Retirement brings so many changes to our lives. A new schedule, a new daily focus, more free time, an altered social life.
I was fortunate when I retired to have my dog Buddy, a great exercise partner, traveling companion, and goofy sidekick who kept me on track with daily walks through the neighborhood and regular hikes in the hills. He kept me company, entertained me, and taught me a new way to structure my time.
Some people think that getting a dog during retirement will take away from their leisure time and newfound freedom. On a certain level that may be true. But, on the flip side, adopting a dog can also enrich our lives with new energy and experiences that are just right as we get older.
Here are some of the benefits of having a pet during retirement, even if you’ve never had one before.
1. They Keep Us Active
Dogs have a special knack for getting their owners off the couch and out moving. I know for a fact that if I didn’t have a dog carrying around his leash and staring me down, I might not be as committed to my daily walks. He needs exercise just like I do, but unlike myself, he doesn’t let me off the hook as easily.
And that’s a good thing. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the health benefits of bonding with a pet are numerous and include decreased blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and feelings of loneliness; increased opportunities for exercise and outdoor activities; and more opportunities to socialize. I know for me, it also puts me in a good mood to be outside in the fresh air with a dog who appreciates it.
I’ve tended to have dogs that were high energy and needed a lot of activity so they don’t create their own trouble. But moderate walking with a more laid-back dog is also enough to keep the heart pumping.
Pro Tip: A large dog may pull you on walks and be too heavy to lift if necessary. Young dogs are full of energy and waywardness and will need training to walk on a leash. More mature pets are generally calmer and may already be good leash walkers. Consider these factors as you prepare to welcome a pet into your home.
2. Dogs Are Great Social Icebreakers
According to the American Pet Products Association 2017-2018 National Pet Owners Survey, there are 89.7 million dogs in the U.S., which tells me that there are a lot of folks out there who share at least one thing in common with me.
I have met many new acquaintances on my rambles through the neighborhood simply because having a dog by my side sparked conversation with another walker. They may not remember my name, but they surely remember my dog!
There are many social activities that pet owners and their dogs can share, including walks with neighbors, pet-centered fundraising events, or simply gathering at the local dog park. Some pubs and breweries that don’t serve food will allow people to bring their dogs in for “yappy hour.”
Pro Tip: Check out your local online Meetup groups under pets or dogs to find opportunities to meet people who are also interested in dog walking, hiking, training, et cetera.
3. The Companionship Is Unmatched
After I retired I noticed that I had a lot more free time and occasional boredom creeping in. Having a dog has helped fill some of that time and given me company on days when not much else is going on. We play, we walk, we do training, and I take him to visit family members who no longer have their pets and miss having a lively creature around.
One thing about dogs is that they are always on our schedule and happy to go wherever we want to take them, whether it’s a walk or a ride in the car. They also have an uncanny knack for picking up on and responding to emotional signals from humans, which can be comforting during trying times. Pet owners often find that their dog will snuggle up next to them when they sense their owners are sad, worried, or upset.
Most dogs love to learn new commands and tricks. Those exercises keep their minds sharp, their attention focused, and their behavior in check. Sharing that time together is enriching for both owner and pet. And who can resist a warm nose and a wagging tail?
4. Dogs Give Us Something To Take Care Of, And It Goes Both Ways
It may sound strange, but my veterinarian has always allowed me to sit in on my dog’s medical procedures, from dentals to suturing, surgery to x-rays. The result was an incredible bond I shared with my dog as I went through every experience with him and he knew I would be there for him.
That may be more than most people want to commit to, but on any level, it is very satisfying to care for another living creature who, in turn, rewards us with unconditional love and devotion.
After all, a dog’s very existence relies upon us feeding them, exercising them, grooming them, taking care of their health needs, keeping them safe, and more. At the same time, they take care of us through their very presence and boundless loyalty.
Retirement enables us to spend more time bonding with our pets and watching them grow, learn, and be part of the family.
5. Have Dog, Will Travel!
Leaving the world of 9 to 5 allows retirees to take more and longer trips, often traveling for months at a time. Because dogs are always on their owners’ schedules and willing to live life on the go, they make generally good travel partners.
I’ve always found road trips with dogs to be a blast because they are literally along for the ride, happily keeping me company as I explore all the locations along the route.
Since most of our trips are by land, the dogs travel in the back of the vehicle in a crate, where they are safe and happy. For folks who prefer traveling by air, small dogs can usually accompany you on flights in the cabin if they are in a carrier. And these days, pet-friendly lodging is so common that it is easy to find a place to settle in. As a bonus, staying in a dog-friendly hotel puts you alongside fellow dogs and their humans, which can open up new conversations and socializing.
Pro Tip: I have been placed in a second-floor hotel room when traveling with my dog and it is a hassle trying to get them outside during the night or early morning when they need to do their business. Now when I book a room with a dog, I never assume that they will automatically give me a first-floor room; I always ask for one.
There are certainly many factors to consider before adopting a dog, such as Is a large or small dog more appropriate for my physical strength and my living space? Do I want a high-energy dog or a couch potato?
If you are planning on doing a lot of outdoor activities like hiking or biking, you might consider a younger dog with more energy. On the flip side, if you enjoy more quiet time and less strenuous activity, a mature dog that is happy taking shorter walks and longer naps would fill the bill. Puppies require a large investment of time and training.
Even with a certain breed in mind, it’s a good idea to research any particular health issues related to that breed. Retirees and older adults tend to be attracted to smaller breeds, including Cavalier King Charles spaniels, Chihuahuas, West Highland terriers, and Pembroke Welsh corgis. These are all popular choices because of their loving temperaments, manageable size, and easy maintenance.