Adoption & Fostering

How to Adopt a Failed Service Dog

close up hand holding adopt me banner

Not every dog is cut out to be a service dog. Even after extensive training, some pups simply don’t have the right temperament or health to assist people with disabilities. But their “failure” can be your gain – these dogs often make wonderful pets and are available for adoption from many service dog organizations.

In this post, we’ll explore what it means to be a “failed” service dog, why they make great pets, and how you can go about adopting one.

Let’s dive in!

Why Service Dogs Fail Training

Becoming a service dog is an intensive process that requires a specific set of physical and behavioral traits. Dogs may wash out of a service dog program for health reasons like allergies, eye problems, or joint issues that could impair their ability to perform their duties reliably. 

woman holding paw of dog 1

Behavioral factors are another common reason. Some dogs are too energetic, overly friendly with strangers, or struggle to walk calmly on a leash. While these traits aren’t necessarily bad, they can interfere with a dog’s ability to stay focused on assisting their handler in public spaces.

It’s important to remember that service dogs have immense responsibility. People with disabilities count on them for critical tasks like guiding them safely, retrieving dropped items, or alerting them to medical issues. There is little room for error, so dogs must meet extremely high standards to graduate from training programs.

golden retriever beach puppy canine

But just because a dog isn’t suited for service work doesn’t mean they won’t thrive as a pet! Failed service dogs are still healthy, well-socialized, and have received extensive training – they simply need a loving home where they can put their skills to use in a different way. Adopting one of these pups can be hugely rewarding.


What Training Do Failed Service Dogs Have? 

golden retriever in sunglasses and cloak

While they may not have completed the full-service dog curriculum, dogs who are released from training programs still have impressive skills under their collar. Regardless of the specific role they were training for, most failed service dogs have mastered some key abilities:

• Heeling – Service dogs learn to stop and stay close to their handler’s side on command, even with distractions around. This is known as “heeling” and is critical for navigating public spaces safely.

• Proofing – A good service dog needs rock-solid obedience and impulse control. They go through “proofing” to learn to ignore tempting distractions like food, toys, other dogs, and friendly strangers trying to pet them.

• Tasking – Each service dog learns specific tasks to assist their handler, such as opening doors, fetching items, guiding, providing balance support, or responding to medical emergencies. A dog needs to perform these tasks reliably to graduate.

A failed service dog may not have perfected all these skills, but they likely have a strong foundation in basic and advanced obedience. Many also know a few special tasks. While you can’t expect them to be a trained service dog, with some brushing up on their training, they can still be a wonderful, well-behaved companion.

golden retriever dog canine

How to Adopt a Failed Service Dog

Many large service dog organizations have adoption programs for dogs who don’t complete training. These career change dogs are in high demand, so be prepared to go through an application process and spend some time on a waiting list. A few well-known groups with adoption programs include:

Service Dogs, Inc.

Guide Dogs for the Blind

Guide Dogs of America

Freedom Service Dogs of America 

Adoption fees for career change dogs typically range from $0-$1000+. This may seem steep compared to a shelter, but it covers the immense investment of training and veterinary care the dog has received. These dogs are screened carefully for health and temperament and have maturity and training that make them highly desirable pets.

a golden retriever on the grass

To start the process, visit the websites of organizations you’re interested in. There, you can find details on adoption requirements and fill out an application. Some things to be aware of:

• Long wait times, often several months to years, are common due to high demand

• You may need to travel to meet the dog if you don’t live near their facility

• Breeds are usually limited to common service dog choices like Labs, Golden Retrievers, German Shepherds, and Poodles

• Many require a fenced yard and that the dog live inside the home as a pet

• Some have specific guidelines around training methods and veterinary care

If it seems like a good fit, submit your application and settle in to wait. These groups are very thorough in their placement process and will work to find the right match. Once you’re approved and a dog is available, you’ll likely have a meet-and-greet and go through an orientation to learn about the dog’s background and training. Then, you can finalize the adoption and bring your new pet home! 


Is a Failed Service Dog Right For You?

Failed service dogs can be a wonderful choice for experienced owners looking for a mature, well-socialized dog with a foundation of training. However, there are a few things to consider before starting the adoption process:

Long Wait Times: Career change dogs are in high demand and it may take months or even years of waiting before being matched with an available dog. If you need a dog soon, you may want to look at other adoption options.

Higher Cost: The investment that goes into breeding, raising, and training a service dog prospect is significant. As a result, adoption fees are higher than a typical shelter, often $500-$1500. Be prepared for a bigger upfront cost.

Ongoing Training: While these dogs have good basic training, you’ll need to continue reinforcing their skills and working on any weak areas. Enrolling in obedience classes or private training can help you develop a great relationship.


Energy Needs: Service dogs are often high-energy working breeds that need physical exercise and mental stimulation. Be honest about your lifestyle and whether you can provide an outlet for a dog who likes to keep busy. A bored dog can be destructive!

Limited Selection: Most failed service dogs are Lab, Golden Retriever, Shepherd, or Poodle types. If you have your heart set on a different breed or a very specific age/size/coat type, you may need to consider other options.

dog sitting his owner garden

Final Words

Adopting a failed service dog can be a fantastic way to give a highly trained dog a loving home. Their background and temperament can make them easier than a typical shelter dog, as long as you’re willing to work through the adoption process and wait for the right match. If you think it’s a good fit for your lifestyle, reach out to organizations you’re interested in and start the journey to finding your new best friend!


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.