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What happens after a Service Dog retires?

What happens to these faithful companions when they hang up their service vest and retire from their former positions?

Service Dogs offer years of partnership to their human companions and engage in a rewarding lifestyle that enriches the lives of countless individuals in need. Whether their chief duties consist of lending an extra set of ears to a deaf owner or helping an epileptic patient work through their seizures, you can always count on a Service Dog to guide an individual as they work their way through recovery.

From changing careers to entering into a new home, let’s take a look to see how former Service Dogs spend their post-retirement days.

Service Dogs Have to Retire, Too

Just like humans, dogs begin to lose a sense of their agility and working capability as they age. But unlike their human counterparts who often set a definite date on the time they plan to retire by, dogs follow a slightly different path.

Every dog is different which makes setting a definite age on their retirement difficult because the answer will often vary. The owners of these dogs retain an especially important responsibility of knowing when their loyal companion begins to show signs of needing a break. A Service Dog’s owner and training team keep a close eye on the animal to know when they’re ready for retirement.

Remember, it’s impossible to dedicate your entire life to work — and this same mentality applies to Service Dogs, too. If a dog begins to lack enthusiasm, shows signs of slowing down or begins to showcase a variety of health issues, it’s time for them to give up their life of service so that they can focus on themselves instead.

Service Dogs are expected to undergo many challenging tasks on a daily basis for years. When they reach their natural career end, it’s just time for them to find a change in purpose.

But just because a Service Dog retires from his position doesn’t mean he can’t move on to an even more exciting future. From transitioning into a house pet to changing careers as a new Therapy Dog, the post-retirement lives of former Service Dogs are full of adventures — and some much-deserved rest, too.

Remaining a Loyal Companion

Sometimes dogs spend nearly half a decade forming an unbreakable bond with the humans they serve. Whether an animal helped an individual with a heart disorder navigate through their everyday life or served as an extra set of eyes for the blind, guide dogs can continue to serve as a sense of companionship for the humans they spent a substantial portion of their life assisting.

In the end, just because a Service Dog retires doesn’t mean that they can’t remain a loyal companion to their former owner, too.

Adjusting to the New Life Change

Most disabled handlers keep their Service Dog after they retire as a pet. For most animals, this transition is harder on the human partner than the dog.

But whether a retired Service Dog remains a part of the same family can depend on a variety of factors, including the extent and type of disability of their human partner. As dogs begin to age, they often need to receive the same level of care and attention that humans do. Senior dogs often have a different set of care requirements than puppies or middle-aged pets. Entering the geriatric phase of their life means that the human takes on the responsibility for taking care of older-aged dogs, too.

An aging dog doesn’t necessarily have to correlate with health issues or an overall sense of degradation. However, it’s good to prepare for the common problems that may begin to afflict a Service Dog as he begins to age.

Issues such as arthritis, heart and kidney diabetes, weakness and cancer may begin to take their toll on higher aged pets. It’s even more essential to maintain proper care for senior dogs by scheduling annual visits to the vet while assisting them whenever they’re in need.

The major life change from transitioning from a Service Dog to a pet can often prove to be an emotional event that requires a significant adjustment in the animal’s everyday life. In the end, it ultimately comes down to the lifestyle of the pet owner who must decide whether keeping the dog is practical or in their best future interest.

For those who find themselves unable to care for their animal in the same way they cared for them, another alternative is to have a family member or friend step in for the adoption. That way, the former Service Dog is still able to connect with their previous owner and see them from time-to-time while still receiving the love and attention they need from a new loving family.

From a Service Dog to Pet Life

Sometimes, retirement from the Service Dog lifestyle means one door closes and another one opens — into another house, of course.

For some dog owners, retiring a Service Dog means saying goodbye. Some contracts require an animal be returned to their former agency once their contract is up where they will later be placed into a new and loving adoptable home.

So what do the post-retirement days look like for these former hard-working dogs?

As a retired Service Dog enters his new home, the new pet owners can expect to experience a few days to weeks of discomfort as the dog adjusts to his new surroundings and a lack of ties to his prior obligations. It’s vital to provide newly adopted pets with the right amount of space as they become acquainted with their new home.

After a few weeks of finding structure in their new surroundings, former Service Dogs relish in their newfound relaxation as they settle into their pet position. From long walks in the park to a day full of endless ball-chasing and games of fetch, these newly adopted dogs begin to finally unwind and unleash their inner puppy — just at a much later point in life.

What to Expect When Adopting a Former Service Dog

It may seem ideal for a former Service Dog to stay with his original owner after retirement, but keeping a dog beyond their line of duty is not always possible. In the end, this just means these animals get to expand their companionship even further by becoming another persons new best friend.

It’s important to remember that while a Service Dog was once trained to complete tasks or work related to an individual’s disability, he or she will now be retiring to a life expected of a pet — not an employee. It’s still crucial to remember that a former Service Dog’s identity is significantly tied to his sense of duty. He may be used to keeping busy and fulfilling a variety of daily tasks, so learning to sit down or merely play may prove to be difficult challenges at first.

A dog who enters a new home will confront a new set of surroundings, a different owner, and a varying set of expectations. These former Service Dogs reluctantly go through a transition period where they learn how to be a pet. While it may seem like chasing a ball and taking several naps throughout the day is easy, it’s essential to remember that a retired Service Dog is accustomed to a different mode of living.

As with any living creature, a new set of surroundings can be stressful. For most of their lives, Service Dogs served a single person and became accustomed to the sights, smells, and daily rituals that defined their former homes.

Once these newly adopted dogs become accustomed to the pet lifestyle, they readily find their fit in their new and final home.

Continuing Work in Another Field

Imagine getting an overwhelming sense of love while helping others work through their difficulties in the process. By changing careers to a Therapy Dog, former Service Dogs can retain their sense of duty while getting the attention they deserve, too.

Just because a Service Dog retires doesn’t mean they can’t assist people in another field either. A somewhat common career change for former Service Dogs is to become a Therapy Dog. While people often confuse the two careers and use these terms interchangeably, Therapy Dogs fulfill a completely different set of tasks than Service Dogs.

A Therapy Dog’s responsibilities can be as simple as providing a sense of companionship for children learning to read or comforting patients in a hospital. Because these dogs are already trained to respond well to humans, they work excellently in any environment where children or younger adults are involved, too.

It also isn’t uncommon to see a former Service Dog lending a sense of emotional support to humans who could benefit from the added psychological therapy. Sometimes, the best form of emotional support can be found on four legs instead of two. An act as simple as petting a dog can be enough to alleviate stress in those experiencing high levels of anxiety.

While a Service Dog may have been trained to assist a single person, Therapy Dogs can be a friend to everyone. Instead of serving as a sense of physical support, their responsibility shifts to be a loving friend and providing a sense of emotional relief instead.

Starting a New Life Journey

For many former Service Dogs, retirement consists of a time where they can finally sit down and relax — or unleash their inner puppy.

Whether they find a new home, remain with their former companion, or engage in a new set of responsibilities by becoming a Therapy Dog, these former Service animals can prepare to enter an exciting and fun-filled new life phase as a pet.

While they may no longer find themselves centered around their previous Service Dog duties, there lies an endless realm of possibilities for these retired companions as they enter the new beginning that awaits them ahead.



  • RHONDA BOWERS July 23, 2021

    Would anyone happen to have any resources on how to adopt a diabetic alert dog that is no longer in service?


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