Pet Adoption

For all dogs in shelters, the statistics are dismal. According to The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), 6 to 8 million dogs and cats enter shelters each year, with 3 to 4 million of those euthanized. Although some puppies are killed, younger animals most often steal the show at adoption events as adult dogs quietly sit alone. “Older animals, animals with special medical or behavioral needs, and the more plain and nondescript animals are more difficult to adopt than puppies and kittens,” says Inga Fricke, director of Sheltering and Pet Care Issues for the HSUS.

She further says that larger animals also tend to be more difficult to adopt than smaller dogs in part because of the “cuteness” factor, but also because many Americans tend to live in urban areas and perceive smaller dogs to be a better fit.

Is Adopting an Older Dog a Good Idea thedogdaily

San Francisco SPCA spokeswoman Jennifer Lu says that her organization also has trouble finding homes for special-needs dogs, even if those needs are minimal. “Any factor adding a layer of responsibility may change the commitment level, with people concerned about the financial commitment,” explains Lu.


Stephen Musso, executive vice president of the ASPCA, says many shelters report that large, black dogs are often not adopted. Some shelters even have a name for the problem: “Big black dog syndrome.” Even if a black adult dog is in perfect health and has a sweet nature, it may still remain in a shelter.

One reason is simply that black dogs are more common, perhaps because this color is just genetically more dominant among canines. Old stereotypes may also be to blame, with “Beware of Dog” signs often showing big, menacing black dogs. Books and movies, such as The Hound of the Baskervilles and the Harry Potter series, tend to present such dogs in a menacing light. The biggest reason may simply have to do with how well the dogs photograph. In this social media age, people often surf the net before visiting shelters. Professional photographers aren’t always available to snap the most flattering shots of scared homeless canines, so some dogs disappear into dark backgrounds and poor lighting.

Each November, Adopt a Senior Pet Month, sponsored by, grows in popularity and helps to save more and more older dogs from euthanasia in shelters by working to promote their adoption. 

Is Adopting an Older Dog a Good Idea?

Why don’t most people looking to get a dog consider a grown one? The reasons are varied, from wanting a “clean slate” in terms of behavior, to a puppy’s cuteness, to the misconception that young dogs bond better than adults. But puppy cuteness only lasts a few weeks and puppies aren’t trained in anything. Adult dogs are usually house trained and know a few commands. Puppies don’t, making them a lot of work. And unless you’re a professional trainer, you may make more mistakes with your “clean slate” than with a “slightly used” dog.

As Elizabeth Wasserman learned, adopting an older dog has many advantages. “There’s a fairly well-ingrained myth that you have to get a puppy in order to train and develop a solid relationship. It’s simply not true,” says Pat Miller, a certified professional dog trainer and behavioral consultant with Peaceable Paws LLC in Fairplay, Md. Of the five dogs Miller now has, three were adopted between 6 and 7 months old, one at 5 months and one at 8 years of age.

When my husband and I were newly married, explains Wasserman, we adopted an 8-week-old German Shepherd. Max required just about as much work as raising a child, given the housebreaking, training, socializing and deterring her from chewing anything in sight.

Several years later, Max grew to be a wonderful family dog. At the age of 12, however, she passed away. We eventually adopted an older dog, a 10-month-old Beagle from a medical research lab. She had never been outside before, but she took to housebreaking and other training like a fish takes to water.

While puppies are cuddly, and many grow up to become wonderful companions, prospective pet owners sometimes forget the trouble involved with raising a canine from infancy, and they overlook the countless mature dogs awaiting adoption from shelters and rescue organizations.

Here Are the Advantages Adult Dogs Have Over Puppies When it Comes to Adoption:

  • Housebreaking 

Older dogs are often house-trained. If not, they are at least able to learn quickly. Puppies, on the other hand, are too young to be able to physically “hold it” for very long. You have to take them outside every hour and often in the middle of the night and then you still must clean up puddles.

  • Training 

Mature dogs frequently come pre-trained not to chew furniture or clothing. They also may know basic commands, such as “sit,” “stay” and “down.” “They know how to walk on a leash and a lot of the other basic things that puppies haven’t learned yet,” says Adam Goldfarb, director of the Pets at Risk program of the Humane Society of the United States.

  • Energy Level

     Adult dogs tend to be calmer. With puppies and adolescent dogs, energy level is more of an issue. Many adolescent and young adult dogs wind up in shelters because their families weren’t prepared for such a high-energy pet.

  • Socialization 

Older dogs are apt to be more socialized, and therefore, they usually handle people, other pets, cars and noises better than puppies.

  • Temperament and Size 

With older dogs, you have a better idea of who they are, how they act and what they’ll look like. With purebred puppies, you can make an educated guess by observing the dog’s parents. With mixed breeds, however, you may not know the parents. In addition, paw size is an inexact measure of full-grown size.

  • Spaying or Neutering 

An adult dog has likely been fixed already, taking the responsibility off you.

Where Can I Adopt an Older Dog?

