Adoption & Fostering

Adopting a Retired Service Dog: What You Need to Know 

woman sitting home sofa with her dog

Have you ever considered opening your heart and home to a retired service dog? These incredible canines have dedicated their lives to helping others, and now they’re ready for a loving forever home to enjoy their golden years. Adopting a retired service dog can be an immensely rewarding experience, but it’s important to understand what’s involved before taking the plunge.

In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know about adopting a retired service dog. Let’s dive in!

4 Surprising Benefits of Adopting a Retired Service Dog

When a service dog hangs up their harness for the last time, it’s not the end of their story – it’s the start of an exciting new chapter. These incredible animals have spent their lives helping others, and now it’s their turn to be cared for and loved unconditionally. Adopting a retired service dog can be one of the most rewarding experiences for both the dog and the owner.

cute dog relaxing home

Known History 

One of the unique benefits of adopting a retired service dog is the wealth of information you have about their history. Unlike many shelter dogs whose backgrounds are a mystery, these pups come with detailed records of their health, training, and temperament.

Having been under the care of professionals since puppyhood, retired service dogs often have a clear medical history. This includes vaccination records, notes on any chronic conditions or injuries, and a general overview of their physical health. While no dog is guaranteed to be issue-free, this information can give you a better idea of what to expect and help you plan for your new companion’s needs.

two brown dogs

Exceptional Training

It’s no surprise that retired service dogs come with impeccable manners. These pups have undergone extensive training to perform their jobs in public settings, which means they’ve mastered basic obedience and then some. From walking politely on a leash to settling calmly under a restaurant table, these dogs know how to conduct themselves in any situation.

Even career-change dogs who didn’t quite make the cut as full-time service animals have usually had a solid foundation of training. While they may not have the specialized skills of a fully-fledged service dog, they typically have a strong grasp of basic commands and good house manners. For many adopters, this means skipping the challenges of puppyhood and adolescence and diving right into the joys of life with a well-behaved adult dog.

Social Butterflies 

Adopting a dog always comes with some uncertainty around how they’ll fit into your existing family – both human and animal. With a retired service dog, however, you can be fairly confident that you’re getting a social butterfly. These dogs have been exposed to all sorts of people, places, and situations throughout their working lives, which typically makes for a confident, well-adjusted companion.

blue merle great dane

Most retired service dogs are not only comfortable around humans of all ages, but also know how to interact appropriately. They’re often gentle with children and patient with the elderly or disabled. When it comes to other animals, many are accustomed to working alongside fellow service dogs and have been taught to ignore distractions like squirrels or passing pooches.

Of course, every dog is an individual, and there may be cases where a retired dog is not suited for a home with young children or other pets. However, a reputable organization will be upfront about any such quirks to ensure the right match.

two people holding short coated tan dog 1

Ideal Temperament

Beyond their training and socialization, retired service dogs often just have that special something – a calm, steady demeanor that makes them a joy to be around. These dogs have been bred and selected for their even temperaments, and it shows in their day-to-day lives.

Picture a dog who can handle the hustle and bustle of a busy shopping mall without batting an eye or who remains unphased by loud noises and sudden movements. That’s the kind of poise and self-assurance you can often expect from a retired service dog. For families with hectic households or those who enjoy traveling with their pups, this unflappable attitude is a dream come true.

golden retriever dog canine

On the flip side, service dogs who are released from training programs for behavioral issues like excessive energy or attention-seeking usually still make wonderful pets. They may just need more exercise and mental stimulation than what was required of a full-time assistant dog. It’s all about finding the right fit.

How to Adopt a Retired Service Dog

The first step is finding a trustworthy organization that adopts out retired service dogs or “career change” dogs to the public. Groups like Guide Dogs of America and Mission K9 Rescue are a good place to start your search. Due to the high demand for these special pups, be prepared for a lengthy process that may include a waiting list.

a golden retriever on the grass

Finding the Right Match

Most organizations have an in-depth application to ensure each dog is placed in the ideal home. Rather than first-come, first-served, they typically match dogs to applicants based on the best fit. You’ll likely need to provide detailed information about your living situation, experience with dogs, and the type of home you can provide. 

Requirements and Costs

Be prepared that there may be certain requirements you need to meet to be eligible to adopt. Some common ones include:

– Having a securely fenced yard (often at least 6 feet high)

– Proving you are financially able to care for the dog

– Providing vet references 

– Committing to keep the dog for the rest of its life

The adoption fee itself can vary widely between organizations, but usually ranges from $200-$500. In some cases it may be over $1000, especially for a younger dog. Be sure to ask for a breakdown of what the fee includes.

golden retriever beach puppy canine

Tips for Caring for Retired Service Dogs

Bringing home your new retired service dog is exciting, but the transition can be a bit overwhelming at first – for both of you! These tips will help things go smoothly:

Create a Cozy and Quiet Area for Your Dog

Before your new dog even sets paw in your home, take some time to create a comfortable, secure space that they can call their own. Consider any specific needs they may have – perhaps a supportive orthopedic bed for achy joints or a raised food and water station to ease neck strain. Tuck their bed into a quiet corner where they can retreat when they need some downtime.

