Oh Yes You Can teach an Old Dog New Tricks


6 good reasons to adopt a senior
By KL Snyder  |  Photography by Kelvin Andow

Regarding puppies and grownup dogs and their adoption appeal, pups have the upper paw. 

Shelter and rescue youngsters, silly and cute, find homes quickly while their more dignified elders wait and wait. That’s too bad, because for many adopters, a senior dog—senior means older than 7 or 8 years—is the perfect choice.

Happily, aging canines do have their advocates. “I would never get another puppy,” says Margo McKay of Owatonna, who has so far adopted two seniors. “At this stage, we like the calmness.”

McKay family friend Mariah Pitts says, “Older dogs know more. They’ve experienced more, and it seems like they can connect with your emotions.” 

“I’m a sucker for senior dogs,” says Lyndsey Geier, CVT, lead technician at Northern Valley Animal Clinic in Rochester and co-owner of Pine Bend Kennels in Pine Island. Over the years, the Geier family has taken in eight older dogs. Among their current quartet of canines are two senior adoptees. 

Those who favor frosty-faced dogs tout the benefits of adopting them. Here are six perks—and if you ask Geier, McKay and Pitts, they’ll add to the list.

1. You know what you’re getting. 

“You can only guess what a pup or kitten will be like when it grows up,” Geier says. Seniors come full-grown, with personalities established and upkeep no surprise.  

“You know their fur coats, how much shedding, how much maintenance is required,” and because shelters and rescue groups get their guests vet-checked and vaccinated, you know the state of the animal’s health. 

2. Adult dogs arrive already educated.

Someone else did the potty training, hooray! Most seniors have spent years living with people and learning house rules, canine commands and the fine points of good-dog etiquette. When the Geiers adopted 10-year-old Julie, she brought her impeccable manners with her. “She’s a perfect dog,” Geier says.

3. Man’s best friend knows no age limit. 

Mellow and eager to please, mature canines star as companion animals. 

“They’re not so rambunctious as baby pets,” Geier says. Seniors need less exercise, but they still love fun—and they let you choose the adventure.

They sense your mood, says Donna Fisher, director of Safe Haven Pet Rescue, Rochester. “When you come home exuberant after a good day, they’re exuberant, too; and if you’re down, they know it and want to cheer you up.” When you want to relax, they not only let you, they snuggle up and chill with you.

4. They’re grateful and they show it.

A real home beats a shelter, and dogs with experience recognize the difference. 

“Senior dogs appreciate the little things more,” Pitts says. A soft warm place to snooze (pet bed or people bed, either will do), good food, ear scratches, belly rubs and lots of love—and lucky dog will love you back.

5. Who says old dogs can’t learn new tricks? 

As Pitts points out, “Dogs still have a brain when they’re old.” Their insight, longer attention span and desire to please give senior canines an advantage over the furry kids. Old dogs excel at learning new tricks. 

Trooper learned a whole new gig. After McKay adopted the blind 8-year-old Labrador Retriever from Paws and Claws Humane Society in Rochester, she trained him as a certified therapy dog. 

Now team McKay pays weekly visits to prisoners in the local jail. “I tell them Trooper’s story,” McKay says, “how he got a second chance and they can, too.” 

As a counselor at Owatonna High School, she hopes to get permission to bring Trooper to work, to help students who suffer from anxiety and depression.

“He’s a perfect therapy dog,” says Pitts. “He’s calming and sweet and lets everybody pet him.”

6. You are saving a life.

Because their age makes them hard to place, older pets often languish in shelters—except overcrowded public shelters don’t let them languish for long. Many seniors are surrendered by owners who can’t keep them or don’t want them anymore. Some of the poor animals have never known love.

McKay’s Izzy was a Paws and Claws dog originally rescued from a South Dakota reservation where she’d spent most of her 12 years on a chain. 

“She was skin and bone and so weak at first she couldn’t climb up two steps without help,” McKay says. “We had her four months. We loved her up for four months.”

“She was happy,” Pitts says. “I’m thankful that we gave her the good life she deserved. She didn’t die in pain tethered to a chain. She died being loved.”

“You know what they say,” Geier says: “‘Saving one dog will not change the world, but surely for that one dog, the world will change forever.’”

Adopting a not-so-young cat 

Senior cats’ attitude toward adoption differs from dogs’, says Geier, an adopter of mature members of both species. 

“Adopting a senior dog is like adopting a toddler. Adopting a senior cat is like having another adult in the house. The cats tend to be set in their ways and dislike adjusting to yours. Cats are very particular—but I have met some who will go along with anything.”

Interested in adopting a senior pet?

Ask about reduced fees. Some rescue groups and shelters lower their rates for senior animals. Locally, Camp Companion offers free adoption of pets 10 and over to people 62 and older. 

Paws and Claws gives a discount to adopters of cats over 7. 

Safe Haven Pet Rescue has a sliding scale, depending on the pet’s age and health. “The right home is the most important factor,” says director Donna Fisher.

Some groups give help specifically to aging pets. Grey Face Rescue & Retirement (greyfacerescue.org), St. Cloud, Minn., serves senior dogs (7 and older) and seeks “special and educated adopters to give our seniors their forever homes.”

The Grey Muzzle Organization (greymuzzle.org) provides funds to nonprofit shelters, rescue groups and sanctuaries nationwide.  

Rochester freelance writer KL Snyder loves senior dogs, too—especially Chester and Snicket.