Retiring a Service Dog is a hard decision, particularly after years of partnership, and one that shouldn’t be taken lightly. It’s hard to know when the time is right or how to go about it, but here are some points to consider before taking the leap.
Retiring a Service Dog is a highly emotional and difficult step to take, especially if you’re contemplating retiring your first partner. There is no definitive guide, but the advice to “follow your heart” offers the surest route to success.
When is it time to retire my Service Dog?
“When is it time” is the most frequently asked question about retiring a Service Dog and the one that’s the hardest to answer. The truth is that there isn’t a good answer. Every dog, every team and every situation is different, and only you can know when it is time to begin easing your canine partner out of working. Follow your gut and listen to your heart – if you’re beginning to think it may be time, you’re probably right. Ryan Cambio, owner and head trainer of service dog organization K9 Lifeline and its associated working dog gear division, K9 Lifeline Designs, advices, “Keep in close contact with your program/trainer/mentor, especially as your Service Dog ages. Another set of eyes can help show/tell you as the time comes, since it can be hard to see as you’re in daily contact with your partner.” He goes on to note, “Day by day, nothing seems to change but you look back, and everything is different. It’s your responsibility as the human half of the team to know when the dog is ready to retire. They can’t and wont tell you.”
What are signs my Service Dog should be retired?
The easiest way to know when it is time to think about retiring a Service Dog is to watch out for some of the signs that your partner isn’t as happy working or isn’t as able to do her job well or safely. Here’s a list to consider:
- Your partner just isn’t happy. Her tail doesn’t wag, her ears don’t perk up, and she doesn’t seem to be excited about going out any more. Of course, take your partner’s historical actions into consideration. If your partner has never been a waggy, upbeat dog, don’t worry. But if she has, and she’s slowly becoming not, it might be time to think about making some changes to her schedule and work load.
- Your partner is slowing down. Is she able to keep pace with you still? Can she put in a full day and bounce back as good as new after a good night’s sleep? If not, try to find the reason behind it. If you can fix it, and she’s happy, then hi ho, it’s off to work we go – but if not and she’s requiring more and more rest throughout the day, it may be time to retire her.
- Your partner’s sleep needs have drastically increased.
- Your partner is showcasing health issues. Arthritis, cataracts, hearing problems, kidney issues, joint/back pain, weight gain, cancer, diabetes or any of the other ailments of age are cause for retirement. It’s not fair to ask your partner to continue working through discomfort or malaise.
- Your partner isn’t as responsive. If your partner is missing cues, isn’t fully completing tasks or requires multiple reminders, look deeper than “she’s disobeying.” Your partner may be experiencing memory problems, have something physical going on (like hearing loss) or may not be otherwise able to work to the best of her ability. If your partner “always listens” and her training is solid, but she’s starting to seem to ignore you, then it likely isn’t a behavior problem.
What are the options for my retired Service Dog?
Options for retiring your Service Dog depend on the kind of Service Dog you have, where she came from and what your plans are moving forward. If your partner came from a program, you’ll need to follow their standards for retirement, and each is different. Guide Dogs for the Blind, for example, allows retired Guide Dogs to remain with their human partner, whereas other programs require them to be returned if the handler wants a successor dog. Regardless of the conditions of your partnership, there are a few basic options available:
- Your partner remains with you as a pet once retired and lives out her (his) life as a queen (or he as king) with the official title of “Living Room Princess” or “Couch Prince.”
- Your partner returns to the program she came from.
- Your partner is rehomed, either with her puppy raiser, a trust friend or family member, or a loving family.
How, exactly, do I retire my Service Dog?
How is about like when – only you can really know what’s best for your partner. However, trainers tend to agree it is best to transition your partner out of working.
Do you have other advice about retiring a Service Dog, a story to share or something you wish someone had told you? Share in the comments!