4/23/2021 | By Annie Tobey

Choosing a canine companion can raise a pack of questions, beginning with the right breed for you. As you consider a new furry friend, also consider what age dog to adopt. Whether you’re searching shelters and other rescue organizations or vetting breeders, understand your options before making a decision.

Determining What Age Dog to Adopt

You can think of dogs having three stages of life: puppy, adult, and senior. We’ll point out some pros and cons of each. But we won’t label any of them as pros or cons, because what is a positive to one person may be a negative for another!

For example, young dogs are more likely to be high energy and need a lot of attention. This may be a plus for an active senior looking for a hiking and walking buddy but a negative for someone with physical limitations.

As another example, an adult shelter dog can come with emotional baggage and trust issues. Many adopters might prefer a dog that will bond with them easily, but some adopters may welcome the chance for emotional rehabilitation. After the heartache of a broken relationship, Ronda stopped by her local animal shelter “seeking solace and discovered another soul needing solace.” The shelter dog, Vivian, was very timid and would not approach Ronda. Regardless, Ronda recalls, “I decided to take a chance … Vivian’s adaptation to a new way of life has at times been challenging, but I understand how hard it is to recover from a tremendous hurt. Behavior shouldn’t require explanation, particularly when it comes from a place of pain. I don’t need to know where Vivian’s source of pain comes from; I don’t need even need to understand it. I just need to be careful with her and acknowledge that she needs care and comfort, just the same as I do.”

I’ve had the privilege of adopting adult dogs and of adding puppies to our family. All of them brought love into my life, and all brought a few challenges.

As a senior yourself, you can experience a multitude of benefits from having a dog. At the same time, you’ll want to consider how a dog fits into your own lifestyle. How much free time do you have to spend with your new friend? Do you have physical limitations or health issues that will affect your ability to care for an energetic young pup? Are you able to meet the dog’s financial needs? Are there housing restrictions to consider, such as whether you have access to a yard or whether your neighborhood has size or breed limitations? Can you create a pet friendly home for your buddy?

Puppy Pros & Cons

A puppy can leave its mother at approximately eight weeks old. These cute little bundles of fluff grow up quickly, losing that obvious puppy look by around eight months. About that same time, the dog enters adolescence. He’ll still have plenty of energy and, like human “teenagers,” may frequently look to push boundaries. This period lasts until till the dog is about 18 months or two years, depending upon the breed and size.

So when it comes to determining what age dog to adopt – if you’re considering a puppy, you’ll want to ponder these factors:

  • Falling in love with a puppy face is as easy as falling off a unicycle, so you may bond quite quickly.
  • Since a puppy is typically more of a blank slate, you can more easily train and establish positive habits like self-control and sociability rather than having to break bad habits.
  • The early months of a dog’s life are the best time to socialize her – take her to safe public places and get her comfortable with strangers, other dogs, and new settings.
  • Important early training – such as housebreaking, basic obedience, and crate training – demands an abundance of time and commitment.
  • Even the best of pups will likely chew things they shouldn’t, from designer shoes to family heirloom furniture. After all, they don’t know any better, and those sharp little puppy teeth are practically begging for something to chew!
  • Puppies and younger dogs are bundles of energy that need an outlet – walking, playing (with people, other dogs, and toys), going on outings, etc.
  • If you get a puppy from a breeder, you’re better able to predict the dog’s size and temperament. If you go this route, make sure you’re using a reputable breeder!
  • If you get a puppy from a shelter, you might be in for some surprises in terms of size, temperament, etc.

My most recent canine acquisition was an Australian shepherd, Newt, purchased from a breeder whom I very carefully vetted (and she very carefully vetted me, too!). I appreciated that I knew what to expect in bringing this breed of pup into my home. I also committed myself to training him right from the very beginning. Both the expectations and the commitment have paid off in the perfect companion for me.

Adult Dog Pros & Cons

Somewhere between 18 months and three years, a dog settles into adulthood. Depending upon the breed and prior training, this doesn’t mean he’s sedate, socialized, and perfectly obedient. However, he’s moved past the mischievous puppy and adolescent stage yet still has energy to share.

In considering what age dog to adopt, know that for an adult dog:

  • You won’t need to guess at the dog’s ultimate size or appearance. What you see is what you’ll get!
  • You can probably judge the dog’s basic temperament, although you might still be in for some surprises.
  • An adult dog may already be housebroken and trained in other basic obedience skills.
  • On the other hand, without sufficient early training, some dogs can be difficult to retrain.
  • Even a dog that doesn’t need much training will still require an emotional adjustment period.
  • An adult dog is typically less demanding than a younger dog and often content to lie contentedly beside you on the sofa.
  • An adult dog from a rescue organization or shelter may have a negative history of abuse, neglect, etc., which can cause issues such as lack of trust and even aggression.

Before bringing Newt home, I had adopted two shelter dogs, 5 and 9 years old. When I went into their room at the shelter, they both crawled onto my lap the moment I sat down. I’ve had a few surprises since making them part of the family – one is not good at meeting other dogs when we’re out and the other can randomly pee in the house without telling me it’s time to go out. But their companionable affection has continued unabated.

Senior Dog Pros & Cons

Dog lifespans vary, from around seven years for very large dogs to 14 years for small dogs. Thus, their “senior” status varies, too, but often begins around 7 years of age.

If you’re considering a senior dog, realize:

  • You will probably be able to judge their physical traits and get some idea of their basic temperament before deciding to take them home.
  • Some dogs that have been less compliant when younger may settle down as they age.
  • Senior dogs have less energy, so they’re much more content to lie quietly beside you on the sofa.
  • These dogs may have age-related health issues, which can be expensive, time consuming, and sad.
  • Older dogs can become less alert and have trouble seeing and hearing.
  • You’ll probably have to say “goodbye” sooner.
  • On the other hand, many people hesitate to adopt older dogs, so you can offer your friend a peaceful, comfortable final few years.

I’ve had to say “goodbye” to several of my canine companions over the years. Although it’s always painful, I’m learning how to make their final days peaceable. That is a huge gift that loving owners can share with any dog.

As you’re deciding what age dog to adopt, be sure you’re equipped to care for him, especially during the initial training and adjustment. The ideal companionship will benefit you both.

Annie Tobey

Annie Tobey has been a professional writer and editor for more than 30 years. As editor of BOOMER magazine, she explored a diversity of topics of particular interest to adult children of seniors. When she’s not writing, she can be found running the trails or enjoying a beer with friends.

Annie Tobey