Why Dogs Make the Best Pets for Retirees

Allie Johnson

Dogs are man’s best friend, and that’s especially true for retirees, who can enjoy an array of health and lifestyle benefits sharing their home with a canine companion.

“Dogs just make your golden years brighter,” says Jackie Walker, 71, a former retail clothing buyer who now lives in Tampa, Florida.

Walker started her retirement dogless so she could travel more easily, but that changed several years ago when Walker, who then lived in Chicago and had grown up with dogs, decided she could no longer live without a pup pal. She and her husband, Richard, added two furry family members: Cinderella, a Lhasa Apso, and Maddie, a Bichon Frise.

The dogs encouraged them to walk around their neighborhood four times a day, follow a healthy daily routine, and meet and chat up neighbors. One of Walker’s favorite things about having dogs is being greeted at the door by their wagging tails. “The unconditional love that dogs give you, and the excitement when you come home, you can’t bottle that,” she says.

Walker’s experiences, and those of other retirees with dogs, are backed up by a number of scientific studies that demonstrate that people with dogs may be happier, healthier, and less stressed. Here are six reasons dogs make the best pets for retirees.

1. Dogs Encourage Exercise

Dogs have a special way of getting their humans off the couch and out moving. In fact, a dog owner walking their dog can log about 23,700 miles over the dog’s 12-year lifespan. “Of all pets, dogs appear most likely to positively influence the level of human physical activity,” the American Heart Association asserted in a scientific statement on pet ownership and cardiovascular risk.

In support of this, a study on dogs and exercise led by BioMed Central, found that dog owners on average walked 22 minutes more per day or 2760 additional steps per day compared to people who didn’t own a dog

2. Dogs Can Help Heart Health

In addition to encouraging exercise, a dog may help improve your cardiovascular health. For example, in one study on dog ownership and blood pressure, 30 people with borderline hypertension were told to either adopt a dog from a local shelter immediately or remain dogless.

Months later, participants who adopted a furry friend experienced a reduction in blood pressure, unlike the others. But once those in the other group adopted dogs, their blood pressures decreased as well. Dogs aren’t a cure all for cardiovascular health issues, of course, but living with a canine companion may do your heart some good.

3. Dogs Provide Companionship

A dog is the perfect pet to provide company. After all, humans and dogs have been together for over 18,000 years. Dogs love to be close to their humans—scientists call it “proximity seeking”—which is why they tend to want to snuggle on your lap, cuddle next to you on the couch, or lie at your feet. Dogs also have an uncanny knack for picking up on and responding to signals from humans and can be trained to perform tasks, like fetching your slippers or picking up dropped items.

A bonus: training and playing with your dog can give you a mental workout, explains Darius Russin, MD, a family practice doctor and geriatrician in Austin, Texas. “You can keep your mind sharp by playing with puzzles with your dog.”

4. Dogs Foster a Sense of Community

Dogs not only provide plenty of companionship and love on their own, they also help bring people together. If you’ve ever walked a friendly dog through a bustling neighborhood, you know they make great ice breakers. Research backs up this obvious truth. In fact, one study found that walking a dog was the third most common way people met their neighbors in a new neighborhood, and that dog owners were 60 percent more likely than non-dog owners to meet new people in their neighborhood.

Dogs also bolster support networks, which helps guard against loneliness, says Steve Feldman, executive director of the Human Animal Bond Research Institute, a nonprofit organization that gathers and funds research on the benefits of companion animals. “Dogs really do encourage and facilitate social interaction, and people you interact with socially become your support system” he adds.

It’s easy to see how dogs bring people together, Feldman says. Dog owners who go out walking with their pooches “learn the names of the dogs and maybe even the names of the humans” in the neighborhood, he explains. “Or the neighbor kids want to come see the dog and you meet the family next door.”

5. Dogs Add Routine to Retirement

When you retired, you probably savored your newfound freedom. But, at the same time, you might have found it difficult to adjust to the lack of structure that having a job provided. Fortunately, dogs are very routine-oriented, and they can help to get you on a schedule.

For example, Walker’s dogs wake her up every morning at 7 a.m. She takes them for a walk, then makes coffee and watches the news. They remind her when it’s time for their afternoon snack and they even start barking when it’s time to go to bed. She and her husband welcome the sense of order their dogs provide. “It’s like they have a clock in their brain.”

