Do guide dogs retire? Yep. Here's how to adopt one.

December 8, 2023 - 7 min read
Retired Guide Dog

Have you ever wondered what happens to guide dogs when they hang up their harness for good?

These indispensable canine companions spend years assisting people with visual impairments, guiding them through the complexities of daily life with loyalty and precision. But eventually, they get to retire and enjoy their golden years.

And did you know you can open your home to one of these four-legged heroes? Let’s explore the steps involved in welcoming a retired guide dog into your home.

At what age do guide dogs retire?

Guide dogs typically retire between the ages of 8 and 10, although this can vary depending on their health, mental wellbeing, and working abilities. The decision to retire a guide dog is usually made by the dog's handler, often in consultation with training organizations. Once a guide dog retires, they transition from their working role to a more relaxed lifestyle.

A guide dog’s handler often chooses to keep them as a pet, maintaining the deep bond they've formed over years of companionship. But if the handler is unable to keep the retired dog, perhaps due to the demands of caring for a new guide dog or other personal reasons, the retired guide dog becomes available for adoption.

What to consider before adopting a retired guide dog

If you’re thinking about adopting a retired guide dog, understand that these dogs may have specific needs due to their age and previous working life. Prospective adopters should consider the following:

  • Space and environment: Make sure you have a suitable living environment for a retired guide dog. They’ll need a quiet and comfortable space to relax, as well as safe areas for exercise.

  • Routine and adjustment: Be prepared to establish a routine that accommodates the dog’s needs, as they are used to a structured lifestyle. This might include regular meal times, walks, and relaxation periods.

  • Health care requirements: Retired guide dogs may require more frequent veterinary visits and specific medical care due to age-related conditions like arthritis or vision loss. (Indeed, handlers often choose to retire their guide dogs because of precisely these conditions.)

  • Emotional support: Remember that transitioning from working life to retirement can be a significant change for these dogs. They may need additional emotional support and time to adjust to their new life as a family pet.

By keeping these factors in mind, potential adopters can make sure they provide a nurturing and supportive home for a retired guide dog.

How do guide dogs adjust after leaving their handler?

Guide dogs spend years working closely with their handlers, and they can experience a profound sense of loss when they retire and move to a new home. The emotional impact is mutual, as handlers may also find it challenging to say goodbye to their trusted companions who have been by their side for years.

Understanding is key. Prepare for the possibility that, like any rehomed dog, your new pup may show signs of missing their previous life. Be patient as they adjust to the new environment and routine.

You can also help the dog feel secure in their new home by providing familiar items like blankets or toys from their handler, if possible. And if it’s doable, maintaining some level of contact between the retired dog and their former handler can ease the transition.

Remember that guide dogs are trained to adapt to new situations. With the right approach and understanding, they can successfully transition into a new home environment.

How to adopt a retired guide dog

Adopting a retired guide dog is rewarding, but it's not one to be taken lightly. These dogs require specific kinds of homes, and families that can cater to their unique needs. Ideal adopters are often those who have previous experience with dogs, especially working breeds. 

The adoption process typically involves:

Research

Begin your journey by researching organizations known for offering retired guide dogs for adoption. These can include guide dog training schools and specific rescue groups focusing on service animals. Look for organizations with strong reputations and clear adoption policies.

You can often learn about opportunities to adopt a retiring guide dog by contacting these organizations directly. Organizations like Assistance Dogs International, Canine Companions, Guide Dogs of America, and Assistance Dogs International  are good places to start.  

Application

The application is a crucial step. Prospective adopters will need to provide comprehensive information about their living situation, family dynamics, experience with dogs (particularly working breeds), and how they plan to integrate the dog into their lives. This step often includes questions about your home's physical environment, lifestyle, and the presence of other pets.

Interview and home visit

Many organizations will conduct in-depth interviews and home visits. This step is essential to ensure that your home environment is safe and suitable for a retired guide dog. The interview may cover your experience with pets, understanding of the specific needs of a retired guide dog, and how you plan to address any challenges.

Matchmaking

This is a nuanced process where the organization matches a dog to your lifestyle and environment. They’ll consider things like the dog’s temperament, health needs, and how well it may adapt to your home. This process is vital to ensuring a harmonious match and can take time.

