What You Need to Know About Your Older Dog

Puppies go clear off the "cute factor" scale. However, they are works-in-progress, exciting yet difficult to predict, nonstop fun but also frequently frustrating. It requires much time, patience and understanding to forge the kind of bond with puppies that we take for granted with our older canine friends.

Mature dogs have many advantages over puppies. Probably the biggest advantage is that together you have created a partnership, and already know each other and have adjusted to individual needs and foibles. All the hard work is done. She's been housetrained and tells you when she needs to "go" -- and you know just how many hours you can be away from home before she's in dire straits. She's learned not to chew the TV remote control or your shoes, except for the old house slipper she's carried around like a teddy bear since you brought her home 10 years ago. She reminds you when it's time for a pill and afternoon nap -- for both of you. And she acts like the new baby is her own pup, showering the infant with attention, gentle play and protective care -- even putting up with toddler tail tugs with a patient doggy grin. Countless children have learned to walk while grasping the furry shoulder of a canine friend.

In fact, one of the best ways to introduce young children to the positive aspects of dogs is with a calm, temperament-sound adult animal. Parents already have their hands full dealing with infants and toddlers, and don't need the added stress of an in-your-face pup. Children can share birthdays with the aging dog and still be relatively young when the dog enters her golden years.

It's not unusual for young people to say that one special dog has always been a part of their life -- and in times of family crises or emotional upset, the dog can ease the tension and help heal the pain simply by being there to pet and talk to. A broken heart, disagreements with siblings or parents, even physical or emotional trauma can all be helped by the mere presence of a dog that the child loves.

An older dog can be a stabilizing influence on children, teach responsibility and empathy for other living creatures and even act as a social bridge. For example, a child shy of interacting with other children because of a perceived disability often comes out of her shell when accompanied by a furry friend -- the dog remains the focus of interaction rather than the child's "different" look or behavior. Older dogs often are ideal for such relationships, because they aren't as active as younger dogs, may be more patient and have learned what to expect. There's a benefit to the old dog, too -- playing and interacting with children keeps the doggy mind and body active and youthful.

The advantages of loving an older dog are not limited to children. Studies have shown that contact with dogs offers great physical and emotional health benefits to people, from children and adolescents, to adults and senior citizens.

Couples whose children have left for college and are recent empty nesters can receive great comfort by the presence of a furry companion. People of any age who lose a spouse from divorce or death -- but particularly older owners -- benefit greatly from a dog's nonjudgmental love. For instance, petting a dog lowers blood pressure; and caring for a dog gives owners a purpose to concentrate on beyond the hurt and pain. Going for walks, shopping for dog food, giving medicine to an old doggy friend -- keeps people connected to the world and other people around them.

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