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Great Dog Breeds for Grownups: A Guide to Choosing a Pup to Match Your Personality

Whether you’re a homebody or traveling in retirement, there’s a good canine companion for you

spinner image a lab, a French bulldog and a greyhound are dogs recommended for older adults
Whether it’s a Lab, a French bulldog or a greyhound, there’s a dog that suits your lifestyle in retirement.
Photo Collage: AARP; (Source: Getty Images (4))

Dogs are cute, cuddly and good for your physical and mental health. They bring companionship, boost your daily step count and time outside, and can get you interacting with other dog lovers, says Lorraine Rhoads, director of health and safety at Dogtopia, a provider of dog day care, boarding and grooming services throughout North America.

For the 11.1 percent of adults 65 and older living alone, or for those who just would like a fur baby to have around, getting a dog may be a good idea. But there are many lifestyle factors to consider before jumping into dog ownership with both feet (and all paws).

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Rhoads says the financial commitment (food, vet visits, grooming), time commitment (longevity, walks, playtime, vet visits) and both the human’s and the dog’s energy levels are important to keep top of mind.

“I think that you have to match the personality of the pet to the personality of the person. I think that’s first and foremost,” says Dr. Carol Osborne, a veterinarian at Chagrin Falls Veterinary Center & Pet Clinic in Chagrin Falls, Ohio.

Just like humans, every pup has its own unique personality, but there are generalities that can be made about different breeds. The American Kennel Club recognizes 201 different breeds and divides them among seven categories based on the function they were bred to perform, says Jerry Klein, AKC’s chief veterinary officer. For example, sporting dogs are typically athletic and love to play, while hounds are focused, stubborn and loyal, and herding dogs love having a job to do, expands Klein. Whatever your lifestyle and abilities look like at 50 and older – whether you’re planning to travel extensively in retirement or want to spend your golden years with your toes in the sand – there’s a breed or a mix of breeds that would suit your preferences. Here’s a guide to matching your personality to a pup.

spinner image a woman cuddling with a Cocker spaniel on a couch
Cocker spaniels, French bulldogs and Boston terriers all make the cut if you need a cuddle buddy and enjoy time at home.
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For the homebody

If you’re more of an indoorsy grownup who values time spent at home – say, snuggling with a book or watching a movie on the couch – Rhoads suggests a cocker spaniel. She describes cocker spaniels as naturally gentle and sweet (but they do have long coats that require regular grooming). The Cavalier King Charles spaniel is also a good option, she says; they are a toy breed that can range from small to medium size, and they have fewer grooming needs than the cocker spaniel. Rhoads says they require low exercise and are “happy to cuddle for a big portion of the day.” 

Osborne recommends other dogs with shorter coats: French bulldogs or Boston terriers. If you live in a climate that can get hot, be sure to keep in mind that flat-faced breeds (like pugs and bulldogs, including French bulldogs) can have compromised respiratory systems, which means they may encounter breathing issues in the heat.

spinner image A greyhound in a park holding a blue frisbee
The experts recommend any retriever breeds and greyhounds to keep you company in your outdoor adventures.
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For the outdoorsy grownup

If you like to hike, go on long walks, tend to your garden and spend as much time outside as you can, Osborne recommends any of the retriever types – golden retrievers or Labradors. Rhoads concurs but also would add greyhounds to the mix.

Within those breeds, you’ll find varying energy levels, but all three breeds love spending time outdoors. While Rhoads admits that a greyhound may seem counterintuitive for a grownup “because you think they’re just going to be runners, and some of them maybe have a tendency to have a high prey drive,” she says they are also gentle, affectionate dogs that are the perfect garden companion.

spinner image a small dog, wearing glasses is inside a green piece of luggage
Most dogs want to please their owners, but if you’re a jet-setter consider a smaller, portable companion that you can quickly pick up and travel with.
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For retirees who love to travel

For the jet-setters who want an adaptable (portable) companion, Rhoads recommends smaller dogs who are well-trained, friendly and social (you may encounter fellow travelers who want to pet them).

“If travel is definitely on the list of your lifestyle, I would consider smaller breeds that are just easier for you to pick up and go,” says Rhoads, adding that more hotels are becoming dog-friendly, but both hotels and airlines may have restrictions on pet size.

