How to Choose the Best Dog for Retirees (tips + suggested breeds)

If you are coming up to retirement, or if you are already retired, and you’re thinking about getting a new dog then there are some of the questions that you need to ask yourself when you are thinking about what the best dog for retirement is.

Retirement and senior living can bring a specific set of challenges and opportunities. It is really important for you and your new dog that you plan and consider all of your options carefully.

Here are some considerations, as well as the best dog breed suggestions!


When choosing the best dog for retirement, you need to decide on:

  • Big or small breed

  • Energetic or quiet, relaxed breed

  • Which health problems are most likely for the breed

  • Puppy, adult or senior dog

Answering these questions will help make sure you will be choosing the right dog that will suit your individual lifestyle and situation.

Let’s break them down a bit more.

the best dog breeds for retired people - and how the decide

Is a Small Breed or Large Breed Dog Best?

The first of these is should you get a big breed or a small breed. This is important for a number of different reasons.

A larger, heavier dog is also a stronger dog, and their strength and weight is something that you are going to need to be able to manage.

Consider Their Strength (and yours)

You need to consider if you are physically able to actually handle and manage the dog.

Clearly a Labrador pulling on the end of the lead is going to be a lot more stress and strain than handling a Chihuahua.

Size is also important if your dog becomes unwell, gets an injury when you are out and about, or gets sick and unwell at home. Are you going to physically be able to get them into the car? Your neighbors or family may not be around to help.

Space Requirements

A big dog needs more space. A big energetic dog needs even more!

You need to consider your current home, as well as your potential future homes. Are you likely to need to move into a retirement complex or assisted living centre, and what are their likely pet policies? Will they accept small but not large dog breeds?

Energetic or Quiet Dog?

The next question to ask when you are thinking about the best breed for retirement is, should you get an energetic dog or a quiet dog?

Your Lifestyle

An energetic dog is clearly going to be a great companion if you are planning to spend your days out and about, exploring your neighborhood, going on holidays, or walking the hills.

If you are planning on a quieter life, if maybe health problems mean that you are not able to be quite so active, then having a quieter dog breed that requires much less exercise is going to be really important.

Not just because they will be easier to manage, but also because you are going to be able to provide a better home environment for them.

There is nothing worse than an energetic dog not being able to burn off their energy. This is a classic situation for the development of behavioral problems. A dog becomes frustrated and they are not as happy as they could otherwise be.

What energy level is going to suit your retirement lifestyle best?

Breed Specific Problems?

If you are planning on getting a pure breed dog for your retirement then you need to know that a lot of them will come with their specific sets of health problem predispositions. That’s not to say an individual is certain to suffer from them. Just that they are more likely to be a problem.

The West Highland White Terrier will frequently suffer from allergic skin disease. A Cavalier King Charles is more likely to develop heart failure. Squashed nose dog breeds, like a Pug or French Bulldog, will often suffer from significant airway narrowing. Dachshund suffer from spinal disease.

when choosing the best retirement dog breed, you need to know if they are more likely to suffer from any specific health issues

You get the idea. It’s important that you are aware of the different health problems that your future dog could face.

Your Funds

If you are in retirement, then consider how much pension you're going to be able to afford with your pension.

It might be that money is not a concern, but the last thing you want to do is to put yourself into financial difficulty in your senior years. Especially if it to provide a treatment that could have been predicted based on the breed of dog you chose.

Puppy, Middle-Aged, or Senior Dog?

My final key question when choosing the best breed for retirement is to think about the age of dog that will suit you best. Do you get a puppy, a middle aged dog, or a fellow senior citizen.

Energetic Puppies

A puppy will have loads of energy and enthusiasm. It is important that they get out and about and that they are effectively and safely socialized.

The likelihood is that you are going to have more time on your hands in retirement, and so you are going to be able to put the effort in that’s needed. You are going to be able to spend plenty of time training and socializing them properly.

This is also a fantastic bonding experience to go through with your new puppy.

It might be that you are not able to do that for them. If we are not kind of starting them off on the right tracks, then we can get behavioral problems and other issues.

Well-Behaved Adult Dog

It might be that an adult or middle-aged dog is more appropriate for you.

They are going to already be trained and house-broken. They are likely to already have been neutered and vaccinated.

If socialization and training are not activities you’ll be able to provide, then an adult dog is going to be a better fit for you.

Quiet Senior Dog

Alternatively, a senior dog might be more appropriate. You might be able to provide a really fantastic home for an older dog.

