When Service Dogs Retire, Where Do They Go?

When Service Dogs Retire, Where Do They Go?

Note: This article may contain commentary or the author's opinion.

Service dogs are more than your everyday pet. Since dogs are more astute than you’d normally think, they assume a basic part in the existence of the people they help. 

“They help with everyday exercises to cultivate freedom, they protect the individual, and they give solace and friendship,” says Mary R. Burch, PhD, a certified applied animal behaviorist and director of American Kennel Club Family Dog. 

The typical dog life expectancy is around 10 to 13 years, so what happens when a service dog resigns? Here are the options for the soon-to-retire pups, which most experts on the matter would agree.


Some service pups are just too old in age to do their job efficiently because of medical conditions that may come with age such as vision loss or loss of hearing, according to Erin Conley, the director of communications for Freedom Service Dogs (FSD). The majority of dogs retire when they hit around 10 years old, but some other variables can play a role in this. On the other end, sometimes the owner’s well-being declines, in turn making it hard or impossible for them to care for the dog. 

 There are also some pups that don’t clear the initial test for service dogs and instead become ‘career-change dogs’ that are given up for adoption. Makes sense that not all dogs are able to do the same things such as having the high responsibility of being a service dog. One such type of dog that isn’t cut out for this are those who’re ‘too nice’ for TSA training.

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Now and then, clients decide not to keep the previous service dogs since they can’t manage the cost of the expense of taking care of two dogs at once, as indicated by Conley. Certain individuals could live where having a pet is not acceptable, but a service dog is okay. It could also boil down to not having enough room for the two dogs, along with other reasons. When this occurs, and the owner cannot keep their original service pup, the dog usually goes with the family or friends to keep a relationship with the client.

It’s not shocking when it’s the time for these dogs to retire, but in most cases, they stay with the assistance canine client as a family pet and friend. In the meantime, another dog replaces the retired one as a service dog. However, there are some exceptions. 

“One is that guide dogs for people who are blind are often placed in another loving home where they can enjoy retirement, and another highly trained dog becomes the guide dog,” Burch said.

Many of the canines are heroes, some of whom saved the lives of veterans. A few organizations require the pups to return to them when the time to retire approaches, where the organization is able to determine if the dog can remain a service dog or if it’s time to transition to a therapy dog, per Lisa Bernier, the head of BARK For Good. “Here and there they return the canine to the first non-permanent family that raised the canine as a doggy,” Bernier said. For FSD canines, in the event that a family placement isn’t an option, the dog then returns to FSD and enrolls in an adoption program. There are several options for these pups, but ending up in a shelter is thankfully not one of them. 

Prepare to play the waiting game. Clients and family and friends have first dibs to keep a retired canine, and there are less retired canines up for adoption each and every year, as indicated by Conley. In the event that you wouldn’t mind waiting to take on a retired dog, Burch suggests looking for neighborhood dog service offices and joining ASAP.