How to Know When to Retire a Guide Dog

Now that you know a little about guide dog retirement, I want to take you through the process of knowing when it is appropriate for a person to retire his or her guide dog. There can be several reasons why a blind person must definitely consider retirement. Some of these reasons include behavioral problems, health risks, and work-related problems. Let’s talk about some behavioral problems that could result in the necessary retirement of a guide dog.

Some dogs will work for a time but then develop behavioral problems. One such incident happened to a Seeing Eye graduate. I will post a link to her story at the end of this blog. She had a dog that became aggressive not only with her but also with other people. As you may know, this sort of temperament is problematic when it comes to guide work because, first of all, a guide dog must be well-behaved in public and, while they aren’t to be visiting other people while working, they should have a friendly or at the least reserved manner. Sometimes in these cases, even if it has only been 2-3 years that a guide dog has been working, it is necessary to retire a dog who begins to act aggressively. While there are other behavioral issues, the next reason to retire a dog still has somewhat to do with behavior.

There are also work-related issues that might lead to a dog’s retirement. One work-related issue is the dog’s unwillingness to work. This may be clear when the dog tries to duck away from the harness, has a hard time waking up in order to stand up and walk again, or can’t work for long periods of time. A guide dog can also have the enthusiasm and desire to work but may become unable to work after a short time, for example, becoming exhausted after only walking a couple of blocks. Another thing that is problematic is if a dog refuses to cross streets or, even worse, stops walking right in the middle of the street. Being distracted in the street is another huge issue that should probably result in retirement. And finally, if the dog is easily startled or terrified by something to the point that he or she can’t even work out of fear, this could be a deciding factor in choosing to retire the dog. It is important to keep in mind that some of these behaviors, with training, can be corrected. However, when a guide dog owner does everything to help the dog get over this behavior, yet the behavior still persists, it is time to consider a new guide dog.

Other reasons to retire a dog is due to health reasons. I had a friend whose dog suffered from kidney disease. This dog was only allowed to work for five years before the dog was retired. Also, as I mentioned in a previous post, things like hip dysplasia, eye problems with dogs, and seizures may bring about an inability to work. And finally, let’s cover one more reason for retiring a guide dog.

As a general rule, most dogs work from the ages of 8-12. And, while some retire sooner than that, aging is another reason why a dog should just retire. Perhaps there is nothing wrong with the dog, but as the dog is getting older, he or she is slowing down. That, and guide dog owners want their dogs to have a nice retirement.

When to decide to retire a dog is never easy. One graduate stated in an article that, at first, we want to blame ourselves for our dog’s poor performance because we don’t want to admit the truth that the dog has had a great working life but needs to be done with his or her job. When deciding to retire a guide dog, a guide dog owner must ask these questions. Before I list the questions, I must mention that these questions come from an article written by Michele Drolet, a Seeing Eye graduate. So, the credit of these questions goes to the author of this article. Anyway, let’s return to the questions. First, is the dog meeting the needs of the guide dog owner? Second, is it becoming necessary for the owner to make special accommodations for the dog? Third, does the dog show signs of hesitation when performing daily working tasks? Along with that, is a guide dog owner having to encourage the dog to work such as pushing forward on the harness handle to get the dog to walk faster? And finally, probably the most important, is the owner being fair to the dog? I think it is safe to say that guide dog owners feel a sense of denial when they first notice changes to their dogs working performances. The dog may have good days that lift the spirits of the owner, but then these days can head in a downward spiral leaving the owner feeling overwhelmingly sad and distraught.

Because I never want to end a post on a sad note, I want to say that there is hope. Believe me, I need to know this just as much as other owners do. One thing that I think all guide dog owners should know is that retirement is only the beginning. Let me say that one more time. Retirement is only the beginning of something greater. For many, while it is an end of the current partnership, it is the beginning of a new partnership that will be filled with new and exciting experiences. While I will be the first to say how much I hate change, even I realize that a change can bring about a better life.

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