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Osborne says most dogs are willing to do anything and everything they can to please their owner – even when traveling – so most dogs are fine to travel with you. But there are some breeds that will be particularly difficult on the road — especially “nervous, high-strung breeds” like vizslas, salukis and some sighthounds.

spinner image a small dog with pink hair
If you’re a fashionable city-dweller, smaller breeds like shih tzus, maltese, bichon frises and toy poodles are great companions but need frequent grooming.
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The city fashionista

If you’ve downsized your home, perhaps in the city, Rhoads suggests shih tzus, Maltese and bichon frises. All three breeds are small and have low energy that won’t require a lot of play within a small home. But do note that all three have frequent grooming needs.

Osborne says poodles are also very popular among the fashionable set over 50 “because they’re big and stylish” (but they also require a lot of grooming). While standard poodles are high energy, their smaller counterparts, toy poodles, are just as stylish and have lower energy — and a better fit for a small space. The experts say these polished pooches need a lot of regular grooming and upkeep; and as with any high-fashion item, you’ll want to consider the cost.

spinner image A black Labrador retriever puppy cuddles and a brown Labrador retriever
Labrador retrievers are a great breed for more tropical climates; they love spending time on the water, says Osborne.
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For snowbirds

For retirees fleeing frigid temperatures, Osborne recommends short-coated breeds. “The Labrador retriever is appealing to just about anyone, anywhere,” she says, adding that they have medium exercise requirements and love the water, as do golden retrievers.

While bulldogs and other short-legged, short-coated dogs are generally great choices for older adults, Osborne says it’s important to note that breeds with short legs aren’t naturally swimmers — and hotter climates might be difficult on their breathing if they’re outside for too long.

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Other factors to consider

Dog coats and climate: “In general, when it comes to cost, the bigger the pet and the longer the hair, the more it’s going to cost,” says Osborne about grooming costs. It’s important to consider a dog’s coat and where you live.

For example, she says, “If you live in Alaska, you wouldn’t want to get a Mexican hairless – the little guy would be freezing all the time. If you live in Florida, a hot, humid climate, especially by water, you wouldn’t want to get a husky or a malamute. A breed that has long hair doesn’t do well with heat and humidity, and doesn’t care for the water.”

Age — an older dog can be a great fit for grownups: Osborne says adopting a senior dog (age 7 and older) may be a great move for older adults, since puppies may be a lot of work. She says senior dogs, many of which are surrendered to shelters and rescues “for the wrong reasons,” are typically already house-trained, spayed or neutered, and have many of the vaccines that are necessary to get as a puppy.

“You’d be surprised how many of these older dogs in shelters … it’s kind of like they know that you gave them a second chance,” says Osborne. “In many cases, those can be just the best dogs you could even ask for.” 

Commitment is long term: Osborne says that grownups should also consider that a dog is a lifelong commitment. A dog’s lifespan varies by breed and size; smaller dogs can live to around 15 or more years, while larger dogs live up to 13, according to Klein. Much like humans, dogs are highly social creatures and shouldn’t be left alone for long periods of time, says Rhoads. 

“If you find that there’s time in your life and space in your life, bringing a dog into that is so recommended,” she says. “Older adults often live alone or face some levels of loneliness. Companionship makes a big difference.”

Where you should get your dog: If you’re ready to jump in and find your perfect companion, and you definitely want a particular purebred dog, check the breed’s national, or parent, breed club, suggests Klein.

“Within each of these parent club’s websites should be a list of dedicated, responsible breeders in various parts of the country,” he adds, noting that many of these clubs have organizations that rescue purebreds from shelters around the country.

Osborne says you shouldn’t overlook shelters and rescues, advising it might even be your first stop. They sometimes have purebred dogs that have been surrendered by families who can no longer care for them. They also are likely to have mixed-breed dogs, which Osborne says sometimes inherit the best traits of all their breed mixes.

Most shelters and rescues offer trial periods with the pet – where potential owners can see if a dog is a good fit for their family and lifestyle. If a shelter dog is a good fit, the adoption fees will certainly be lower than the price tag from a breeder.

Whatever route you take, it’s important to do your research and be very mindful about potential pet scams.

Video: How to Avoid Pet Scams

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