After losing our sweet 12-year old Weimaraner, Cosmo, to an awful brain tumor four years ago, then moving out of state two years ago, my husband, Wil and I were finally ready to adopt a new dog.
Lots of other adopting a dog ask: "Is a 5 year old dog too old to adopt?" It all depends on what your expectations are and the dog of course. The larger sized breeds, Great Dane, Weimaraner, Doberman Pinscher, Bernese Mountain Dog, etc - may have a healthy life span of 10-12 years.
If you adopt a 5 year old, that’s at least 5 solid years you’ll have with the dog. There are no hard and fast rules in adopting a certain age dog. If the dog is older, you should consider if they have any medical limitations or special needs an otherwise much younger dog doesn’t.
We began actively looking to adopt a Doberman Pinscher through a local Doberman rescue. We don’t have a fenced in yard, so adopting a pup less than 12 months old was not going to be an option. We do have 4+ acres of property, half of which is wooded - so there’s plenty of space to play.
Although, we seriously considered a young dog between 8 months through two years. We, like many other adopters, figured, why not find the cute young puppy to adopt? We’d selfishly thought, we’d get to spend far more time with the dog knowing the life expectancy of a healthy Doberman would be between 10-11 years. More if we were really lucky.
We spent lots of time searching for a young Dobe, between two different Doberman rescues in Maryland and North Carolina, and through many shelters across Virginia . We found one 1.5 year old female but learned she had resource guarding issues. While we were informed that that can be trained away, we wanted to find a dog that didn’t need immediate special training, and we weren’t prepared to take something like that on right now. We found another 1 year female in a shelter in Va. Beach. I called the shelter and learned she had been adopted the day before. While that is great news for her, we became disappointed that the prospect of finding our dog would take some time and more patience.
After filling out a second rescue application, this time to the Doberman Rescue of the Triad, based in Greensboro, N.C. I heard back from Carol Fama, owner of the rescue, and heard she had just gotten a two year old female with natural ears. We also happened to notice another dog, who was 5.5 years old, a little older than we’ve been looking for, but he looked great - and his bio was promising.
We decided to make the five hour drive to Greensboro and visit the two year old, and meet the other Dobes at the rescue.
Once we got a chance to meet the 5 year old, Max, and we were immediately impressed with his initial affection, greeting us both with a kiss and getting him off leash in the field to chase a ball and walk him on a leash. We spent some time with him before meeting the two year old. Once we met the two year old, we immediately saw a difference in the energy level. She was all high energy and very excited to play right away.
After visiting all the dogs, and then having a chance to spend more time with Max the 5 and a half year old, we knew immediately this was the right dog for us.
After adopting Max just over a week ago now, we’re thrilled to report that he, and we, have been bonding really well together. He very easily made the five hour drive with us back to our home in Virginia. He seems to enjoy his new home and our new routine playing out in the yard, going for long walks and going out with us on all our outdoor errands and activities.
He’s socially calm around other dogs, children and nothing seems to bother him. We’re pleasantly surprised and thrilled we decided to adopt the 5 year old, over a much younger pup.
It doesn’t matter if a dog has been at the shelter a week or a year, there’s going to be an adjustment period as you find a routine and structure that works for both of you. Your dog needs time to learn your habits, what’s allowed and not allowed, and develop the comfort and safety of knowing he’s in his forever home. Maybe he’s doing a few things you wish he wouldn’t, or he’s a little more energetic than you were prepared for, or maybe there’s some medical problems, or maybe even something came up in your life you weren’t expecting.
Realize that your older adopted dog was used to loads of other sounds, sights and other dogs. If they were in a shelter, they might be used to hearing other dogs barking, with lots of smells and other typical shelter distractions.
Despite what’s out there, each dog has their own unique time for adjusting to their new environment.
Our most recent adopted dog, Max, has only been with us just a little under two weeks at the time of this writing. After a week of just getting used to us, and our surroundings, going for daily walks, and walking on leash outside in the yard, we’re now starting to do some minimal training before we head off to obedience class.
I’ve heard the adage “3 days, 3 weeks, 3 months” That’s the mantra of many dog trainers and behaviorists, when welcoming a new dog into their household. The “magic of threes” is especially relevant when adopting an adolescent or adult dog into your home. Dogs, especially non-puppies, are often in a bit of shock for the first three days in a new home, and don’t show you too much about who they are until they’ve been there a few days. After three weeks many dogs have settled in such that they behave as though they feel like they are “home” now, but don’t fit into your routine until about three months have gone by.
You think, “Oh great, he’s not a puppy, he’s house trained!” Well, he might be, but he’s learning about your house, and you don’t know at all what his signal is for letting you know he has to go out. Also, consider he needs to learn where or what door he’ll learn is the “right” door to use to go out through.
We were told that Max would beDuring our first week with Max, we were told he won’t need to go out until the next morning, if you take him out at 8PM. That is true. We didn’t ask or find out what his daily needs would be. That we had to learn. So, the first week, and even this week, since we do both work from home, are able to take him out three times a day. One very long walk of at least a mile in the morning, a mid-day tennis ball in the yard play, and a half mile at night walk before bed.
Other than that, if he does need to go out, we’ve learned he’ll go to the front door and start to very quietly whine a little. We’re still learning is that a cue to go out and play or is that the cue to go out and play?
