One of the trends I see as a dog trainer, is elderly people rocking up to classes with a wild puppy, a exasperated expression on their face and a ‘my daughter got him as a surprise to keep me company.’ Sometimes said offspring has come along for the ride and well intentioned to help with training the puppy in class but are little help the rest of the time when the owner is alone with the puppy.
As much as it is from a place of love that these situations are arising, they have a serious impact on the elderly person and the puppy. When you are thinking about getting a puppy companion for your older relative, or a relative has announced they intend to get a puppy, please take these into consideration:
It the person going to be fit enough to provide the right exercise for their puppy. Some older people have had a breed for many years and while back then they were able to manage the dog, the older they get the harder it is.
Are they capable of sticking to the training of this puppy?
Older people have thinner skin and are more easily injured from puppy bites and exuberant jumping.
Do they even want one? Many of the older owners I encounter have been stuck with a dog they don’t really want but feel obligated to keep.
Who is going to provide for this puppy after the owner dies? After a certain point, these dog’s are going to outlive their owner so there needs to be a plan in place to take the dog in.
Is this fair on both the dog and owner? The mental stress and emotional toll on a struggling elderly owner and a puppy that is frustrated because their needs aren’t being met, leaves both parties in a dark place.
So, what can you do as a safer alternative?
ASK FIRST – surprises are great, but for parties and day trips… not for a sentient animal. Does your relative even really want a puppy?
Look at the right breed, your granny doesn’t need a cocker spaniel, no matter how much they used to love owning them.
Look at adopting an older dog. Older dogs a very often overlooked in rescues be others wanting a younger dog. But older dogs make great companions for owners also in their twilight years. They are going to be calmer, make great company and likely won’t outlive the owner.
Does it even have to be a dog? There are plenty of alternative species of pets that are more appropriate options for older people. Cats, fish, tortoise... ect. If they want company, you could look at coffee mornings or activity groups for them to enjoy instead.
I’m not trying to be ageist and say that all old people shouldn’t have a puppy, but it needs to be an informed choice with serious considerations. This isn’t something that can be easily taken back and won’t be without a degree of heartbreak. I have already made the decision to have less drively breeds when I hit my twilight years and either stop having dogs when I won't outlive them or adopt older dogs.