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Best Large & Small Dog Breeds for Seniors

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Best Large & Small Dog Breeds for Seniors
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Best Large & Small Dog Breeds for Seniors

December 11, 2018

Being an animal lover doesn’t fade with age or a change of locations. Many seniors moving into independent or assisted living already have longtime canine companions, and others may be looking for a furry friend to boost their mood or keep them company in their new home. 

Studies have shown that people with canine or feline companions are healthier, happier, more active, less stressed, more sociable and less prone to allergies. These are benefits for everyone – but they’re especially important as people age and adjust to unfamiliar surroundings. Data show that animal companionship has been proven to improve senior health, and pet therapy is already an important addition to many independent, assisted and memory care communities as well as healthcare settings.

French Bulldog sleepingSo what kinds of canines are the best dogs for seniors? Whether you or a loved one prefers small, medium or large breeds, there are many dogs known for being calming and cheerful companions that require relatively manageable care.

Making the Move to a Senior Community With Your Dog

Pet owners moving to a senior community should check about the community pet policy. Some communities’ pet policies exclude especially large, energetic or notoriously temperamental breeds. Some assisted living facilities only allow small dogs under a certain weight. Many communities require pre-approval that your pet is housebroken and veterinary documentation of good health. For those communities that welcome dogs, consider whether they provide resources like pet care coordination, a dog exercise area or transportation to veterinary appointments.  

Which Breeds are Senior Favorites?

Seniors considering becoming dog owners should look for canine companions that match their own temperaments, energy level and mobility. Some dog breeds are content sitting with their owners all day, while others require frequent walks. Older dogs may be a good choice as they’re typically house-trained and less active than puppies.

Ready to commit to a canine? Of course, it’s best to do your own research and make sure to meet the dog before adopting, but the following list features breeds that can make ideal senior companions:


Bichon Frise: 

These hypoallergenic small dogs are known for being sweet, playful and affectionate – good companions for everyone from children to seniors. They typically weigh 7 to 12 pounds, so they’re a good size for apartment living, and they live an average of 12 to 15 years. They like constant companionship and moderate exercise.

Boston Terrier: 

This small, playful, affectionate and intelligent breed averages 10 to 25 pounds with a life expectancy of around 12 years. They prefer lives of leisure and gentle walks, as strenuous activity can cause breathing difficulties.

Cavalier King Charles Spaniel: 

Beautiful and affectionate, these spaniels tend to weigh between 13 and 18 pounds and live 9 to 14 years. They’re known for being sociable and friendly, gentle, alert and in need of moderate exercise.


These tiny pups average 3 to 6 pounds and can live 18 years or more. They’re small, easy to carry and become attached to their owners, but they’re also fragile, tend to be nervous and may have problems holding urine.

Cocker Spaniel: 

A medium breed, weighing between 20 and 30 pounds, the cocker spaniel is cheerful, easy-to-train and endlessly loyal to its owner. They typically live 12 to 15 years, love being around people and require moderate exercise – like a couple of daily walks. 

French Bulldog: 

Typically weighing in under 28 pounds, these alert, intelligent and affectionate dogs do well in small spaces. They love people and other animals, are loyal companions and will do well with a few leisurely walks each day. They typically live 10 to 14 years.

Golden Retriever: 

If large breeds are allowed in your or your loved one’s community, you may consider these dogs, known for their loyal companionship and unlimited love. They typically weigh between 55 and 75 pounds, though some can be quite a bit larger. Outgoing, intelligent and easy-to-please, they also tend to shed a lot and have a fairly high energy level, so they’re best for the senior who can keep up with walks and grooming. They live 10 to 12 years, on average.

Italian Greyhound: 

Typically weighing less than 11 pounds, these are smart, loving, sensitive and playful lap dogs with hypoallergenic coats. They love snuggling, may need a sweater in cold weather and are fairly energetic – needing a couple of hour-long walks each day. They usually live 14 to 15 years.


A hypoallergenic small breed, averaging 4 to 7 pounds, a Maltese has a long life expectancy of 15 to 18 years. Bred as a lap dog and companion, these dogs are affectionate, smart and come in well under the weight limit of communities that only accept small pets. 

Pembroke Welsh Corgi: 

Beloved by Queen Elizabeth, a senior herself, these pups, which max out at 30 pounds, typically live 11 to 13 years. They’re smart and love people, especially their owners, but they may nip at ankles because of their herding instinct. They need about 30 to 45 minutes of exercise per day but adjust well to apartment living.


These small, smart people-pleasers are energetic, but mostly require attention versus intense activity. They do well in small spaces, although they can get a little noisy. They typically weigh between 3 and 7 pounds and live 12 to 16 years.


Available in standard, miniature and toy varieties, these dogs are hypoallergenic, smart, energetic and loyal to their human companions. Toy poodles range in size from 6 to 9 pounds. Miniature poodles are 15 to 17 pounds. And standard poodles can be 45 to 70 pounds. Toy and miniature poodles have life spans of up to 15 years, while standard poodles have average lifespans of 12 years. All tend to be active, so they’re best for high-energy seniors with access to areas where dogs can exercise.


Dogs of this breed tend to be playful, gentle and affectionate. They typically weigh 14 to 18 pounds and have a life expectancy of 13 to 15 years. They prefer to snuggle and take gentle walks, as their snub-nose anatomy means strenuous activity may give them breathing issues. 


Available in various sizes, including miniature, you’ll have options when it comes to this breed if you need to meet pet size requirements. These dogs are playful, affectionate, easily trained, and good with adults and children. With a medium energy level, they need moderate activity so are best for seniors able to take them on walks and play during the day.

Scottish Terrier (Scottie): 

This small breed, weighing between 18 and 22 pounds, is known for being hypoallergenic, intelligent, brave, friendly and adaptable to small spaces. They enjoy daily walks and may not be the easiest to train, but they’ll do most anything for treats. Their typical life span is 11 to 13 years.

Shih Tzu: 

These sweet and friendly small dogs love living the life of a lap dog, though they will need daily gentle walks and adequate playtime. They typically weigh 9 to 16 pounds and live 10 to 16 years. They do well in apartments and small spaces, though they may bark when left alone.

West Highland Terrier (Westie): 

These intelligent, loving and relatively calm terriers love constant companionship. They do well in apartments and require moderate exercise, so a couple of daily walks and plenty of playtime are needed. They typically weigh 15 to 22 pounds and can live 15 to 20 years.

Yorkshire Terrier (Yorkie): 

These small, adaptable dogs are typically content with just a daily walk – plus plenty of play and cuddles. They typically weigh 4 to 6 pounds and live 12 to 15 years. Loyal and affectionate companions, they do not like to be left alone and may bark and be wary of strangers, other dogs or children.

Many of Elmcroft's communities are pet-friendly, so call the community nearest you today and schedule a private tour!

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