Aged to Perfection: Adopting an Older (Gently-Used) Dog

Jul 18, 2023

Puppies are as cute as buttons and steal the spotlight when talk turns to adoption, but every puppy grows up to be a dog – and you can’t really be sure what kind of dog they’ll turn out to be! Will they grow up into an active dog who needs to run off a lot of steam daily or turn into a nap-loving couch-potato pooch? 

As a mother of three now-grown children, I can say with surety that I'm done with babies of my own, including puppies and kittens. Give me an adult human or animals and we can work things out together. Honestly, my adult-dog-adoption of Bella and Angie is what led to the dooloop, opening up my world. *Mind blown* 

Necessity indeed is the mother of invention, and inventions lead to new adventures. A senior dog can help take you there!

Personalities change from puppyhood to doghood

I was painfully shy as a child (no one believes it now), a worrier (that still tracks), and I was happiest creating worlds by myself, alone with my toys and pets. Now? I crave company, getting out, and seeing the worlds others create.

What grownup doesn’t swoon watching puppies, kittens, and tiny humans make their own discoveries? It's delightful. But growth means change, it's inevitable and good. But what you think you got, and what you actually get, aren't always aligned. I’m a different person than the kid I used to be (except for the worry part) and you can count on the personalities of young pets changing, too.

Many people don't realize that it takes months or even years of intensive, consistent, and always-patient training to socialize a pup into a confident, well-adjusted, welcome anywhere, bone-afide grown-up doggo. They need to be the priority in their new family's life for at least their first half-year, and some are life-long learners. For some pet parents this such a rewarding adventure they record every puppy paw-step on Instagram. Others might not have anticipated the commitment involved and for them puppyhood can be rough.

If you are dreaming about the grown-up companion your future dog will become, why delay "adulting?"  By meeting the adult dogs at a shelter or rescue -- instead of heading straight to the puppy room -- you can experience the serendipity of creating a connection with a true friend who’s ready to start living the grown-up life beside you today. It's an indescribably good feeling knowing that, whatever sadness or hardship they may have endured to end up at the shelter, you're giving them a soft landing and safe place to rest. You'll see the gratitude in their eyes.

The 'why me' of pee pee and getting a piddle pass 

Like puppies, adult and senior dogs aren’t necessarily perfect when it comes to not peeing and pooping in the house. However, I appreciate knowing that if my adult dog needs a potty break, she knows how to let me know that nature is calling. Speaking for myself, maintaining the laser-sharp focus needed to rush a puppy outside who is just learning "to pee, or not to pee" is totally out of the question for me. Of course, I love puppies. It’s just that the memory of getting up several times at night or waking to scrub out a puppy crate in the morning is not how I want to roll these days. Been there, done that -- got the t-shirt!

Adult dogs choose who they love. Puppies love those who choose them
Senior dogs are often overlooked in shelters because often they lay quietly on their bed or the kennel floor instead of leaping for attention. They have already lived life with another person or family, so being on their own in a strange place is more stressful for them than for those young pups. But when a grown dog wags their tail at you, or pushes their nose under your hand, you can be sure they’ve made a choice to “talk” to you. Unlike a puppy who wiggles at most anyone new, a senior or adult dog has learned to make decisions about who they trust. In other words, it's an honor.

Adopting a senior dog grows gratitude and empathy

When the call goes out to find a home for a senior dog, or they are surrendered to a shelter because their previous owner’s life had a tumultuous change, it takes a special kind of person to pause and consider being that dog’s new lifeline. 

By opening your heart to a senior dog, you give them a second chance at love and happiness. Their gratitude and unconditional love will shine through in every wag of their tail, creating an incredible bond that is heartwarming and nourishing. Your gently-used dog will be grateful for the love and security you’ve given them at a time when everything was storm-tossed. In my experience, while your new senior friend comes into their own personality, they also develop new charms in their new home. You've got a new bestie! 

The ohm of dog: A senior dog adds serenity to your home

Senior dogs have typically outgrown the hyperactive puppy stage. They often have a more relaxed, mellower temperament, making them an ideal companion for those of us seeking a laid-back lifestyle. If they were writing a dating profile they'd say that they enjoy leisurely strolls, cozy snuggles, good food, head-rubs, and naps when it's raining. I'd marry 'em!

Usually some basic manners are already established. Lucy, an elderly mini-dachshund, came to us with lovely manners. If fact, we unintentionally untrained her because we didn't pay attention to the perfect cues she was giving us!

