A man is holding the dog's paws in his hands.

Why and How to Adopt a Retired Service Dog?

8 min read

Dogs are all very smart and intelligent so they can easily fit the role of our most faithful friends and beloved pets. But what about service dogs? Surely, they are more than usual pets. They have a much more critical duty to perform – to ease the lives of disabled people by keeping them safe and playing the role of reliable helpers in the daily activities of their caretakers.

However, it’s also true that some service dogs fail to make it through their career as not all dogs are suitable for this task. But what happens to dogs that aren’t fit for service dog training? Is there any possibility to adopt one as a pet and why would you choose to do it? To answer these questions, take a look at our guide below.

Why service dogs fail training and eventually retire

A man is training the dog and giving it a treat.
The career of a service dog may finish at the age of 8-10 years.

There are lots of reasons why a service dog may retire and not make it through its career. In most cases, this happens because the dog is too old or has some health conditions that prevent it from moving on with its service work. Vision impairments or loss of hearing due to the old age are some of the most common reasons why service dogs end up in retirement.

Most dogs end their service when they reach the age of 8-10 years but there are many factors that may contribute to this. Sometimes the owners of service dogs themselves find it impossible to take care of their faithful companions. As a result, it seems quite reasonable to release the dog from its major responsibilities and this is where adoption comes into play.

In fact, being a service dog is a vitally important task and not all pups succeed in their career. Such issues as inappropriate behavior or the lack of skills are some of the reasons why they fail to carry on with the service dog training. Moreover, such health disorders as allergies or joint problems may also play a decisive role. Sometimes, some of these factors can be enough to disqualify the pup from service work.

Reasons to adopt a displaced service dog: Why would you do it?

A man is holding the paws of a dog in his hands.
If you decide to adopt a dog, you will get a trained pet friend.

Despite the fact that retired service dogs cannot perform their usual tasks, disqualified dogs can be perfect for those who just want to have a pet dog at home. Let’s face it – usual pets don’t have as many responsibilities as service dogs and various health issues aren’t a problem for those who are only looking for a pet.

That’s the key reason why adoption is often the best way out for retired service dogs as it can help them find a loving owner who will take care of them in return for their companionship.

Meanwhile, adoption also gives great opportunities to the new owners of retired service dogs. If you adopt a disqualified service dog, you’ll automatically get a loyal, smart, intelligent and highly trained pet all at once. And most importantly, your new family member won’t require any additional training so it’s always a perfect solution for anyone who’s looking for a not very demanding pet.

Is adoption of a retired service dog the right solution for you?

When looking for a new pet, the first thing you should do is to weigh up the pros and cons to make the only right decision. If you are in two minds as for whether you should get a pet from a shelter or take a retired service dog home, it’s worth to think over the positive and negative sides of both choices.

A few considerations that you might want to keep in mind include the next points:

You shouldn’t expect to take a retired dog home quickly and easily. That’s because it might be necessary to first enroll in the waiting list. And in some cases, it might take months or even years before you achieve your goal.

  • It’s not a very cheap option but still a rewarding one

Organizations that are entitled to work with service dogs often invest much money in the professional service dog training so the fees you might need to pay for adoption are often sky-rocketing. Sometimes, the process of adoption may cost as much as a thousand dollars while taking a dog from shelter won’t cost you more than several hundred dollars at a maximum.

One more point to keep in mind is that you’ll hardly find a diversity of dog breeds on offer if you’re looking for a retired service dog to adopt as a pet. In most cases, service dog breeds include only a few options like Labradors, German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers, and a few others. That’s why your choices might be greatly limited and it might not be suitable for those who want to adopt a smaller-sized dog or a dog with some other characteristics.

As a final tip, if you want to add a dog into your family, make sure you do a bit of research before you decide to do it. This will let you get rid of any doubts and never regret your choice afterward.

What destiny awaits failed service dogs?

A dog is lying on the grass and looking at a human hand.
Some service dogs are replaced by more skilled and trained pets.

Now that you know why service dogs retire and abandon their service work, you may be interested to know what destiny awaits them. In fact, it comes as no surprise that in most cases, service dogs stay with their owners as pets even if they can no longer perform their primary responsibilities as they used to do earlier.

At the same time, some service dogs end up being replaced by more skilled and better trained ones, while the retired dog becomes a companion to some other owner who might have less strict demands.

As a rule, the work done by service dogs deserves high appraisal and sometimes such dogs become real heroes due to their incredible achievements. However, there are situations when service dog owners can no longer keep their canine friends at home because they can’t afford taking care of them or there isn’t a sufficient living space for their pets.

For example, this may happen if a person has two service dogs in the family so that he/she may eventually decide to keep only one pup for service work while the other dog is adopted by someone else.

Moreover, some service dogs may eventually change their career and become therapy animals instead. After all, they are well-trained and skilled enough to do both of these jobs perfectly. In any case, not many pups end up being taken to shelters. Instead, they usually find a new home quite easily because there are many people who want to have a trained and smart pet dog for a company.

Adoption of a disqualified or retired service dog: Getting started

If you want to adopt a service dog that is no longer capable of performing its primary duties, the first thing you should do is to start looking for the nearby service dog organizations and sign up with them as soon as you get to know the details.

There are lots of national service dog agencies all over the country. They keep disqualified service dogs that failed to succeed in their service work. You may see that such dogs are often called “career change dogs” just because they are about to switch to a new role – to become a usual pet.

You may find many organizations that provide such services such as Freedom Service Dogs of America, Guide Dogs of America and others. The price rates of these organizations are variable and may reach as much as a thousand dollars or even more. Everything depends on the demand for a particular dog or its level of professionalism at the moment of adoption.

Note that the demand for retired service dogs is usually very high so be prepared to wait for several months or even longer before you get a chance to add a new pet into your family.

Also, if you are interested in getting a particular breed, you may find the available options on the websites of the above organizations. You may also need to fill out the online application and get more information about the process of adoption from the website’s customer service. If you’ve got any unsolved questions, you may easily contact the service dog organization in person and find out all you want quickly and easily.

Tips for future owners of retired service dogs

A dog is running in a costume.
You should mind the temperament and size of your future pet to make your mutual life comfortable.

If you’ve made up your mind to adopt a disqualified service dog, you should be aware of the following:

  • Before you make your final choice, consider such points as size, temperament, and breed of a dog, as well as the state of health and age of your future pet to know for sure what kind of pup you want to have.
  • Try to begin the process of adoption as early as you can because the waiting lists are usually long and it may take a while before all steps of the procedure are completed.
  • Be prepared that a disqualified service dog will hardly stay with you for long because most of such dogs are adopted at an old age and often have only several years of life left due to their poor health and other factors.
  • If you’re looking for an older canine companion to add to your home, be sure that a retired service dog would be the best-matching choice for you.
  • If you want to adopt a military working dog, you may contact the local military base or visit their website online to find out how such dogs can be adopted.

Note: Before you take a displaced service dog home, it may be necessary to fill out numerous documents and solve other issues so be ready to invest some effort throughout the process.


Taking a failed service dog home gives you an opportunity to get a well-trained pet and a loyal companion all at once. But before you get started, make sure you know all about the future procedure and consider what kind of dog you want to see by your side most.

Take into account such things as the dog’s breed, character traits, size, level of training and health as well as other important characteristics. After all the preparatory work is done, contact the organization of your choice and enroll in the process. Best of luck in your search for a perfect career change pup!

by GetESA

Rating: 4/5 11 votes cast

ESA 101: Educational