Many dogs are available for adoption through local shelters and finding one that fits in perfectly with your family can be a fun and rewarding experience. Older dogs in particular can make the sweetest of companions, but should you rescue an older dog when you have kids? Will your kids be too rowdy for a dog who may be nearing the end of their lifespan? Is an older dog so set in their ways that they won't be accepting of new, younger family members? These crucial questions can all play a part in a family's decision to adopt a dog.
"A pet can be a child's best friend and tap into a child's emotions, teach empathy, instill confidence and foster responsibility. Dogs love unconditionally and listen without judgement," Patty Stanton of Muttville Senior Dog Rescue in San Fransisco, California tells Romper. "Adopting a dog teaches children compassion and the value of saving the lives of pets who have been discarded or lost their guardian."
But what about adopting an older dog? A dog is considered a senior during the last 25% of their lifespan, according to Pet Place. While a dog's life expectancy varies by breed, this generally means that a dog who is within the last few years of their life expectancy would be considered a senior dog.
"It is a sad fact that senior pets are often the last to be adopted from shelters, in some instances putting them at an increased risk for euthanasia. When you adopt a senior pet, you’re not only welcoming a lifetime of love into your home; you’re also saving a precious life," Kelly DiCicco, Manager, Adoptions Promotions at the ASPCA Adoption Center tells Romper.
Aside from rescuing an older dog from a shelter where they may be overlooked by families with kids thanks to their youthful counterparts also up for adoption, both DiCicco and Stanton cite the potentially calmer temperament and established behaviors (no potty training!) as benefits of adopting an older dog when you have kids.
"Senior dogs have energy levels from A to Z. They may not have the same stamina as a puppy or a young adult dog but they are calmer, know what 'no' means and likely won't chew your shoes or your children's toys," Stanton says. "Every dog is different and exhibiting patience with children would vary on the temperament, breed type, health, and background of the dog, if known. Having a dog with a personality that has already been formed and energy levels that are manageable is a great option for young families and first time dog guardians."
Understanding the temperament of the dog and how they react to children is equally as important as understanding what your child can handle and how they may or may not be able to handle interacting with a dog. Not every dog is for every family, and it is truly unique to each dog and each family what this interaction reveals about whether or not your family should adopt an older dog.
"Consider the age of the child and his or her maturity level when adopting. Research the breeds and if the child is under 6, perhaps find a more gentle breed or mix that may tolerate toddler-like roughness," Stanton recommends. "Similarly, the way you'd evaluate the dog for the household, give thought to the temperament of the child. Will he or she always be gentle and respectful of the dog's senior status? Can they learn and respect a dog's cues to back off? If you give them a responsibility with the dog, will they stick to it?"
Ultimately, considering your children's ability to interact with a dog and learning as much as you can about the older dogs available for adoption will help your family make the best decision about whether or not to adopt a senior dog. While it may seem intimidating to rescue a dog who is older if you don't know much about their past, the best thing to do is to ask questions at the shelter and gather as much information as you can before deciding.
"Every dog is an individual, just like every child is an individual. Some dogs are great with newborns, some are great with small, rowdy kids, and others are best with older children or teens who are quieter and better understand boundaries," DiCicco tells Romper. "It’s unique for each dog, and one of the benefits of adopting is that shelter staff know the personalities and temperaments of the dogs in their care and can recommend which dog may be the best fit based on your child’s age and personality. If you’d like to see how a dog you’re considering adopting would do with your kids, bring the children to the shelter with you to meet the dog. There’s no better way to know!"
Just because a dog is older does not mean that they don't have plenty of love left to give. If your family finds a senior dog that jives well with your lifestyle and your kids' temperaments, adopting an older dog could be a decision that benefits both your family and your new pet.
Kelly DiCicco, Manager, Adoptions Promotions at the ASPCA Adoption Center
Patty Stanton, Public Relations/Board Member, Muttville Senior Dog Rescue in San Fransisco, CA