Choosing to Retire a Service Dog

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Written by anonymous guest contributor

A couple of weeks ago, I decided to retire my service dog.

He had been working by my side for three years, and the decision, while not an easy one, was decidedly necessary. My dog is a great dog, and was a great working dog. He learned tasks quickly and naturally—many of his more frequently used tasks weren’t even formally trained—he just naturally picked them up. He knows no strangers and is the most loving dog I have ever met. He was also extremely in-tune to my emotions and physical feelings, as well as all those around me. He picked up diabetic alerting from his trainer’s alert dog and would not leave my friend’s side on a bad pain day, to name a few examples. It should be no question why I loved him so much as a service dog, and why he worked for so long. However, he also had many issues that interfered with his abilities to work safely and effectively as a service dog.


My dog has always been very sensitive to gear.

Any gear other than a collar on him will cause him to shut down, sometimes to the point of not wanting to even move, let alone work. Eventually, I managed to get him beyond this issue—for the most part—with his most frequently used pieces of gear with counter-conditioning and desensitization. But he still stress-panted and had trouble settling a lot. He never seemed truly happy working, unless he was completely naked other than a leash and collar. However, being a mobility dog, this wasn’t something that was feasible most of the time.


Being such a sensitive dog means that any negative experience impacts him much more severely than it would for a lot of other dogs.

He had a few bad run-ins with other dogs, and for most of his life, he was okay with dogs and had a few doggy friends. Unfortunately, after his most recent encounter, it seemed that he was pushed beyond his breaking point and he could no longer handle the sight of any dog—big, small, male, female, hyper, or calm—from any distance, and he just seemed unsafe to continue bringing in public.


While the decision was difficult for me to make, it was the safest, and most ethical, decision to make.

Luckily, my health has seemed to plateau for now, and I am at a point in my life where I am able to manage without a service dog. My dog is still confused at times why he can no longer come with me. He did not get the luxury of being eased into retirement at an elderly age while I trained a new puppy. He was immediately and suddenly retired, so it has been a drastic change for both of us to get used to. I still spend lots of time with him outside of the house and we go on more walks than we used to, so he is definitely still enjoying himself and enjoying retirement. I am lucky to have a good support system, both in the online service dog world, and in my real life, full of people who encouraged me to do the best for both of us. Retirement is never the easy decision, but for us it was the right one.

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