Socialization is another thing we’re learning about our dog. We were told he gets along with all other dogs, small or large, and even cats. We don’t know how he is with small children. He was surrendered because his original owner either was having a baby, or just had a baby - not entirely sure. But that he “loves his toys” - again, whatever that means. Does that mean he snapped at the baby and that was the end of his living with that family? Likely not, because those owners would have needed to inform the rescue of any biting - because that would likely be a big liability for the next family to own him.
Either way, we still don’t know, but on our first real full day in our home, we took him on a walk down our street to our neighbor’s house. They have two dogs, and three small children. He met the younger dog, an 8 month old Bernese Mountain dog and their one year old daughter. He was very calm, and extremely gentle around the baby. Just sat and allowed the baby to pet his face.
This was a HUGE relief to us - now we know he does get along with other strange people, toddlers, and puppies! We later tested him at a local outdoor brewery later that day, we took him on-leash of course, to a local outdoor parklike brewery. There were loads of people, kids and other dogs. He was a true gentleman and as new dog owners again, we could not have been more thrilled to have a calm, non-reactive dog who allowed all kinds of people to meet him.
If this were a puppy, of course we would have done the same, but we would have needed some obedience training to avoid jumping on people, pulling, barking, or any other number of really annoying, but typical things that need to be trained away.
If you’ve never owned a dog before, adopting an older dog might be a great option. Learning all that you need to know for a puppy is really challenging and can be extremely overwhelming to anyone. If you aren’t prepared to devote huge amounts of time to raising your new puppy, getting up several times a night to take puppy out for a walk, dealing with the teething stages - and all the rest that comes with a new pup, you should absolutely seriously consider adopting a dog of at least two years of age.
My first dog as an adult was a black Labrador Retriever who was picked up from a farm - it was an unexpected litter of puppies. I was about 25 at the time so, dealing with the puppy phase, was not as much of a chore then. My second dog was a 4 year old Weimaraner, who had some social anxiety issues, but we didn’t have the other typical new puppy issues to deal with. So, you pick your battles - you want to go through the whole puppy thing with a relatively “clean slate” or find and adopt an older dog, who might have some past issues he’s dealing with.
My most recent and third dog as an adult is, Max, who has no baggage to speak of, and is entirely potty trained, as well as already equipped knowing a few commands we didn’t need to teach him like sit, down, stay (which he does really well), and high five with a kiss.
One of the very first things we did to help our dog adjust to our new home was to introduce him to the outside of the house, the front and backyards, the driveway, and the street out in front of our house including the front walk up to the front door.
Next, we walked him on leash into the house. First, we made sure he knew the rules that we enter the house first. It did not take him long to learn that. Next, we took the dog for a walk through the house on a lead. Let him investigate, but also let him know what the house rules are. Keep him closely supervised and in the same room you are in, unless confining him to a crate or another room—and then stay close by at first, to be sure he is not upset by the separation.
The dog’s diet was not changed, in fact, the rescue was feeding him quality dog food, and so we decided to order more of the same. In just under two weeks, he’s still not eating regularly. There’s this period of not eating all his food, or grazing, and drinking occasionally. We aren’t forcing him, and according to his new Vet, he’s still figuring things out. He will not starve himself, but it might take up to two weeks for him to eat and drink regularly.
For all dogs we meet, he’s introduced on neutral ground, and is closely monitored on leash.
We supply loads of affection, so he’s aware he’s loved and welcome in our new home. He has his own bed “place” in our bedroom, and a separate one in my office where he lounges during the day.
We don’t force him to do anything, but we have been maintaining strict rules including: “sit” before we put on the leash to go out, and wait before we enter or exit a room, he follows. We also need to start instituting the rule that he goes in his “place” on his daytime bed, when we eat. We’re noticing loads of begging starting to happen, and it’s very difficult to ignore a cute face asking for a few bites of your food.
I’ve got him waitlisted in the next dog obedience training session, where he’ll learn clicker training, but if we aren’t able to get into the next class for a few months, I’ll start introducing him to the clicker so at least it won’t be so foreign to him.
Setting the ground rules, showing him that we are the leaders in the house, and giving him plenty of love and exercise is what we’re doing to help him adjust and transition to our home smoothly.
Most older dogs are house trained
An older dog may experience typical age related issues, such as eye sight deterioration, joint issues, hearing loss, and less energetic outside during play
Even at 9 years of age, that dog may still have a few more years of good life left - why not enjoy some time with that dog - it might be the best few years of both your lives.
The dog may hav issues or challenges that requires some additional training you might not have expected. Resource guarding, or super high anxiety, etc.
As adults, dogs have gotten through that tough puppy and adolescence phase that can be high energy, or anxious. They are happy to either walk or lounge on the floor next to your feet while you work.
You may not have the dog in your life for more than 5 years. It is selfish but normal to feel you might be "cheated" out of a full dog's life span.
Already trained in some basic commands. You don't need to re-teach, sit, stay, down in most cases.
Illness, health related situations requiring medication or special care beyond what a normal healthy, younger dog might need
We realize we may not have him for ten years, but however long we do have him for, he will be loved and apart of our family.
For anyone thinking about adopting a puppy, I would really recommend not ruling out a dog who might be a few years older.
You’ll be grateful you don’t need to go through puppy teething or teaching some basic commands like going outside to potty, and have a ready made companion to share your home and family with
I'm Janet, avid rescue dog fan, and parent of two rescues - training them to run, hike, and enjoy their new forever home
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