Best Friends Blog

The Zen of Old Dogs

November is adopt a senior pet month.  Francis Battista shares the joys of having an older dog around the house along with some helpful tips from our Dogtown staff.


Bop is a dog. A small black and tan chow mix.

She spends most of her waking hours with her one eye glued to the crack beneath the bedroom door where she will occasionally catch a glimpse of some cat paws padding about on the other side. You know when the paws are happening because either she lets out a kind of whoop or she rolls her extra round little body on its side, waving all four paws for balance, trying to keep her eye at best cat-viewing angle.

She looks for all the world like a slightly worn out teddy bear. One black button eye is missing and one of the hind legs is a bit askew. The fur has a tattered appearance as if from years of the teddy being dragged around by generations of adoring children.

Bop is old. She spends most of her time asleep, usually not far from my desk. Watching her snoozing contentedly is one of those things that make me happy. I don’t know much about her life up to the time that she came to live with my wife Silva and me and the rest of the crew. I know she had some rough times, as witnessed by her scars and loss of an eye. I guess what makes me happy seeing her just lying there is that, for her and for most of the old dogs around here, the past is the past, and now it’s all OK. She is as happy as a clam.

That’s one of the great things about old dogs. They are easy to please and they radiate gratitude. Sure, you can’t take them on cross-country hikes. That’s for the young dogs. But you can watch them sleep and you can step over them like a bunched-up throw rug that is always in the wrong place without bothering them. If you’re sweeping and they don’t feel like moving, well, you can just slide their bed, dog and all, to a more convenient location.

That’s not to say there is no action. Occasionally they get so excited about some ordinary thing that they gambol like a lamb or do some silly puppy thing. (Despite her arthritis, Bop’s short legs carry her roundness on walks with a determined blur.)

Everyone in animal rescue work knows that it’s easier to find homes for puppies and kittens than it is to place older pets. We’ve all heard things like, “I want the dog to be my dog. I don’t want to inherit someone else’s problems.”

Well, in addition to the adage to be careful of what you wish for, this is just plain old puppy poop. It’s not people that make dogs into amazing and remarkable creatures. They are amazing and remarkable creatures. We don’t love them because they can do tricks or are exquisitely mannered. We love them because, well, they’ve got that whole crazy dog thing hard wired into their brains and they’ve got humans pretty well taped, too. An old dog may not be your dog, but with a minimum of patience, you’ll have a one of a kind friend.

I recall hearing a Buddhist teacher describe the exalted state of openness to which he aspired – a stage of development wherein he would have nothing to defend or protect, where the world could come and go without disturbing his being. He called this “The Old Dog State.”

I think I know what he meant.

Francis Battista

Co-founder, Best Friends

P.S. I wanted to share with you the virtues of an older dog adoption from the insider’s perspective here at Best Friends Animal Society’s, Dogtown.

Adopting an Older Dog

The caregivers at Best Friends Dogtown say that most older dogs just want to know four things: Where’s the couch, where’s the yard, where’s the water bowl, and when do we eat? Here’s some more of their motherly (and fatherly) advice for when you adopt an older dog:

Provide the best food you can, preferably with no by-products or preservatives. Good food will help your senior companion deal with any stress that might arise from moving into a new environment.

Give newcomers a special place with their own new, comfy bed so they know that they are in their new home.

Exercise your 7- to 10-year-old dog as much as is comfortable. But don’t push your 10- to 12-year-old to keep up with younger dogs. On longer walks, have plenty of rest periods. Always check with your vet.

Regular vet checks are important. Keep an eye on hips, heart, teeth, and eyesight. Stay ahead with preventive tooth care and supplements to help keep joints supple and strong.

Be patient. It may take a while for your new friend to learn new routines and it may be that you have to learn a few new routines yourself!

Teaching you new tricks. You may be surprised to see an old dog trotting out old tricks and games when he settles into his new surroundings. But if your old adoptee turns out to be more of a crotchety couch potato than a discarded gem, remember always that you are saving a life. Besides, his teeth are probably nowhere near as sharp as they used to be!

***Bop’s article first appeared in the 2000 Nov/Dec issue of Best Friends Magazine. Bop was described as “older than dirt” when she came to live with us, which clearly she wasn’t because she lived us for another eight years. 

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  • Curgirl66

    My husband and I just adopted “rockstar” # 93 out of 200 from the Ohio dog fighting bust last fall. I can attest to the greatness of old dogs. He’s at least 10 and is blending in nicely with our two other pit bulls (also both rescues, one was from the Denver ban back in 05), two cats, and other pets. We’ve renamed him Prince Puddin’ since he’s so sweet. It’s amazing how easygoing he is despite having lived his entire life in deprivation and on the end of a logging chain, exposed to what all know horrors in his previous life. I’m eternally grateful to Measles Animal Rescue for saving him and for the HSUS for revamping their policy on dogs seized from fighting rings.

  • Haditspentit

    Yup old dogs are the best. I have had three so far. The first two had pretty hard lives. It is amazing to watch them come out of their shell and they are so grateful to have a home and to be loved. Do not kid yourself: dogs want to have a family to live with. These were the best experiences of my life.

