Guide dogs and other service dogs can't keep working forever. Eventually, the dog will slow down, become unable to work effectively, and need to retire.
Since a dog's life is so much shorter than a human's life, a blind person will need to work with several different guide dogs in their life. People often become quite attached to their guide dogs since they are with them all day and are sad to see them retire. However, guide dogs need to retire when it becomes difficult for them to do their jobs properly.
Many people want to adopt retired guide dogs, and there are long waiting lists for people who want to adopt these dogs. It is uncommon for retired guide dogs or other service dogs to be put down.
The dog has an important job to do, and it is not fair either to the dog or the owner to keep the dog working until very late in life. A dog that needs to keep a person safe should not spend its later years working. After a certain point, work is too stressful and difficult for an aging dog.
As someone who has trained guide dogs for many years, I know how important it is to make sure they are taken care of properly in their old age. Many service dogs save or improve the lives of humans, and they should be taken care of after they retire, even if they have health problems.
Some Blind People Adopt Their Retired Dogs as Pets
It is very common for someone to want to keep their guide dog after they retire. They will then have two dogs, a younger one who helps them and an older one who is an ordinary pet.
However, not everyone wants to take care of two dogs. For this reason, the dogs might be given away to the owner's family members or to other people.
Family Members Sometimes Adopt Retired Guide Dogs
A lot of the time, adoption by someone the owner knows is the best choice. If they don't want to keep their retired guide dog, they can give it away to a family member who they can trust to take care of the dog properly. This is better than giving the dog away for adoption by a stranger that they can't necessarily trust to be nice to the dog.
Adoption By Strangers
While there is no guarantee that a stranger will take good care of a retired guide dog, a large majority of them do. They have to put their names on a very long list to adopt a retired guide dog. They are not likely to put their names on the list if they don't intend to take good care of it.
When do People Know to Retire their Dogs?
A lot of the time, someone only gradually realizes that their dog can no longer do their job well and needs to retire. Guide dogs do not always suddenly develop a health problem that requires immediate retirement.
Owners notice that their dogs are finding the physical and mental demands of the job more difficult later in life. They notice that they are much less energetic than a few years ago. Eventually, the owners realize that they should retire their dogs.
What Health Problems Make Guide Dogs Have to Retire?
Anything that makes it difficult for a dog to walk significant distances means the dog needs to retire. If a dog develops hip problems or arthritis, its career should end. The dog can no longer stay on its feet for long enough to properly help its owner.
A dog can also develop eye conditions, skin conditions, and joint problems. The dog can also become anxious or distracted later in life. If its mental sharpness decreases, it is time for the dog to retire.
Why Are People So Close to Their Guide Dogs?
Retiring a guide dog can be very emotional. People live with their guide dogs for much of their lives and for most of the dog's life.
Their dogs are much more essential to their lives than people's pets are. People can become close to their pets, but they tend to be closer to their guide dogs.
However, someone who loses their sight may have to retire their guide dog eventually. Someone who has been blind for their whole lives might retire several different dogs.
Do Other Service Dogs Have the Same Retirements?
Working dogs do much more than help the blind. There are military dogs, police dogs, farm dogs, and dogs that detect drugs or explosives. What happens to other types of service dogs when they are too old to keep working?
A lot of the time, former service dogs make excellent pets. Many people would also be proud to own a former police or guide dog, so there is a long waiting list for them. There is not a shortage of homes for retired service dogs.
Do Some Dogs Get Put Down After they Retire?
Sometimes, if a dog cannot find a new owner, it may be put down, despite how much it did for people. If a service dog ends up in a shelter, and the shelter runs out of room for dogs, it might be put down.
However, people do take special care to find homes for retired dogs. A retired dog often has a better chance than another older dog without an owner.
The military, for example, does not like to put retired dogs down and does everything it can to find the dog's homes. They do not see them as pieces of equipment that can be taken out of service.
Why Are Some Dogs Put Down?
Unfortunately, some dogs are still put down if they have many problems that make it hard for them to find a home. Usually, police dogs are very obedient, not overly aggressive, so they make excellent pets.
However, a minority of dogs that were trained as attack dogs have behavioral problems that make them unsuitable for rehoming. Some dogs also have plenty of veterinary problems. There might not be anyone willing to take care of the dog, so it gets put down despite how much it helped people.
For farm dogs and guide dogs, it depends on how much the owner cares about the animal. A farmer might decide to take care of their dog until the end of its life, or they might put it down when it is too old to work. What happens to a guide dog after it retires depends on whether the owner keeps the dog and where the owner sends the dog if they don't keep it.
What About Guide Dogs that Don't Complete Their Programs?
Training a guide dog to help a blind person doesn't always work. Some dogs have too many problems to be able to do the job right. These "failed" guide dogs are adopted and become pets.
Why Do Some Dogs Not Pass?
More than a few guide dogs are dropped from guide dog programs. A dog may have behavioral or medical problems that make it unsuitable.
Some dogs are dropped from guide dog programs for having allergies, arthritis, cataracts, or other health problems. A dog needs to be healthy and energetic to follow someone with very limited vision around and assist them.
Can You Adopt Guide Dogs that Didn't Pass?
If you want to adopt a guide dog that didn't pass its program, you can find a local service dog organization and put your name on a waiting list. It is not always easy to adopt a guide dog that didn't pass. There are fewer of these dogs than people willing to adopt them.
You might have to pay some money or make a donation to adopt a guide dog. If you donate money to a local business that sponsors puppies and puts them through guide dog school, you may be given priority when a dog doesn't pass.
How Can You Adopt a Retired Guide Dog?
Talking to a local organization or donating money also works if you want to adopt a retired dog. You will find a dog faster if you are willing to accept a dog with health problems. The health problems do not have to be very serious - simple allergies are enough that fewer people will want the dog.
You should also stay in contact with the organization you want to adopt a dog from. Merely submitting an application and hoping they contact you and let you adopt a dog in a few years isn't a good idea. Instead, contact them again occasionally, and they will be more likely to help you.
Getting involved with an organization might work even better than donating money and staying in contact. If you volunteer for an organization that trains dogs or you help them in any other way, they may put your name near the top of the waiting list and let you adopt a dog shortly.
About THE AUTHOR
I have had dogs my whole life and have always trained my own dogs with patience and positive reinforcement. My dogs are my life. My family always had dogs growing up. I've trained dogs for clients while working at a local dog daycare. I hope that my research and experiences are helpful to you as I share them here.Read More About Russell Wright