Check with your local shelter to see what they have available.  Sometimes, adopting an adult dog may have a few downsides. Pre-owned dogs can come with baggage. “If you’re adopting a dog from a hoarder, puppy mill or other home where he wasn’t well-socialized, you may be facing significant behavioral challenges, such as neophobia (fear of new things), fear-related aggression and general shyness,” says Miller. A dog kept in unclean conditions may also be more difficult to house-train. Dogs may end up in shelters or with rescue groups because of health and/or behavioral problems.

What To Ask a Shelter or Rescue Group Before Adopting:

  • Do They Have Any History on the Dog? 

Do they keep information about how and where the dog was found if it’s a stray? Why did its previous owners surrender it?

  • Are There any Behavioral Issues With the Dog? 

How has the dog behaved at the shelter? Is it a high-energy dog, or is it happy sitting around all day?

  • Are There Any Health Concerns? 

Has the dog been treated for anything while at the shelter or rescue center?

  • What Type of Home Do They Think is Best For This Dog? 

Has the dog ever lived with children or other pets? Could you arrange a meeting between the dog and your children or pets before adopting?

For our family, an added reason to adopt an older canine was that we knew we were giving a loving home to a dog that was going to be harder to adopt out. For others, the reason can be even more compelling: You may be saving the dog from euthanasia. As Miller says, “You can feel really good knowing you are saving a life.”


Do Dogs Miss Previous Owners?

But what about the bonding issue? You may be surprised to learn that dogs, even adult dogs, are preprogrammed to bond with humans. What makes dogs able to bond to humans is a trait called neoteny; that is, humans have bred the domestic dog to stay in a kind of permanent adolescence. This trait enables a dog to bond with different people over their lifetime.

“There is a myth that says you must bring a puppy home at seven weeks,” says Sheila Webster Boneham, PhD, author of Breed Rescue: How to Start and Run a Successful Program, and founder of the Labrador Retriever Rescue of Indiana. “Nonsense! That idea comes from a misinterpretation of research that showed that puppies must have human contact beginning no later than the seventh week or they won’t bond to people. But that means people in general.”

Boneham has personally placed 50 dogs, supervised the placement of more than 200 dogs in rescue, and counseled more than 100 owners who adopted dogs from shelters. In her experience, adult dogs bond as well as puppies. “Some dogs take a little more TLC, but I have found [adult] dogs to be extremely resilient, and most are driven to be connected to a person or family,” she says.

Over my lifetime, I have owned more than 40 dogs myself, of which only 13 were puppies. Most of the dogs I’ve owned have had more than one owner before I adopted them. The dogs who have bonded the closest with me or my husband have all been much older than eight weeks some being as old as five years or more. The closeness of the bond depends on the time you spend with your dog, not the age of your dog.

Improving the Rate of Senior Dog Adoption

Groups across the country are trying to increase the rate of adoptions for all dogs, especially those that need the extra boost. Fricke shares that the HSUS has joined together with Maddie’s Fund and the Ad Council to create the first-ever public advertising campaign to promote adoption: The Shelter Pet Project. Wyoming-based Black Dog Animal Rescue and other organizations are also building awareness while finding dogs homes.

Is  a 7 Year Old Dog Too Old to Adopt?

There’s a good reason to pay attention. As Fricke says, such frequently overlooked dogs often make better pets. “Older animals, for example, are beyond the annoying chewing stage, are typically fully trained and are much more ‘What you see is what you get’ than younger animals who have not fully developed their personalities yet,” says Fricke.

Christina Alvarez, executive director of Hopalong & Second Chance Animal Rescue in Oakland, Calif., adds that such dogs also tend to be:

  • Potty-trained
  • Reserved and well-behaved
  • Adapted to home life
  • Appreciative of love and care
  • Eager to bond with supportive owners

Lu, who has adopted three adult dogs, advises that anyone who desires a new pet “should go in with an open heart and open eyes. Rather than sticking to predetermined characteristics, make a love connection.”

Fricke agrees: “We would love for people to bear in mind that most pets wind up in shelters through no fault of their own not because they have problems, but simply because their owners had personal problems, such as they needed to move, had a new baby, etc. They are wonderful, family-ready pets who only need to be given an opportunity to show how wonderful they are.”


5 Tips on Caring for a Senior Dog

  1. Feed Your Elderly Dog a Proper Diet. 

“Veterinarians recommend senior diets for older dogs,” she says. Certain dogs may require other special diets if they have particular health issues.

  1. Groom and Bathe Your Dog Regularly, Per Recommendations For its Breed. 

If you use a professional groomer, make sure that he or she is informed of any health conditions, such as arthritis, which could require a more gentle touch.

  1. Provide Regular Physical Activity, Following Veterinary Guidance.

  2. Keep Your Home Relatively Quiet. 

“If your home is like Grand Central Station all of the time, your older dog is likely to become stressed out,” says Buchwald. Make sure your dog has a nice, peaceful spot to retreat to throughout the day.

  1. Schedule Regular Veterinary Visits. 

Prevention and early detection can help to save and extend lives.

So consider the adult dog. He’s as likely to bond with you, as a puppy would be. And he’s far less likely to chew up your couch or pee on your rug. Who knows maybe your canine soul mate is an older dog.

Article written by Authors: Margaret Bonham, Elizabeth Wasserman, Jennifer Viegas and The Dog Daily Expert


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