My mother has just had her elderly Border Collie put to sleep. She is already talking about taking on another dog because she lives on her own and is missing the company that a dog provides. Can you advise on the best choice? Puppy or adult? Breed? She has only ever had Border Collies but is less active now, given that she is in her mid-70s.

Alison Logan advises…

This needs really careful thought because it is not only your mother’s requirements to consider. There is also the matter of costs for upkeep, such as feeding and grooming, as well as routine veterinary care and emergency visits to the veterinary practice. Taking on a puppy may seem ideal, because a puppy is a blank sheet who will grow up knowing only life with your mother. However, a puppy does pose many challenges – most puppies go through a stage of exploring with their mouths. Puppies’ teeth and claws are notoriously needle-sharp and will readily penetrate the skin of elderly people, which can be paper-thin. Elderly owners have shown me arms and hands with multiple scratch wounds that will take time to heal and may, in the meantime, become infected. Puppies are also very active and demanding – they need occupying and training. An older person’s lifestyle and level of activity may not be suitable to meet the demands of a growing puppy. This is not just the matter of exercise, which is good for puppy and owner alike, but the everyday living at home. Equally, they can learn to acclimatise to your mother’s home environment.

I have come across situations where well-meaning offspring have bought a puppy for parents, on the basis that they will take on the dog should the parents pass away or otherwise become unable to care for the dog. However, sometimes a breed has been purchased that is unsuitable for an older person, but suitable for the son or daughter. I can particularly see in my mind’s eye a Labrador towing his elderly owner into the practice. All of the above could be applied to a mature dog, but with careful selection, an individual may be found that will suit your mother better than having to cope with a lively unschooled puppy. There is the danger of taking on unknown problems, but there may be the possibility of ‘trialling’ a mature dog. I have seen puppies returned to breeders, but my concern would be about the problems which may have been stored up from that all-important eight-to-16-week old period spent with an older owner. Think about the dog’s needs, which are as important as your mother’s. The companionship of a dog is to be prized; it gives a reason to get up in the morning, to go out for a walk and gives something to think about. It should, however, benefit the puppy or dog as well.

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