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What Happens To A Retired Guide Dog?

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I’ve been asked many questions since I began raising guide dog puppies including “What Happens To A Retired Guide Dog?” and “What about Guide Dog Rejects?” What’s the difference between “retired” and “rejected”? A retired Guide Dog would be one who has served as a Guide Dog while a rejected (career change) guide dog is one who never made it as a guide dog.

Rejected Guide Dog

Now you might be wondering: Why are we answering these questions today? For openers, today is Derby’s first birthday! So everyone needs to wish him a happy birthday. However, on a sadder note we were just informed that Derby didn’t pass his last evaluation and as some of you have put it he is now a “Guide Dog Reject” I hate the sound of that and we like to consider him a “Career Change Dog” moving on to a different phase of his life.

Retired Guide Dog

I don’t have any experience retiring a guide dog, but I do know what I’ve seen, heard, and read through Guide Dogs of America. A guide dog begins working at approximately 2 1/2 years and will on average work for six to eight years. The guide dog user will decide when it is time to retire their guide dog and has the choice to either keep the dog as a pet, give it to a family member, or return it to Guide Dogs of America. It can be difficult on the retired guide dog to be kept as a pet because the dog will sometimes become jealous or depressed over the new guide dog partner. You have to remember that the Guide Dog team has been almost inseparable for 6 to 8 years. How would you feel if you saw someone else assume your normal role in the guide dog team?

Guide Dog Reject

Retired Guide Dogs that are returned to Guide Dogs of America are put into the adoption program The original puppy raisers are called first and asked if they wish to adopt the dog. I have not been in the puppy raising program long enough to experience this, but I have seen some of our puppy raisers receive their retired guide dogs back after ~10 years. If the puppy raiser does not take the guide dog back then the dog is given to a pre-screened individual from the GDA adoption waiting list. The GDA website says there is currently a 4-6 year wait to adopt a career change or retired guide dog. I’ve also heard that Guide Dogs of America are not accepting new applicants in the adoption program (this may have changed).

Guide Dog Reject

Retired Guide Dog

I hate that phrase, but for some reason “Guide Dog Reject” seems to be the one that most people are accustomed to.

Guide Dog Reject = Career Change Dog

There are many reasons a puppy can get career changed the Guide Dog program is very stringent. Stetson was career changed because he was too soft. Derby was career changed because he had too much nervous energy. Check out this list of other reasons why a guide dog puppy can be rejected from the program.

Here’s a little excerpt from the Guide Dogs of America website on their adoption program:

ADOPTION PROGRAM: To be a successful guide dog, many factors including health and willingness to work come into play. If a dog in our program does not meet all the proper criteria necessary to be a guide dog, they must be removed from the program.

All dogs that are removed from the program for any reason we call Career Change dogs. If a dog in our program becomes a Career Change dog, the volunteer puppy raiser is given the option to keep the animal or to give them up for adoption. Also, when a guide dog is retired, the guide dog user has the option to keep the dog or give it back to Guide Dogs of America for adoption. If the retired guide dog is returned to Guide Dogs of America, we give the dog’s original volunteer puppy raiser the first option to adopt the retired guide dog. If the puppy raiser prefers not to adopt that retired guide dog, once again the dog is put up for adoption.

Currently we have such a long list of people waiting to adopt a dog (over a 6 year wait at this time) that we are no longer taking new applications to adopt a dog. You can always inquire about it in a years time.

Career Change Dogs

Now that we’ve talked about career change dogs…what sort of careers are suitable for these career change and retired guide dogs? As far as I know the majority become pets. Here are a list of several career change options I’ve heard of for our puppies:

  • Loving Family Pet
  • Therapy Dog
  • Search and Rescue Dog
  • Assistance Dog

Derby was tested for Search and Rescue, but unfortunately they said he lacks the focus needed for that program. Our goal with Stetson is to get him certified as a Therapy Dog and get him involved in one of the children’s reading programs. I think he’d enjoy kids reading him books.

After much thought and deliberation I decided the best thing for Derby is to put him in the GDA adoption program. It makes me sad because he is a great dog and I’ll miss him: sitting at my feet during the working day, coming up to me on the couch for a good butt rub while I watch TV, watching him play with Stetson and Linus, waiting patiently for his food, rubbing his chest during belly up, cuddling up next to him on the floor, playing a good game of fetch, watching him steal a toy from Stetson and hurdle Linus on the way to safety, car rides on the passenger side floor boards, playing with his other doggie friends, classes with Ramona, group meetings with the other GDA puppy raisers and puppies, and hundreds of other little things that make me smile everyday.

Although I have Derby for a few more days/weeks…I already miss him…

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  1. we have lost two dogs to cancer this past year, and now have a blind border collie who has lost her support group. We thought a retired service dog might be a good fit for her! She navigates pretty well around the house and yard(fenced), and other than being lonely, she does pretty well.

  2. Hi Lis,

    Our guide dog pups go to a lot of different places with us as part of their socialization training, but they also spend a significant amount of time alone in their kennels so in general we usually don’t see this problem. I can see how it might be a problem for a dog that is with his handler 24/7. You might check with one of the service dog organizations like Canine Companions for Independence.