Even though a senior dog will need some time to find their rhythm in your home, it's more likely you can focus on reinforcing existing good behaviors rather than starting from scratch. You'll be spared the panic of chewed up electronics and rugs. I remember spending $800 in 1994 getting a glass marble massaged through Maggie the Clumber Spaniel puppy intestines. This was the first and last puppy for us!  

So, if you’re not into ratcheting up the activity in your home to puppy-level, an older dog may be the perfect fit.

Senior dogs are companions

Senior dogs make wonderful companions for individuals and families alike. Rescues work to find out as much as they can about the dog's former life to try to find just the right fit for their new home. Many adult dogs are well-socialized and tolerant of children, making them a great match for families with young kids. Remember, when you're training a puppy in a houseful of children, you also have to train the kids to be puppy trainers themselves! With an adult dog, children still need to be taught to respect their new dog's boundaries, but you’ll be less likely to feel like you are training a whole litter of puppies instead of a single dog.

Senior dogs are also usually quite content if they land in a quieter household, unlike a young dog who needs lots of exercise and socialization every single day. This makes an older dog an excellent choice for senior households or individuals with a more relaxed lifestyle.

Dog is good

Yes, if you adopt a dog who already has some life experience, the time they spend with you may be shorter. While this thought can be emotionally challenging, it also means you are providing your new companion with the best final years of their life, filled with love, care, and happiness. It's priceless.
Some (but certainly not all) older dogs come with age-related health issues such as arthritis, dental problems, or mobility challenges. They might have a couple of extra pudgy pounds or might even need to put on some weight. It's important to take any dog or puppy to the veterinarian shortly after adoption.

Some senior dog health issues can potentially increase your pet care expenses, but pet insurance has improved greatly over the years. With a good diet, proper medical attention and regular check-ups, adult and senior dogs can be with you happily and healthily for a long time. My Lucy was 10 lbs., had 7 teeth, and lived 19 years!

There aren't any promises when you bring a new pet into your home, young or old. You and your kids, if you have them, will discuss values, how you care for each other and the pets who depend on you. Having a dog in your life helps teach respect, boundaries, differences, and love -- all life and death lessons. 

Slightly used dogs can be your a"muse"ment

As I mentioned, Angie and Bella (Bassets) were my muses for the dooloop. They came to us as fosters when they were adults, Angie was 7, Bella 3. Their former family, an older couple, both died and their kids couldn't keep them. You can imagine they were quite upset at first by this change in their lives.

Even though they are low-riders, Bassets are big, strong dogs. Although they'd already proven to be loving dogs in their old home, Angie and Bella needed time to learn to trust us, and it was clear they hadn't been out for walks on a leash.  Without a fenced yard, we needed to walk them multiple times daily so they could do their business. These two bonded dogs were constantly tangling their leashes, wrapping them around my legs, pulling mightily. Trying to hold onto multiple bags of poop while maintaining constant leash control over these two big girls, I'd end up stressed and in tears.

Before Angie and Bella came into my life, juggling dog poop and maintaining leash control with two scared foster dogs wasn't something I'd ever needed to worry about.The dooloop was my Hail Mary invention for leash control brought to me by serendipity, New England Basset Rescue, and the adoption of two older dogs. I find it ironic and oddly hopeful, knowing that the thing that made me literally cry, has become my happy place. The universe has a sense of humor, even when, or maybe especially when, we're not laughing.

Of course, Angie and Bella discovered they'd scored a safe landing, and since then we've had countless wonderful leash adventures.

You can't pick your family. Unless you're adopting a dog!

Choose your dog for who they are as a person, and you’ll be rewarded with a bond that transcends words. These wise canine companions with a few years under their collars  have so much love to give. While there are some challenges to consider when adopting an adult or senior dog – just as there are with puppies  --the benefits far outweigh them. I hope if you're ready to upsize your family, you'll open your heart and home to a full-grown dog, and embark on a remarkable journey filled with companionship, gratitude, cherished memories, and laughter. Just as Angie and Bella inspired the dooloop for me, maybe you'll find your new dog will become your muse to invent a better 'mousetrap,' too. 

If you adopt a senior dog, skip the poop-juggling during your first days as you get to know one another, and purchase a dooloop ahead of time. Or give one as a gift to a friend who has just adopted so they can concentrate on the good sh*t!


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