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Like many people in late middle age, I find myself wondering if my next dog will be different. I have long shared my life with retrievers — active, field-bred dogs who throw themselves with joy into every situation (and every puddle of water bigger than a dinner plate). Their boisterousness is infectious: My dogs make me happy. But in 10 years, or 15, or 20, will I be up to the demands of dogs like these?
Or will a nice, quiet little spaniel be the dog I need?
My answer may be different than others, even among people of similar age (55), health (reasonably good) and activity level (decent, could be better). I live in a rural pocket near an urban center, and I can always walk out my back door and engage a bored retriever in a heart-thumping game of fetch in my horse pasture. But I won’t always be able to lift a sick or injured 70-pound dog, and that’s an unchangeable truth. These types of concerns explain in part the increased popularity of small dogs as baby boomers like me approach retirement age.
So, yes, size does matter when you're choosing a canine companion for your golden years. But so do energy level and health history. Energy level is important, because if you choose a small dog thinking he’ll be easier to keep exercised and entertained than a large one, chances are you don’t know anyone who has a Jack Russell. And the health history is important in choosing any dog, but especially so when you’re on a fixed income, as most retirees are. The health history may tell you about any preexisting health conditions that your dog may have, but of course, it's not a guarantee that the dog won't develop health issues in the future. An easygoing or at least kid-tolerant temperament is also a must, especially if you have grandkids over regularly.
Before I start suggesting specific breeds, I have two other recommendations. First, get an adult dog. With an adult dog, you are more likely to have a good idea of health history and temperament, and you’re past the time and money involved in raising a puppy. Second, check out shelters and rescue groups to get a great pet — breed mixes may often have fewer health problems than their purebred counterparts. If you want a purebred puppy, be sure to find a reputable breeder, because if you don’t, you may end up with a poorly socialized dog or a dog with health issues who doesn’t measure up to the full potential of the breed. (You may also be supporting puppy mills if you choose the wrong source for your pup, and you don’t want to do that.)
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