  3. I am wondering if you have any resources on service dog “Re-entry” into the typical world. We have adopted my niece’s service dog, but are having problems with her~ because she is used to being able to go everywhere, and be with someone 24/7, she has major issues with being left alone even for 1-2 hours (She bangs her crate around until she can reach something to destroy~ basically throwing a temper tantrum). I would love to see resources for those of us who want to care for previous service dogs, but want to have a life outside of doggy-hood also~ with 3 children of various ages, there are too many places that they need to go that don’t allow dogs~ and it’s becoming a bit of a problem.

    Thanks for any help you might have~

  4. Best you should make changes to the page name title What Happens To A Retired Guide Dog? to something more generic for your blog post you make. I liked the the writing however.

  5. @Suss thanks for visiting our site. We’re and California and unfortunately I don’t know too much about service dogs in Texas. However, I have come into contact with puppy raisers from Canine Companions for Independence and I’m pretty sure they provide service dogs to people nationwide. Their website is at http://www.cci.org. Good luck with your search!

  6. Thank you for your help. I am looking for a place to adopt a retired service dog for and elderly widow who is hearing impaired. This lady had a retired police dog until he passed many, many years ago. Is there a site in Texas that you could direct me to where I might find a dog for her to adopt.
    Again thank you for any help.

  7. @Stacy, the best thing to do would be to contact a local dog trainer for professional assistance preferably a trainer that specializes in service (seizure) dog training. A second option and something that may help your dog in public situations is a group training class.

    However, if you cannot afford a professional trainer you might start off by getting a good dog training book. The book I first bought and reference quite often is Puppies for Dummies. It covers a lot of the basics and you can get a used copy through amazon.com for just a few dollars.

    A good dog trainer could definitely help you out with your training. For instance a few things I learned along the way are:

    1. You should only say a command once. If you say a command more than once then your dog might think that “sit, sit, sit, sit” and after 4 “sits” he should sit down.

    2. We wean our guide dog puppies off of treat training by about 16 weeks of age. If you’re having difficulty with your treat training this is something you might consider.

    3. Socialization – Our dogs are issued training vests and we take them into most places that people go such as the mall, grocery store, movie theaters, etc. There are definitely some things people should know before working on socialization. A couple big ones are:
    – You don’t want to comfort your dog when they get scared. This just reinforces and makes them think that being scared is okay.
    – Make sure any outing is age appropriate for your dog. Meaning be sure your dog can handle the situation and if he cannot be prepared to take him home or out of the stressful situation.

    I hope these few tips help. The best place to start would be to start reading a good book on dog training. Best of luck.
    .-= Colby´s last blog ..Welcome TrainPetDog.com Newletter Subscribers! =-.

  8. I have a 17 month old pup that I have been trying to train as my service dog since she was 5 weeks old. I got her on-line, not a SD breeder. I have seizures, and I basically need a dog that can stay with me and comfort be during and after a seizure. It seems that I am calmer when I come out of the seizure if I have a dog present, especially a black lab. I have been told that when I am post ictal, I call my dog Minnie by the name of a previous dog’s name. I don’t recognize anyone else, but am comforted by my dog. She is not able to go with me every where yet because she is nervous in public. I cant afford a program dog and I cant afford to wait for a dog to be available to adopt. So I have started training my own.

    I get frustrated with her training. I feel that we have reached an impasse at times. She knows her commands, but is inconsistent with obeying. She is more likely to obey if she knows she will have a treat afterword, even then; it sometimes takes repeating the command several times before she obeys.

    The commands she knows are: sit, down (obeys only when food is present and after repeated commands), drop-it, leave-it (except where the cat is involved). stay (rarely obeys), and “Go to bed!” (always obeys with that pitiful look on her face).

    Is there any advice out there for me?

  9. Hey bro, I will miss you. You are a great brother, we had the best of times together, riding in the van to GDA, making the most noise ever in the kennel, sniffing, whining and playing at the meetings when we were suppose to be on a down stay, running and jumping over each other at my house, nuzzling each other when our puppy raisers were talking to each other, comparing who had the longest legs, running in the gated yard in Dana Point. Our days together were the best and I will never forget you, you tall yellow lab. D’s rule. It’s amazing that even before our first birthday Ramona could put food in front of us and we would “leave it”, we can do a heel, down,and sit stay with the best of them. Everyone knows the D boys and we will always keep in touch because our puppy raisers have a bond because of us. Lov Ya Bro, Dutch

  10. @Laurel, I like the way you put it that Derby rejected the guide dog program. I envision him career changing to an agility dog or maybe a splash dog.

    @Tonka and James, I’m sure GDA will find a great home for Derby. Good luck at IFT, I’m sure Tonka will do great.

  11. Happy Birthday Derby and I’m sorry to hear about the CC. I don’t want to work myself and am ready for CC, if only it were that easy.

    Tonka goes IFT next week and we have learned a lot from those before us like Linus, Stetson and Derby. All the families I have heard about who are fortunate enough to adopt a GDA dog seem to be wonderful homes. GDA seems to really screen and match them well.

  12. I don’t like the word reject either so let’s say that Derby rejected the guide dog program for other opportunities. Derby has a bright future. Be proud of his accomplishments. Not all pups are destined to be guides.

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