Transition

Once a match is found, the organization typically guides you through integrating the dog into your home. This may include advice on helping the dog adjust, understanding its routine from its working life, and providing emotional support as it adapts to being a pet. They might also provide resources or recommend training programs to ease this transition.

Post-adoption support

Many organizations offer ongoing support after adoption. This can include follow-up visits, access to veterinary care advice specific to the dog’s needs, and sometimes even training resources or support groups for adopters.

Adopting a retired guide dog is profoundly rewarding, offering a second chapter to a dog that has dedicated its life to service. After all, they’ve earned it.

How to care for a retired guide dog

Caring for a retired guide dog involves attentive and specialized care to accommodate their past life and current needs. These dogs, accustomed to a disciplined routine and specific tasks, often require a carefully managed transition to their new lifestyle. Here are key aspects to consider:

Provide routine and structure

Retired guide dogs benefit greatly from a consistent daily routine. This should include set times for meals, walks, and sleep. Their previous life was governed by a strict schedule, and maintaining some of this structure helps them feel secure and reduces anxiety during their transition to retirement. 

Plus, a consistent routine can make it easier to manage any health conditions and to make sure they receive timely care and attention.

Pay attention to healthcare needs

Regular health check-ups are vital for retired guide dogs. Aging can bring conditions like arthritis, dental issues, or vision problems. Regular vet visits, along with any necessary medications and a diet tailored for senior dogs, are key to managing these conditions.

Supplements for joint health, such as glucosamine and chondroitin, can be beneficial, along with a balanced diet that supports their overall health and vitality. Keeping a close eye on any changes in their health or behavior is crucial, as early detection of issues can lead to more effective management.

Provide a comfortable living space

To create a safe and comfortable living space for a retired guide dog, you’ll need to consider their mobility and accessibility. An orthopedic bed can provide support for aging joints. And making sure that food and water are easily accessible can make their daily life much more comfortable.

It's also important to consider the layout of your home; removing obstacles, providing non-slip surfaces, and helping them avoid stairs as much as possible can prevent injuries and make navigation easier for them.

Stay on top of exercise

While high-intensity activities may no longer be suitable, regular, gentle exercise is essential for their physical and mental health. Activities like leisurely walks, gentle play sessions, and, if possible, swimming can provide low-impact exercise that maintains muscle tone and joint flexibility.

It’s also a great opportunity for them to explore and enjoy new environments, stimulating their minds and enriching their retirement years.

Keep their brains engaged

Mental stimulation is crucial for retired guide dogs to keep their minds sharp and engaged. Activities like basic obedience training, scent work, or interactive toys encourage mental activity and can help prevent cognitive decline. 

These activities not only stimulate their brains but also provide an opportunity for bonding and enjoyment, enhancing their overall quality of life.

Offer emotional support

Transitioning from a working role to retirement can be disorienting for guide dogs. They may show signs of confusion or anxiety as they adjust to a life without their former responsibilities. 

Providing them with affection, a stable environment, and reassurance can help them navigate this change. Understanding their cues and offering comfort when they seem unsettled will reinforce a sense of security and belonging in their new life.

Control interactions

A gradual introduction to other pets and family members is important to prevent overwhelming the dog. Controlled and positive interactions can help build trust and establish new relationships.

It’s also an opportunity to observe their comfort levels and preferences in social situations, allowing you to tailor future interactions to their liking and ensure a harmonious integration into the family.

For service dogs, retirement is not an end; it’s a transition to a new phase of life where they can enjoy the leisure and love they have earned. The process of adopting a retired guide dog is not just about providing a home for them; it’s about honoring their service and continuing their legacy of companionship.

For those who open their hearts and homes to these retired guide dogs, the experience is enriching. It's a unique opportunity to learn from—and bond with—a dog that has served diligently, offering them a retirement filled with comfort, love, and the simple joys of being a cherished pet.

As you care for a retired guide dog, stay mindful of their evolving health needs, especially as they age. Like all senior pets, retired guide dogs can be more susceptible to health issues as they grow older. Dog insurance can help you keep them protected.


David Teich
Lead Content Editor

David Teich is Lead Content Editor at ManyPets. He loves pets, Scrabble, Oxford commas, and typing loudly.