  • Randysiamese

    My dog is now more than 12 years old. I am 60. She is my first dog ever. I got her when she was a puppy when she was dumped in East L.A. I love this stage of her life the best. She is the most amazing friend I could have and I will probably get a senior when she passes. She has cancer but is doing well. I hope to have her a few more years at least. Seniors Rule!

  • Mia

    Beautiful blog. Thankyou – we continue to have so much to learn from animals.

  • Jane Brewster

    Francis, as always, your words are eloquent and just plain “well said”. My old man, Kyle, was the best dog I’ve ever had. And, he didn’t become my dog until he was 9 years old. Actually, I don’t think he was my dog. He was my best friend and my constant companion. I will miss him always. But, I remember him daily with a smile.

  • teachergranny

    I, too, have an old dog. She’s the greatest! sometimes she forgets that one rear leg doesn’t work as well as it used to due to an embolism a few years back, and that the other rear leg has had ACL surgery in the past year. She loves to go on “sniffing” trips…really they are short walks. She is loving, gentle, and sometimes impatient, but we love her.

  • Hansonh90

    I moved to a new apartment. my previous dog was a stray who was killed by another animal. Foud her dead on a skid road. She was always a roamer, lived in the country, and was very happy. I now have a new older dog which fits my new place of residence perfectly. Do not give up. Mine is 8 years old, I was told. Purebread Pom. No heath records. First visit to the vet, he was diagnosed with heartworm. Then he had teeth. issues. Oh well, he is my best friend now. Keep the faith.

  • Kathi

    Thank you for the wonderful post. We have a 15 year young lab/terrier mix and even though he has lymph cancer you would never know it. He is just as bouncy as ever.

  • Julianna

    I have 4 dogs, and three of them are old. None of them were puppies when they came to me; even Lily, who is now 13, was a year old when I adopted her from a kill shelter in 1998. Stanley was already 9 when I took him last year so that his person would not discard him at a shelter. Siobhan was about 2 years old when I got her from Adopt a Rescue Pet, and she is now 8. And Blossom, the youngest, is approximately 3 years old now. All 4 of them are “my dogs.” Lily, much like Bop, sleeps most of the time, almost always close by. When Stanley cuddles up to me at night, it doesn’t feel like he is someone else’s dog. I highly recommend older dogs — they might start out as someone else’s dog, but the love they have to give is 100% for you.

  • JoAnne

    Great article. The Senior dogs really do appreciate the little things and don’t ask for anything, they just GIVE and fill our hearts just to see them sleeping comfortably.

  • Cattfrancisco

    I just adopted two adult cats from the county Humane Society. One had been there three years, the other eight months. They are absolutely wonderful companions. Yes, they do sleep a lot, but they are also just plain happy to be at home with me. They’re still active enough to have several play sessions each day, and find time to tease one another, but without escalating into craziness. They are calm and relaxed and they help make me that way, too.

  • Diana

    We have old dogs too. We have a 13 year old Samoyed, a 10 year old German Shepherd/Lab mix and an 8 year old Shih Tzu all are rescue dogs and we adore them. I would take an older dog over a puppy any day. It’s nice knowing that they feel loved before they have to cross over the rainbow bridge someday.

  • Rodgernm

    As much as I LOVE a puppy- I think I will only adopt older dogs from now on. Our current dogs are now 12 & 13 and thankfully, still going strong, but I don’t miss the puppy or the younger dog phases. Those rascal days were really cute, but I love the trust & the calm I get from my older girls. Aptly noted, they are very Zen. And it goes give me peace knowing I’ve done well by them.

    Knowing it is hard to find homes from older pets, I think it is a greater grace to offer these dogs, who may have had their troubles early in life, a place to just chill and be.

  • Pat

    I loved the comparison to an old Teddy Bear, the kind with only one eye and rather shopworn. I have one of those and can’t imagine parting with it. I have no dogs, but a lot of your wisdom can be applied to older kitties as well. Mine have all lived to be at least 20 and they were at their best during their last 5 years.

  • Gillian

    I love older dogs That’s all I’ll ever adopt, especially since I know they are more difficult to place. They’re a blessing!

  • kpgmd

    nicely put. I agree, we have a now 10 year old Beagle mix we took out of ACC 2 years ago. We cannot imagine life without him and without his aches, pains, and adorable white muzzle. I love older dogs, there is a calmness to them and a maturity that I just find peaceful. In fact, my husband and I feel that we would always be adopting a senior friend as we go along.

  • Becky Dodge

    Francis, Thanks for this entry. Old dogs are wonderful. A few year ago I adopted a 15 year old poodle called Honey. We had three wonderful years together before she died at age 18. Yes, she was a grouch who only wanted her 10 minutes of affection per day then you’d better put her down so she could go back to bed or she’d nip. She only had two teeth but if she connected she’s take some skin off. From what little I know of her history she had lived with a woman for many years. When the woman died the family decided that this 8 pound bit of love and fur was to much trouble to take care of so they dumped her outside the town kill shelter. I still miss Honey and her grouchy ways.

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