a leash is usually necessary in open areas because, like their larger cousins, they love to run.

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Jen Smith // Wikimedia Commons

#17. Papillon

- 2019 popularity rank: #53 (of 193)

With their wing-shaped ears, the papillon may seem more at home in a handbag than a backyard. In fact, they enjoy all kinds of play and thrive in all kinds of weather. They are especially adept at running agility courses and can often be found in the winner's circles at competitions. For seniors on the go, the papillon is comfortable in cars or RVs, and doesn’t need as much grooming as that silky coat might suggest.

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#16. English cocker spaniel

- 2019 popularity rank: #50 (of 193)

The English cocker spaniel is known for being merry, responsive, and energetic, traits which have made it a popular family dog for many generations. Its mellow nature makes it good with seniors, children, and other dogs. Its long coat may require some extra grooming time, but at least it saves busy seniors some dusting time with that long low tail.

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Heike Andres // Wikimedia Commons

#15. Bichon frise

- 2019 popularity rank: #43 (of 193)

The bichon frise looks born to cuddle with a soft, hypoallergenic coat, round head, and large, dark eyes. These dogs are very easy to train and eager to please, so they’re perfect for busier seniors. Bichon frises are easy to hold and carry, and are more than happy to join you on all your activities. Just be ready for all the requests you’ll get from people who want to pet your dog.

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#14. Collie

- 2019 popularity rank: #38 (of 193)

Collies come in a range of sizes and varieties, but one thing they have in common is that they are all recognizable and beloved. They’re extremely easy to train, and perfect, devoted dogs for active seniors willing to give the dogs ample exercise. Collies also make wonderful family dogs and will be thrilled to play with multiple generations at the next family gathering.

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Coco Toledo // Flickr

#13. Basset hound

- 2019 popularity rank: #37 (of 193)

The appearance of a basset hound is a bit misleading. This dog might look small at 14 inches tall, but its form is solid and heavy, weighing in at 40 to 65 pounds. Basset hounds can spend a day sleeping peacefully, but will happily take part in activities and walks. They delight in visits from the grandkids. This breed is known for its bark, but overall make great, mellow dogs for a person’s golden years.

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#12. Pug

- 2019 popularity rank: #31 (of 193)

The pug is well known for his wrinkled face, flat nose, and loud snoring. Seniors who want a relaxed dog that doesn't need long daily walks would especially enjoy this breed. Since ancient times, the Pug was bred as a lap dog; since then, "companion" has been added to its job description. Pugs are friendly, playful, and don't need much grooming. But watch those treats.

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#11. English springer spaniel

- 2019 popularity rank: #27 (of 193)

Friendly, playful, and obedient, the English springer spaniel can weigh about 50 pounds as an adult. This bird dog was bred for pheasant hunting so it is a good choice for seniors who have easy access to the outdoors and the desire to go for long walks alone or as a group outing, even if hunting is not involved.

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Brent Soderberg // Wikimedia Commons

#10. Havanese

- 2019 popularity rank: #22 (of 193)

The Havanese, as its name suggests, is a native of Cuba. Its looks are eye-catching with a silky curved tail and long coat. That means frequent brushing and grooming, but this 7-to-13-pound dog is easily handled by seniors who enjoy bonding time with their pet. The Havanese should have supervision around children and other dogs, at least to start.

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Gdegezelle // Wikimedia Commons

#9. Boston terrier

- 2019 popularity rank: #21 (of 193)

Described as friendly, bright, and amusing the Boston terrier ranks #21 in the AKC's list of 194 dog breeds. Their small size is manageable at the end of a leash, and it takes very little to keep them well-groomed. Boston terriers are also good with children who may visit the household, but they’ll always be happiest with their owners, curled up in a favorite chair or on the bed.

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Pharaoh Hound // Wikimedia Commons

#8. Miniature schnauzer

- 2019 popularity rank: #18 (of 193)

The miniature schnauzer is friendly toward kids and other dogs. It is friendly to strangers, also, and yet is alert and barks enough that it is considered an effective watchdog. It responds well to training with treats, so as with most small dogs, it is smart to watch those between-meal snacks.

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#7. Cavalier King Charles spaniel

- 2019 popularity rank: #16 (of 193)

The Cavalier King Charles spaniel has a silky coat, melting brown eyes, and surprising strength at the end of a leash. This toy spaniel adapts well to the habits of their owners, so whether seniors and their families are active or homebodies, this small dog will be happy at their side.

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#6. Dachshund

- 2019 popularity rank: #11 (of 193)

The dachshund comes in a few sizes and varieties, none of which are designed for the sort of running, leaping, or swimming other hounds are bred to do. Instead, these dogs know how to attack prey, or at least bark at them when they have a chance. Dachshunds make great companions for seniors who might not be into running or leaping either, but instead want a loyal dog from a familiar and beloved breed.

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Pipkin2.0 // Wikimedia Commons

#5. Beagle

- 2019 popularity rank: #7 (of 193)

The beagle is known for its baying bark, its keen sense of smell, and for being pretty darn cute. No wonder it ranks as the #5 breed out of 194 in the American Kennel Club rankings. Beagles are incredibly docile, low maintenance, and make great playmates for any grandchildren who might come calling. Usually weighing under 20 pounds, the breed does have a dense coat which will shed out each spring, so get the brush ready.

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Paxson Woelber // Flickr

#4. Poodle

- 2019 popularity rank: #6 (of 193)

The poodle is a breed that comes in miniature or standard sizes. That means they can weigh as little as 10 pounds, or up to 50 pounds for a female and 70 pounds for a male standard poodle. Their curly coats don't shed much, although most owners keep their coats clipped. Poodles are described as active, proud, and particularly smart. They can adapt to just about any senior lifestyle, from active empty-nester to happily retired homebody.

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#3. French bulldog

- 2019 popularity rank: #4 (of 193)

The French bulldog, also known as the Frenchie, is great for seniors seeking a cuddly lap companion who loves attention. They are also adaptable, smart, and loyal, though often stubborn. They can be expensive to obtain because the mother dog usually must deliver by C-section.

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#2. Golden retriever

- 2019 popularity rank: #3 (of 193)

Golden retrievers can make excellent companion animals for seniors. The breed has an uncanny knack for lifting spirits, so they’ll help stave off boredom or feelings of isolation. They’re also easy to train and possess an innate desire to please. Seniors older than 70 would be wise to consider adopting an adult golden retriever, as these dogs can easily live to be 12 or older and weigh up to 75 pounds—and a big, old dog with mobility issues will be a challenge for most 80-year-olds.

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#1. Labrador retriever

- 2019 popularity rank: #1 (of 193)

The Labrador retriever is related to the golden, but as the #1 most popular AKC dog it deserves its own mention. Labs are a family favorite for seniors who want an affectionate dog who will keep them active, and for grandchildren who need a tolerant dog who will put up with a bit of tail pulling. At up to 70 pounds for a male, the Lab has a life expectancy of 10–12 years.

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