Older dogs in a shelter often have a more difficult time realizing their dream of being adopted into a loving home than younger dogs do. There are several reasons for this. Some people simply assume that if older dogs lack a home then there must be a “reason” for it, and that reason must be either genetic or behavioral. Some people believe in the old cliché, “can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” and assume that new training will never be able to re-direct any undesirable traits that a dog may possess. Others fear to grieve. An older dog has less of a life ahead of him than a younger one does, after all, and people can feel reluctant to open their hearts to a new canine companion only to lose it.
Some of these reservations are based on erroneous beliefs. Dogs lose their homes for many reasons, and these are factors typically beyond their control. People realize that they don’t have the time and/or energy that they thought they would have. Children who were once very involved in a dog’s life grow up and go off to college. Divorces, new marriages and births occur. Work schedules and living situations change. None of these factors have anything to do with a dog’s behavior. Many loyal and loving dogs end up with no one to give that loyalty and love to through no fault of their own.
Older dogs have oftentimes already received obedience and house training. Even if they forget some of their good manners while they’re in a shelter they will likely remember these habits once they’re back in a loving home again. Many will know what you mean when you say “no”. They will respect your furniture and other belongings and not chew on them. An older dog will probably have experience with other dogs – and perhaps other pets as well – and know how to get along with them.
If you value peace in your household then you may really appreciate an older dog’s predictability. There are few surprises left: Physical growth, temperament and behaviors have already become established. You don’t have to engage in nearly as much guesswork as you would with a puppy. For this reason, older dogs can make ideal companions for seniors. Both may be faced with similar ailments and challenges, both physically and emotionally. Both are probably acquainted with loss, and know how to show their appreciation for the love and attention that they’re given. Some dog lovers are just not up to a puppy’s speed.
The question of bereavement with regards to an animal that may not have many years left is one that has no simple answer. The possibility of pain in such a situation is real. However, consider that you might represent an older dog’s last chance at happiness. He may only be around for a few more years, but you can ensure that those years are filled with loving regard for him. Such an emotional reward can be well worth the hurt that comes after. All of us have to weigh the risks versus the compensations of such situations for ourselves.