Getting an older dog: what you need to know

Older dogs are a fantastic choice and make a wonderful addition to any family.

Adopting an OAP (old age puppy) is one of the most amazing things you can do. Often, people want puppies as they’re small, cute, sleepy and fun to watch grow up, but older dogs are just as sweet and fun! They’re a hidden treasure and shouldn’t be overlooked.

Contrary to the old saying ‘you can’t teach an old dog new tricks’, many mature dogs enjoy reward-based training just as much as younger dogs do. Although the training won’t be as demanding, you’ll still be able to enjoy that time building a strong bond and relationship.

Older dogs don’t need as much intense exercise and are very happy with just a couple of moderate walks a day. All dogs need time and understanding when it comes to adapting to new routines, whereas many older dogs have been there, done that. Most are already very familiar with normal household practises.

Getting a dog is a big commitment, it’s important to take time over your search and never rush your decision to get a dog. Here are some tips on how to make an informed choice:

What age is considered an older dog

There are several factors that determine whether a dog is considered to be in their senior life stage or still regarded as an adult. Breed genetics has the biggest impact along with size which will broadly determine whether a type of dog is regarded as senior, or an adult.

Some dog breeds often live into their mid and late teens, while others are considered mature by just 8 – 10 years. Large breeds like the Great Dane, Rottweiler, or Mastiffs will general have a shorter lifespan compared to smaller breeds like the Toy Poodle, Chihuahua, and Jack Russells, who are often still very active well into their teens.

When looking to rehome any dog, the key is to look at the dog as a whole and not just the age in years. Take into consideration their breed, health, and years when deciding if the dog is an adult or mature.

Make sure you can give an older dog what they need

Most older dogs prefer a quieter life without the demands of a younger family environment, making them the ideal companion for those who enjoy a peaceful lifestyle. The primary needs of a senior dog are companionship, consistency in their routine and good healthcare. They don’t require as much training or exercise in comparison to puppies.


Just like us, it’s more common for older dogs to experience health problems than younger dogs. For example, conditions like arthritis affects many older dogs, so they require regular check-ups at the vets to keep an eye on their overall health. Sometimes simple, low cost medications can improve their comfort, wellbeing and lifespan considerably.

Many of the larger UK rehoming charities, like Woodgreen will tell you everything you need to know about the dog’s history, including what they know about their background and any health issues. By having all this information, you’ll be able to make an informed decision about whether you will be able to provide the right care the dog needs. When considering a dog from any source, always ask to see their veterinary records, you can then talk to your own vet about any costs that may incur from any known conditions.


It’s important to think about insurance when considering rehoming an older dog.


It’s really common for a dog’s appetite to change as they get older. If your elderly dog is fit and healthy, you might notice food becoming more important to them as they age. Just like us humans, as a dog grows older, they require slightly less calories as they are generally less active than in their younger years. This brings us to the challenge of weight gain and obesity, which is a serious medical concern in middle age and mature dogs.

Most dog foods are based on the different stages of their life. Food specifically made for older dogs is often lower in calories and many have added joint supplements too. Don’t be tempted to give your dog titbits, as these could be hiding unwanted calories. If you do find you’re treating your dog too often and they’re overweight, you could swap these titbits for healthy alternatives including carrot, cabbage and pieces of broccoli. If your dog chooses not to eat it, don’t be alarmed because that’s just their choice – they often enjoy it later once they give up asking for something tastier!

For help, seek advice from your vet on weight management, or check out our article on how to check your dog is the correct weight.

Making the right decision

On top of their specific needs, you also need to think about the five main duties a dog owner has. Read our guide on what to think about before you get a dog.

Try reputable dog rehoming centres

Lots of dogs arrive at Woodgreen and like many other centres, we will match you with a dog that suits your specific needs and lifestyle. If you’ve already considered our rescue dogs, you can use the Kennel Club’s ‘Find a Rescue Dog’ search to find other centres in the UK. You can also check for reputable centres at the Association of Dogs and Cats Homes members’ website.

Be careful online

You might see lots of pets for sale online, so be careful if you choose to go down this route. Many people are genuinely trying to find their dogs loving new homes but others unfortunately, are not. Be aware of advertisers who don’t include important information about the dog’s history or behaviour. They may very well be selling due to the dog’s behavioural issues.

If you’re going to use the internet to help you find a dog, look for websites that follow the Defra-endorsed minimum standards set by the Pet Advertising Advisory Group. These include:

  • Gumtree
  • Preloved
  • Pets4Homes
  • Friday Ads
  • VivaStreet

Visit the dog

Always request to visit the dog so that you can see where they’ve been living and how they interact with people and other animals. If they show signs of nerves or aggression, this could be a cause for concern. Observe their overall behaviour, are they friendly, active or alert?

Take a look at the dog’s overall appearance, do they look overall healthy? For example:

  • clean, clear and bright eyes
  • clean ears
  • clean, dry bottom
  • cold, clean, slightly wet nose
  • dry skin and a well-maintained flea-free coat
  • white teeth and pink gums

Always ask to see the dog’s medical records, including the vaccination certificate and flea and worming treatment record, as well as all the other paperwork to confirm the owner or seller is the right person to pass the dog to you.

Remember, you don’t have to decide to take the dog there and then. If you have concerns or have other dogs to meet before you make your decision, call us on 0300 303 9333. If you’re worried about the dog’s behaviour or anything else – we can help you work out if the dog is right for you.

We can help you make the right decision

There is never a shortage of older dogs at our rehoming centres looking for a new place to call their own, with many years of life left to enjoy.

Unfortunately, older dogs are more difficult to rehome. By offering one of our senior residents a loving new home you will be making a personal contribution to animal welfare.

If you’ve decided to give an older dog a new home, we hope we can match you with one we’re caring for. But we don’t always have the right dog for everyone who comes to see us. If you’re thinking of expanding your search beyond Woodgreen, we can still help you make the right choice – and support you whenever you need us. Take a look at all of our older dogs currently looking for homes here.

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