If your new companion seems anxious in their new surroundings, there are many calming aids available. A treat mat or lick pad can encourage relaxing behaviors, while pheromone sprays or diffusers may help ease stress. Experiment to find what works best for your individual dog.

place a clean towel on each dogs bed

Bring Familiar Comforts

The scent is a powerful thing for dogs – it’s closely tied to both memories and emotions. If possible, ask the organization or previous handler if you can take home an item that smells familiar to your dog. A well-loved blanket, a favorite toy, or even a t-shirt worn by their former partner can be incredibly comforting.

Incorporating these treasured objects into your dog’s new space can help bridge the gap between their old life and their new one. The recognizable smells provide a sense of continuity and may ease feelings of anxiety or homesickness. Over time, you can gradually phase out the old items as your dog builds positive associations with their new surroundings.


Keep Them Active

Just because a service dog has retired doesn’t mean they no longer crave activity and stimulation. In fact, keeping them engaged is more important than ever to maintain their quality of life in their golden years. Regular physical exercise and mental stimulation are key to keeping your dog happy, healthy, and mentally sharp.


Physical Exercise

Even if your adopted dog is older, they still need daily physical activity tailored to their abilities. Gentle activities like slow walks, swimming, and easy playtime are great for older dogs. Begin with short, easy sessions and slowly add more time and energy as your dog gets more fit. Pay attention to any signs that moving is hard for them or if they have other health issues, and always listen to what your vet recommends.

dogs swimming water pet swim

Try to go for at least two walks every day, and take them out for bathroom breaks whenever they need. Let your dog decide how fast you go and make sure to stop for breaks if they need to rest. If your dog is having a hard time moving after exercise, think about giving them something for their joints or making an appointment with a doggie physical therapist.

Mental Stimulation

It’s just as important for your older dog to keep their brain busy as it is to keep their body moving. Mental exercises can tire them out in a good way, just like a long walk does, and it taps into their natural desires to sniff, chew, and figure things out.


Here are some fun ways to keep your dog’s brain sharp:

  • Puzzle toys that give out small treats
  • Snuffle mats or a game of “find the treats” with boxes or cups
  • Short, fun training sessions to refresh old skills or learn new tricks
  • Visits to new places like different walking paths or pet-friendly shops for new things to see and smell
  • Hiding their favorite toys for them to find around the house
  • Playing “hide and seek” with you or other family members


Remember, dogs that are used to working, like retired service dogs, enjoy having tasks to do. Even if they can’t do their old jobs, finding new, simple tasks for them can give them a feeling of purpose. This could be as easy as carrying a light backpack during walks or helping to fetch the mail.

dog snuffle mat

Keep an eye on how much your dog is enjoying these activities and how energetic they feel. The aim is to give them enough to do to stay happy and interested without making them too tired or stressed.

Stick to a Schedule

Retired service dogs thrive on predictability. While you don’t need to plan every minute of the day, establishing a consistent routine will help your new dog feel secure. Aim to keep mealtimes, walks, playtime, and rest periods at roughly the same time each day.

Consistency also applies to your dog’s living space. Decide where you’ll keep the food bowls, bed, leash, and toy basket, and stick to it. Knowing what to expect and where to find their resources is incredibly reassuring for a dog in a new environment.

go for a dog walk

Stay on Top of Health Needs

Depending on your dog’s age and history, they may have specific health considerations to stay on top of. Scheduling a wellness exam with your veterinarian soon after adoption is a smart idea. They can assess your new companion’s overall health and make personalized recommendations for care.

Senior dogs in particular often need a little extra TLC. Your vet may suggest blood work to screen for underlying issues, as well as discuss any necessary adjustments to diet, exercise, or medication. Keeping up with regular check-ups and preventative care will help keep your retired service dog happy and healthy for years to come.

a veterinarian vaccinating a dog

Take It Slow

Don’t expect too much too soon – even a highly trained dog needs time to acclimate to a new environment. 

Most organizations that place these dogs offer guidance and resources to help with the transition. Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask problems- the staff and volunteers are there to help you succeed.

woman sitting on her couch with her dogs

Remember, the adjustment period is different for every dog. Some may settle in quickly, while others need more time. Take each day as it comes, and celebrate the small victories along the way. Shower your new friends with affection and reassurance as they gradually adapt to pet life.

Final Words

With some preparation, patience, and a whole lot of love, adopting a retired service dog can be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life. You not only gain a wonderful canine companion but also the satisfaction of providing a loving home to a dog who has spent their life in service to others.

dog and girl are high fiving

No matter their age, these incredible pups have so much to offer as loyal friends and cherished family members.


About Helen K. White

As someone who deeply believes in the power of adoption and fostering, I've seen firsthand how it can change lives—for both animals and humans alike. Through heartwarming stories and practical tips, I'm here to share insights, advice, and resources to support you every step of the way. With years of experience volunteering at shelters, fostering countless furry pals, and helping families find their perfect pet match, I bring a wealth of knowledge and passion to the table. Whether you're thinking about adoption, navigating the foster journey, or just looking for heartwarming tales to brighten your day, I've got you covered.