What Are the Best Dogs for Seniors in San Francisco?

benefits of pets for seniors San Francisco neighbors Kate and Gerry both got dogs after retirement but very different kinds. Kate’s multiple sclerosis forced her into retirement early at 58. She has a very active mind but has to conserve her physical energy and minimize her risk-taking. Meanwhile, Gerry worked until the age of 66 and now looks forward to walking more often in his favorite city parks. Kate needs a dog who can match her energy level, keep her company even when she can’t get out of the house often, and engage playfully with her in the apartment. Gerry needs a dog who’s eager to walk with him around San Francisco but is also adaptable to his smaller apartment and has an energy level that will likely slow down a bit over the coming years.

Research has shown that human-animal interactions lend many benefits, including more abundant socialization and less loneliness, a reduction in stress and blood pressure, better heart health, and fewer reports of fear and anxiety. Pets can offer wonderful daily therapy for older adults, helping them to get out of the house and stay active and giving them warm, loving companionship. Kate and Gerry have explored how to choose the best dog for a senior—or soon-to-be senior—in San Francisco based on their own needs and personal temperaments. We’ll take a look at the criteria they’ve considered and a range of dog breeds that are generally best for older adults in urban environments.

How to Choose the Best Dog for an Older Adult in San Francisco

When assessing different dogs for a good lifestyle and temperament match, remember that you can get a general idea by researching breeds at large. You can also talk to vets, shelters, rescues, or people in your community to learn about any experiences they have with particular breeds you’re considering—or suggestions for breeds you haven’t thought of yet.

Here are some characteristics to keep in mind when looking at different dog breeds:

  • Size. The size of your dog may be significant for the size of your house so as not to crowd an already small space. It may also be important in case the dog’s size is too big for you to handle at times when they need extra care.
  • Energy Level. If you are accustomed to a low to moderate amount of activity, you won’t want a high-energy dog who needs a lot of exercise. Your dog will be happiest if they get just the right amount of mental and physical activity. It may be good to get a dog who will encourage you to get out and move around more, but be realistic about your lifestyle needs.
  • Maintenance and Grooming Needs. Some dogs require very little grooming, whereas others require regular beauty treatments. Learn more about the particular requirements to care for the potential breeds on your list and evaluate whether those responsibilities will fit your lifestyle.
  • Temperament. Some dog owners may be more interested in a companion to sit close and cuddle with them. Others may be more interested in a playful pup, one who will get along with other animals in the house, or one who is up for regular out-of-the-house adventures.

And, just as importantly, you’ll want to keep in mind your own personal needs and reasons for welcoming a dog into your home. Are you looking for love and companionship? A pal to get you outdoors and keep you active into your golden years? An exciting addition to the family for you and your grandkids? A pet to take care of and reignite your sense of purpose? Or some combination of these reasons? Your own reasoning may inform how you weigh the different breed considerations.

Some of the Best Dog Breeds for San Francisco Seniors

The perfect dog for you will be a personal choice, but we’ve narrowed down a list of some of the dogs that do well in an urban environment and appeal to varying energy levels and temperaments. In no particular order, here are some great options to check out:


Extremely smart, easy to train, and friendly, poodles offer great company. They’re also calm and adapt well to urban and apartment living. There are threepoodle varieties—toy, miniature, and standard—so you can determine what might be the best fit for you. They are naturally clean pets, and they will shed very little if you have them on a regular grooming schedule. Their need for exercise varies from moderate to active, so it’s important to have a sense of the dog’s patterns before deciding they are the right match for you.


These small dogs are gentle and affectionate, a perfect companion lapdog. They will be very attentive and bond with you, wanting to spend lots of time together. They are low-shed with regular grooming, and they are small enough to be carried around. A Maltese is easy to train and likes to go on short walks with you, but they’ll also enjoy playing with you right at home.


While Greyhounds have the potential to be very active and are often raised as racing dogs, in truth, they are naturally very relaxed. In fact, some call them couch potatoes. Although they are large, they will fit right in with quiet urban and apartment living. They do well with training, and they’re easy to handle. They’re sweet and sensitive, and they’re easy to groom. While they’ll be happy to hang out with you around the house, they do need moderate exercise—so plan on regular walks.

Pembroke Welsh Corgi
pembroke welsh corgi

Corgis are sharp and active but limited by their small to medium size on short legs. They’re personable and ready to learn, and they get along well with people and other pets. They require minimal grooming but a bit more exercise, so plan on daily walks. Because of their build on such short legs, it may take some extra effort to prepare your home for them with stairs and ramps, so they can be involved without straining to join you.

Boston Terrier
boston terrier

These small dogs fit well in an urban environment. They’re friendly, affectionate, and adaptable. And they’re really easy to groom and take care of. They are short-haired, shed very little, and require simple brushing. They like to play and have fun and need moderate exercise. They’re also trainable and good with children. They’ll be a great companion, spending time wherever you want to be.

Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
cavalier king charles spaniel

These adorable dogs look like puppies throughout their lives, and they love to be in your lap and snuggle. These small to medium pups are calm, happy, and loyal. They’re easy to groom but do shed, so plan on brushing them regularly. Cavaliers are moderately active and will require walks and playtime. If they do not get regular exercise, they are prone to weight gain.

Bringing Your Dog Home: Buying or Adopting

Of course, we can learn a lot about breeds, but every dog is a bit different. To minimize the variables and unknowns, it’s a good idea to consider adult dogs—including senior dogs—whose personalities are already established and known. Puppies are cute and fun, but they’re a lot of work and it’s hard to predict what kind of temperament they’ll grow into. In the end, keeping a pulse on these characteristics can help you to find the right dog for your hopes, your home, and your lifestyle.

It’s also good to consider the option of adopting a dog from a shelter or rescue because dogs there need you as much as you need them. You can find diverse breeds, sizes, ages, and personalities of dogs at shelters, and—just as importantly—you can spend time getting to know them and asking the shelter staff questions about the dogs’ temperaments. Buying a dog from a reputable breeder is also an option, but it is typically more expensive, and, again, puppies are more work and less predictable.

When you’ve found the right dog, you’ll be eager to bring them home, to settle into a routine together, and to discover how you’ll play and build a close bond. As soon as Kate met Crispin, a 7-year-old Maltese, she knew they’d get along perfectly as daily companions. And when Gerry decided to adopt Pepper, a 7-year-old Greyhound, from a foster home, he could tell she would love walking with him in Lafayette Park. Gerry and Kate both got in touch with their own preferences and needs, so they could make the best decisions for keeping dogs in the city. If you’re starting your own journey to find the perfect pet,

For more tips and ideas for older adults living independently in San Francisco, check out our blog. Institute on Aging offers services, programs, and resources for seniors, their families, and caregivers. To find out more, give us a call.


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Institute on Aging

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