6. Dogs Make Good Travel Companions

Many retirees take advantage of their release from the 9 to 5 grind by traveling more, and some become snowbirds, traveling south every winter. Because dogs are generally amenable to life on the go, you can take them with you on your travels. Small dogs can even accompany you on flights in the cabin so long as they’re in their carrier, which Cinderella and Maddie often do with Walker.

And travel with dogs is now easier than ever due to a proliferation of pet-friendly lodgings and services, Feldman points out. For example, the Walkers stay in dog-friendly hotels at their vacation destinations. And once they arrive, they find that their dogs inevitably get them talking and joking with hotel staff and fellow travelers.

“Dogs make great pets for seniors,” Feldman says.

Loyal, protective, goofy…just some adjectives to describe our furry friends.

Share your favorite thing about your four-legged companion in comments because who doesn’t enjoy bragging about how amazing their pet is.

26 Responses to "Why Dogs Make the Best Pets for Retirees"

  • Extra Mile Staff | June 6, 2019 at 2:35 pm

    Deborah, thank you for sharing your experience with your Standard Poodle. He sounds like a love!

  • Deborah Hall | June 5, 2019 at 8:51 pm

    I have a Standard Poodle, Midnight Magic. He is AKC, a purebred. I got him from a rescue because he was from a litter that wasn’t supposed to happen and was stepped on by his mom at 3 and a 1/2 weeks of age. He couldn’t use his back legs for a while. He was out of control at 4 And 1/2 months, when I brought him home. He has cost me a lot of money, but, he’s my best friend and I’m his world. I truly believe the love and devotion a dog gives makes us better and happier people. I love cats too, but, you can’t be too lazy if you have a dog. Not with an active boy like mine. He also has a guard bark.

  • Extra Mile Staff | May 28, 2019 at 2:39 pm

    Thanks for reading, Will!

  • Will Williams | May 28, 2019 at 2:30 pm

    I agree totally with your article and enjoyed all the posted comments. The pet lovers/animals pals who adopt from rescue shelters I respect the most. I can personally speak to the loyalty of pets adopted from shelters. Over fifty years of owning dog pets, all have been rescues. If I had to it all again, I wouldn't have it any other way...

  • Extra Mile Staff | May 28, 2019 at 12:29 pm

    Carol- explore our cat article here!

  • Mitchell | May 26, 2019 at 2:10 am

    My dog is my main companion. 3 years ago, I opened a Twitter account for him. We have conversations with dogs (and their humans) all over the world now. We have almost 1,100 "furiends" now, and it is wonderful!

  • Renee J. Hunter | May 25, 2019 at 8:43 pm

    Cats (kitties) are great companions as well. Perhaps, you may want to start off with a cat (kitty) as they still provide routine, companionship, some exercise while also being a little more independent; in turn allowing you a little more freedom to travel, et cetera. Although, they too can make for great traveling companions. I have a sister and a few friends that go RV'g all the time with their cats (kitties).

  • Rheta Regian | May 25, 2019 at 8:31 pm

    The article is accurate. My little girl gets me up and moving and is the "non-pill" solution to stress. I hope more readers consider getting a dog. They're less trouble than we are! 😊

  • Carol Furnée | May 25, 2019 at 6:51 pm

    For those who would rather have a more flexible pet, Cats can fill that bill nicely. They provide the same affection, are less dependent than Dogs, and are easier to leave with a sitter.

  • R.L.GERBER | May 25, 2019 at 6:27 pm

    For 80 years I have loved and been loved by the companionship, friendship, fun, laughter, joy and LOVE for, with, & from a dog or two.

  • Dr Chadwell | May 25, 2019 at 6:14 pm

    My assistance dog passed some years ago. After grieving the loss it took 6 years to locate a rescued German Shepherd to train as my new best friend 5 weeks ago. Within the first 4 weeks I lost so much weight from being too sedentary, not only did my pants fit, I needed a belt I’d never been able to wear before!! AND as a disabled person I’ve gotten more things done around the homestead than I have in 3 years! #AdoptDontShop !!!

