Adoption is a very popular option that many people encourage, especially given the strain placed on local shelters to keep up with caring for so many homeless dogs and cats. Anyone who works in a shelter will tell you that the puppies are usually the ones getting adopted in a flash, whereas oldies are often overlooked.  

But did you know that there are many benefits to adopting an older dog? 


1. Puppies are hard work

When you get a puppy, you need to take him or her to puppy socialization classes where she or he can learn how to socialize with other dogs. You’ll be given homework to do for obedience training learnt in class, teaching your pup how to be a companion in a human home.

You’ll be spending hours and hours on teaching the pup where to eliminate (night and day), what not to chew, fixing up lawns where giant holes have been dug by an inquisitive puppy, puppy proofing cables, dustbins, children’s toys and pretty much everything in your home. Teaching your new pup to tolerate handling, grooming, bathing, car rides, vet visits and noises, not to mention other dogs, children, cats and other pets (to name a few!) is also time consuming and trying to anyone’s patience.

2. Adolescence

Once you’ve passed the puppy stage, you’ll have an adolescent dog that still requires work.  A lot of what you taught your puppy has to repeated as the adolescent brain somehow forgets the most basic of habits, like going to the toilet outside.

This stage can be extremely trying. In fact, that’s when most dogs are relinquished to shelters because the owners can’t cope! 

If you adopt an older dog, you won’t have to deal with all the developmental stages. 


3. Older dogs are past all the ‘teen dog or puppy’ problems

When you adopt an older dog you are dealing with the ‘finished product’ when it comes to socialization and life skills.

Sure, an older dog may require some training to deal with unwanted obedience problems like jumping up or pulling on the lead. But if you decide to adopt an older dog who meets your specific criteria, you’re adopting a pet that has had all the work already put in!  

Older dogs have had some experience living with people and often, other pets, and many tend to be calmer and more relaxed about life’s little surprises. 

Not all dogs end up in shelters due to behaviour problems – some owners really cannot keep their much loved pets due to financial or health reasons. They may end up at a shelter because their owners passed away or because the family chose to get a puppy. Not very nice for the older dog, but that does mean that you now have the opportunity to find yourself a real gem to adopt, who will have loads of love to give for years to come. 


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Of course there are also cons when it comes to adopting an older dog, and I would be remiss not covering those.

1. Kennel Stress

You may find that your new older dog needs some time to adjust to being back in a home, especially if he was suffering from depression while at the rescue organisation.

His housetraining may have suffered. Dogs are often forced to eliminate in the kennel run simply due to necessity - something that housetrained dogs find extremely aversive. But the good news is they remember very quickly once grass is available again!


2. Health

Unfortunately, senior dogs usually suffer from arthritis or joint pain, so you’ll need to make sure the dog meets your energy criteria. If you want a jogging companion, don’t get an 8 year old, but rather look at a 4 year old, healthy dog.

You may need to budget a little extra each month for vet fees sooner than you would have with a puppy, but here a good pet medical aid can compensate for that. But again there are no guarantees that your puppy won’t come with health problems.


3. Old Habits

Yep, the saying “old habits die hard” is unfortunately true. If your new, mature dog had some bad habits in the previous home, such as being allowed to beg for food from the table, or steal food off the kitchen counter, you’ll need to spend some time doing remedial training to teach him not to do this in your home. Luckily the new context does also help to reduce the occurrence of the old behaviours.

So there are up and downsides to adopting an older dog – however the ups definitely outweigh the downs! By adopting an older dog, you’re not only rescuing that dog, but you’re also getting a companion for life without most of the hard work. Definitely worth considering, all things being equal!


How to Find your Perfect Match at a Shelter


Meet all the dogs

Studies have shown that potential adopters will adopt one of the first three dogs that they see when visiting the shelter.

This means, if a dog is in one of the first three kennel runs, his or her chances for adoption increase exponentially. After kennel #3, most potential adopters start to experience slight trauma at the sight of so many hopeful dogs, all barking in excitement at the sight of new people. By kennel #8, the adopters are almost in a state of shut-down, and they often don’t remember any of the dogs they’ve see by then.  

Ideally, dogs should be rotated so all dogs have a chance to be in kennels 1 to 3, to give them an increased chance of being adopted. Of course, there are exceptions to the rule, and I definitely recommend looking at all the dogs in a shelter before adopting – even if you have to take a short break after each 5 kennels to collect yourself.

Take a notepad and pencil, and make notes about dogs that appeal to you, including why those dogs caught your attention. You can then review this information when you’re not so overwhelmed and choose the companion that would suit you best.  

Know what you want

When going to adopt a dog, it’s important to have a really good idea of exactly what you’re looking for in a dog. Make a list of what’s important to you and your family.

Too often I see clients for behaviour consultations with a dog they adopted on impulse, or because they felt sorry for the dog. Unfortunately, if the dog isn’t the right fit – think of a dog who chases cats or bites children, in a home with cats or children or a very active dog in a home with two elderly owners - the dog often ends up back at the shelter, much to the detriment of the dog’s emotional well-being.  

Bottom line…

Visit all the kennels and have a clear idea of what kind of dog you’d like in order to find your ideal canine companion.


Karin Pienaar
Animal behaviour guru, Karin Pienaar, has been working in the field of animal behaviour and behaviour therapy in South Africa since 1997. She completed her Diploma in Animal Behaviour in the UK, through the Centre of Applied Pet Ethology (COAPE) and is a qualified Practitioner member of the COAPE Association of Pet Behaviourists & Trainers (CAPBT) in the UK and South Africa.
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