Older dogs are typically calmer and more settled.

They may have a few preexisting health problems. They may be arthritic, and you definitely need to know if there is extra care a new senior is going to need.

A senior dog is also less likely to outlive you. This is a bit of a morbid thought, but a very important consideration none-the-less.

Life expectancy

From this point of view, you also need to consider the fact that your dog is going to potentially live until they are 14 years old if they are a bigger dog breed, or 16 - 18 years of age if they are a smaller dog breed.

As a result, you also need to think of what your situation is going to be like towards the end of that time-frame. You need to be able to cope with your deg’s needs for their whole life.

It is clearly really difficult to predict what our health is going to be like. But if you are already suffering from health problems then what is the likely progression of these?

How active are you likely to remain? Are you going to be able to lift, carry, and move your big dog? What are your living arrangements? Is there a chance that you are going to need to move into an assisted living situation? Are you going to have to get residential care where they may allow a small breed dog but they are not going to a larger dog?

If we can have all of these considerations of what is likely to happen to us, then we are more likely to be able to provide that final forever home for our dog, without putting ourselves and our own needs under undue stress.

Looking after you is just as important as looking after your dog.

Time and again I see people, young and old, putting themselves in severe financial or emotional difficulty because they have not chosen the best dog breed for them. They have not considered their situation, lifestyle, and other circumstances.

Estate Planning

This leads me to another thing to think about, which is actually estate planning. If your dog does outlive you then what is going to happen to them? This is something that really is important to think about.

If you suddenly become unwell, then thinking about what's going to happen to your pet can be a huge source of stress.

Talk to your friends and family about the realistic chance of them taking on your dog or cat. Have a really serious conversation, encouraging everyone to be honest in their ability to have your dog live with them.

There are other options available. Charities like the Cinnamon Trust in the UK, or the RSPCA Home For Life Scheme, will look after your dog should you not be able to and provide them with the best care possible.

Consider also putting your wishes in your will. If possible, have some money set aside to look after them so that their costs are able to be covered and they don't become a financial burden for somebody. This will help ensure your dog continues to receive the best possible care.

Having these provisions in place can take a lot of stress away from your life if things do happen to take a turn for the worst.

Recommend Retirement Breeds

After all this, what dog breeds do I recommend for someone who is retiring, coming up for retirement, or is already retired?

Small Breed: Chihuahua, Westie, and Shih Tzu

These are the classic dogs for seniors.

The Chihuahua, Westie, Shih Tzu. These small breed dogs make fantastic companions and are incredibly loyal dogs.

They are great fun to be around, are pretty bright and easily trainable. They are also great at training us however, and it is important that they are not spoiled silly, setting no boundaries and feeding them nothing but human food.

Larger Breed: Cavalier King Spaniel and Greyhound

If you would prefer a larger breed dog, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel might be a great choice. They are a quieter. They do have an increased chance of suffering problems with their heart, and ear disease is quite common.

Again though, they make fantastic, loyal companions.

Another large breed consideration that you may not have considered is a Greyhound. Despite what you might think, these dogs are actually really calm and placid. They also don’t need loads of exercise, and will be quite happy spending the day sprawled out on the floor keeping you company.

you need to be able to cope with your new dog physically when you are retired

What About a Cat?

I know, you want a dog, but even if you've had dogs your whole life would a cat actually be a more appropriate companion?

They can be just as loyal, are also great company and make fantastic lap-warmers!

Where To Get Your Dog?

Where you choose to get your dog is another question all together.

A pet shop is always a bad idea (this is why!). A backyard breeder or professional breeder are other options, and I’ve discussed these more in my article all about how to buy a healthy puppy.

I also think you should strongly consider getting your retirement dog from a shelter or rescue center. Far too many dogs and cats are in need of rehoming, and unfortunately those who don’t find a new home are at risk of being euthanized.

Shelters are a fantastic source for all manner of different breeds, different ages, different sizes, and different temperaments of dogs. I definitely encourage you to visit and talk to your local shelter. They will also be able to help you clarify the best breed for your unique circumstances.

We should never take the decision to bring an animal into our lives lightly.

You don't want to make the wrong decision that you end up regretting. And you certainly don’t want to end up needing to re-homing your dog because you are not able to cope, or they have completely the wrong character and suitability for your eventual lifestyle.

Run through these questions, take your time, and you’ll be sure to find the best dog with whom to enjoy your retirement!