  • Debbie | May 25, 2019 at 5:43 pm

    We totally agree with the article and have also read the pets/humans research linked to Blue Zones initiative and know how beneficial for us owning pets are. We are currently selling a condo that we own and where my 92-year old mother has lived for nearly 10 years. We were planning on moving into that condo ourselves once she moved to independent living, but the condo association refuses to even consider allowing pets of any kind so the bylaws will not change. We were hoping they would come around to allowing pets with some stipulations. Now that she is moved into independent living (and loving it) we are selling the condo rather than live there. We chose a different condo and both us...my husband and myself...and our darling Bailey..our maltese/shitzhu... love where we live. Such a loss for those living in the other community.

  • Gretchen Grevelding | May 25, 2019 at 5:22 pm

    If dogs are so wonderful for seniors, why won’t you insure me because I have one? I have a companion Rottweiler, who loves everyone but definitely causes strangers to think twice before approaching my house because of his voice. He keeps any would-be burglars away so he shouldn’t be a cause for insurance denial.

  • Kurt | May 25, 2019 at 3:59 pm

    Although I agree with all the benefits of having a dog around as a senior my biggest issue with having a pet of any kind is I can barely keep myself alive I cannot even imagine trying to keep a pet alive. I have trouble just trying to keep a plant alive. The first time I would have to take the pet to a vet I would be filing for bankruptcy the next day.

  • James Sanders, LMFT | May 25, 2019 at 3:55 pm

    Yes, dogs may help some who are not getting good human interaction but as a psychotherapist, it is far healthier to invest in a human than a dog. Dogs are definitely better than nothing obviously. Please, no offense to anyone.

  • Kathy | May 25, 2019 at 3:49 pm

    I have two rescue dachshunds....don’t want to think about life without them, as they age. They truly give unconditional love. They sense your moods, give a lot of comfort. They do keep routine in my retirement life! Lots of love..both ways!

  • Steve A. | May 25, 2019 at 3:48 pm

    My three bichons helped me through my wife's death, and they miss her terribly as I do. And do they ever keep me busy. I don't have much time for much else. And they are smart little dogs , and they do take direction. Dog spelled backwards.......

  • Betty Lou Field | May 25, 2019 at 2:57 pm

    My poodle & bichon mix is 8 years old and is my most faithful friend and I love him so much. I meet so many people at my community's dog park. I can't imagine life without IZZY.

  • Rebecca Lynn | May 25, 2019 at 2:51 pm

    We adopted two young pup kids just after retirement which has added much joy and energy to our lives. They are like clocks who remind us what’s next.

  • Betty werner | May 25, 2019 at 2:47 pm

    Her name is Roxie, she came to me, feral and starving in Mexico. So afraid of people no one could feed her. I had two other dogs at the time, who have since passed on. She is the love of my life.

  • Barbara Steffens | May 25, 2019 at 2:42 pm

    Had 2 German Shepherds while living up in suburb of Chicago. At the time I was married and it was easy. Now I am retired, no hubby, and contemplated getting a dog when I moved here to FL and weighed the pros and cons. We get horrible rain storms and what would I do when my Canine buddy needed to go out and then I was diagnosed with Cancer, which thank goodness I am a survivor, but when you are on chemo and radiation taking a walk is not an option so give it a lot of thought nd if you decide to be a pet parent please consider a shelter dog. I decided on 2 cats, both recues.

  • Donna Keller | May 25, 2019 at 2:36 pm

    i am a retired person on SS. My best friend is now 11 1/2 years old. Because of the rising costs of Vet care he will probably be my last one. It breaks my heart because I LOVE having dogs, but I feel strongly that if I have them then it is my responsibility to provide for their care.

  • Cecilia Lee | May 25, 2019 at 2:09 pm

    I don't have a dog but I take care of them when their owners go out of town. I love how they always show affection and want to be with you. They are a blessing to me.

  • Susan | May 25, 2019 at 1:41 pm

    Thank you for this article. I'd also like to encourage people who are thinking of getting a dog to go to their local rescue shelters. You can find a more loyal and appreciative dog than one you rescue from a shelter. They will always love you for that.

  • Extra Mile Staff | May 23, 2019 at 11:48 pm

    Thanks for reading Betty Ann!

  • Betty Ann Llewellyn | May 23, 2019 at 8:12 pm

    I own a treadmill that I look at most mornings. I rescued a golden retriever mix from a kill shelter. She loves everybody and we go to the dog park every day. She keeps me moving, and I have met wonderful people at the park.

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