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Top Dogs for Empty Nesters

Breeds and other facts to consider when picking your perfect pooch

spinner image a woman and a dog in a field

The house seems quiet once the last of the kids move out, doesn't it? If you want to bring some energy back into your world, may we suggest a new family member — one with four legs who's always happy to see you? Although they do take some time and effort, including walking, feeding and grooming, dogs can enrich your life in so many ways (as more than 43 million American dog-owning families can attest).

But with nearly 200 breeds, it can be hard to decide which pup is best for you. Start by considering your physical, time, money and space constraints, says Jerry Klein, chief veterinary officer at the American Kennel Club. “The trick is to choose a dog based on your lifestyle.”

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Certain breeds — as well as many mixed-breed dogs — can be especially wonderful companions for a wide range of animal lovers, including older ones. A few to consider:

spinner image Cavalier King Charles Spaniel

The Cuddlers: Cavalier King Charles Spaniels

Talk about bloodlines. Cavalier King Charles Spaniels were the favorite lap dogs of royalty centuries ago. They got their name from King Charles II, the 17th century monarch who, legend has it, was so obsessed with his pups that he neglected his royal duties. It's easy to see why: They're adorable, doe-eyed dogs, with sweet, comfort-loving temperaments. “They'll cuddle up with you by the fireplace while you read a book,” says Klein. “But they're happy to go for walks, too.” (Just keep close watch: These Spaniels like to give chase to squirrels and butterflies.) And thanks to their compact size and easygoing nature, they're good traveling companions.

The only thing high-maintenance about them is their grooming: That long, silky hair needs frequent brushing and trims.

spinner image miniature schnauzer dog

The Playmates: Miniature Schnauzers

Miniature Schnauzers are small but have big “Look at me!” personalities. The playful, ever-curious dogs will want to know everything you're up to, shadowing you around the house and watching with fascination as you perform even the most mundane tasks. They also tend to be vocal, which means potential intruders will be kept at bay. (They're not the best choice for people who prefer a very quiet pet).

You'll want to take them for daily walks and let them run around in your yard or a nearby park so they can work off their energy. Otherwise they could get into mischief (say, using your slippers as a chew toy). Bring a ball — they love a good game of fetch.

spinner image Schipperke dog

The Athletes: Schipperkes

If you have an active lifestyle and aren't intimidated by an independent, take-charge pet, the Schipperke (pronounced SHEEP-erk-ker) is for you. Small, alert black dogs, with dark button eyes and a clever, foxlike face, they make terrific watchdogs and are game for pretty much any activity, particularly if it involves water. A fenced-in yard is a must (they love chasing after small critters). They also tend to be easy on the wallet, says Klein: They're “sturdy and don't have a lot of health issues, and that beautiful black coat is easy to care for.”

spinner image Havanese dog

Figure on a thorough once-a-week brushing.

The Trendsetters: Havanese

The adorable Havanese, the national dog of Cuba and a relative of the Maltese and Bichon Frise, seem to be especially popular these days. One of the brightest of the smaller breeds, they're easy-to-please, often content to settle on the back of a sofa or peer out the window and watch the neighborhood goings-on. These tiny dogs also respond well to training and aren't yappy like some other small breeds, so they are good road trip companions.

A few things to consider: They can be difficult to house train (have wee-wee pads ready) and their fluffy coat needs to be brushed daily.

spinner image miniature poodle dog

The Smarty Pants: Miniature Poodles

We tend to think of Poodles as pampered show dogs, but as owners know, they're a lot more than a just a pretty face. For one thing, these dogs are smart — really smart. Like their bigger cousins, Miniature Poodles learn quickly and are one of the most trainable of all breeds. “They're wonderful for owners who want to keep mentally stimulated and have a dog that's engaged in their life,” says Natalie Marks, medical director and veterinarian at Blum Animal Hospital in Chicago. Because they crave companionship, they're a great choice for those who have a lot of time to spend with their pup.

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Poodles also have the advantage of being the lightest-shedding, most hypoallergenic of all coated breeds. (They need grooming every 4 to 6 weeks.)

They do have their quirks. Because they like routines, they can get flustered by big changes in schedules or lots of activity in the home.

spinner image Greyhound dog

The Sensitive Souls: Greyhounds

Though many of us envision Greyhounds zipping around a racetrack, they're actually quite calm, gentle and affectionate. They'll need a fenced-in space to stretch their long legs, but surprisingly, don't usually want or need hours of exercise. In fact, the breed has been dubbed the “40 miles-per-hour couch potato” for a reason. These comfort-lovers will often just want to snuggle (don't tell them they're not a lap dog).

Their short coat doesn't require a lot of grooming, says Marks, “and they don't have a lot of those purebred diseases that afflict some other breeds, such as hip dysplasia or respiratory issues.” With the last Greyhound racetrack closing in Florida in 2020, there will be a lot of these sweet creatures available for adoption through rescue groups.

Note that they might not do well in tense, noisy environments.

Mixed Breeds

"I'll be honest, these are my all-time favorite dogs,” says Joanne Yohannan, senior vice president of operations at the North Shore Animal League America, in Port Washington, New York. For one thing, they tend to be healthier than purebred dogs, who often suffer from hereditary diseases as a result of inbreeding. Many believe they have better dispositions to boot.

That said, “Mixed breed dogs, particularly when they're younger, can be more of a wild card,” says Klein. If you get them as puppies, it's not always easy to predict what you'll end up with in terms of size, activity level and temperament.


It also can be wonderful to give a home to a stray, abandoned or surrendered dog of uncertain breeding through shelters and rescue groups. “Adoption not only moves an animal from vulnerability to safety,” says Julia Umansky, director of admissions and matchmaking at the ASPCA Adoption Center in New York City, “it creates space at the shelter and moves more resources and attention to the remaining animals.” Visit ASPCA, The Shelter Pet Project or to find your new best friend.

Older Dogs

And while, yes, puppies are adorable, adopting an older pooch has its advantages. “Puppies are usually going to be a lot more work than an adult dog — socializing, house-breaking,” says Nick Hof, owner of Paws Look Listen dog training in Cincinnati. “Adult dogs are generally more well-mannered and don't require as much supervision and training in the beginning to prevent problematic behaviors as they get older.”

Some shelters have started offering adoption discounts for older people looking for older canines. North Shore Animal League America, for example, has a “Seniors for Seniors” program for those 60 and up. If you adopt an animal who's at least 4 years old, there's a flat adoption fee of $l50 that covers everything, including vaccinations and spay and neutering, as well as $15 twice-a-year grooming for the life of your pet.

Foster Pups

And if you don't want a long-term commitment, you could think about becoming a foster parent, says North Shore's Yohannan: “You get the benefit of helping these animals and the companionship at the same time.”

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