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How Do you Retire a Service Dog?

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      When Is It Time To Retire Your Service Dog?

I never thought about this question until a few days ago when I had to bring my beloved Service Dog to the Vet for x-rays on her hips. She is a large Doberman Pincher, but at only 6yrs old I’ve noticed her slowing down and showing some difficulty getting up at times. Fortunately the x-rays just showed that she has spinal stenosis (arthritis in her lower lumbar). It can’t be cured, but can be managed with anti-inflammatory and pain relieving medicine, which has worked wonders on her. I thank God it was not something very serious. I saw a tremendous improvement in her condition since being on this treatment.

My service dog is no different than anyone else’s service dog, a necessary attachment to living my life. We have a bond so strong that we know what the other is feeling, and thinking. She picks up on my feelings as much as I do hers. 

Doberman Service Dog

She knows if I am ill, uncomfortable, scared, happy, or sad. She knows what I need without me even telling her……..we know and understands each other better than anyone else ever could. We are together 24/7 and I can’t imagine life without her, but I know the day will come when she crosses over that Rainbow Bridge. Now that I have had a service dog and have seen how it has changed my life, I cannot imagine life without one.

As my dog ages I would like to think that she would will tell me when it is time to retire. But, unfortunately I know that will not be the case. A good dog will literally work itself to death to keep you going. Having a dog is a lifetime commitment and when it comes to service dogs I feel that commitment and bond is much stronger than your average household pet. So what happens when your service dog needs to be retired if they become sick or injured and can no longer perform their job? What is the right process and timing to bring in a new service dog?

Anyone who knows me, knows I am a firm believer in training your own service dog if at all possible. I truly believe that you should be involved in the training of your service dog as much as possible, because the end product is a team – an owner and dog working together – who truly understand one another. There are many reputable trainers such as Top Dog all over the country that will work with you and your dog, training both you and your dog together as a team. Which I believe is how it should be done. One of our freelance contributors wrote a very informative post on our blog site on how he trained his own PTSD Service Dog that has a lot of good information on training your own service dog and working with local trainers.

Doberman PincherTaking on the training of another service dog does bring some challenges with it. Anyone who has a large breed service dog knows that getting around with one does come with some challenges when getting around, imagine having two big dogs at once in the grocery store as you shop while training a puppy at that same time, or trying to fly with two big k9’s, getting onto public transportation, or eating at a restaurant. I certainly could not leave my trained dog home and only take the dog that is "in training" when I go out. Having a companion to help out would be great, but that not always possible. Would it look odd or be inappropriate having one dog in a Service Dog Vest and the other dog in an IN TRAINING vest and going through the grocery store, Movie Theater, or restaurant?

So, back to my question…….How do you retire your service dog? I do know my well trained older dog will be a huge help in training a new puppy. Training a new service dog takes a long time. In my dog's mind, I know she will never retire or give up her duties, she would in fact literally work herself to death for me. How will she feel if there is a new young pup that is being taught to do her job? Will she feel neglected from all the attention a new puppy would be getting? Will she like the company of another dog at her side? Would there be competition between them to do their job? Or, am I “humanizing” this whole process too much?

I would love to hear from others who have gone through this process and what they did. Give me your opinions, your thoughts and concerns. I wish I had the vast knowledge of dog psychology like that of Caesar Milan and Victoria Stilwell, but don’t we all.

I know I will get through this process of transition of service dogs when the time comes, but when is the right time? Do I start training now or wait until my faithful companion has crossed over the bridge? I would really like your opinions, your help, or hear your stories. So PLEASE leave your thoughts after you have read this.

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