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Sep 29, 2015

What Happens to Retired Military/Police Working Dogs – Black Dog Journey


Every year, numerous  military and police working dogs are retired from service but very few are actually adopted.  In most cases, handlers continue with the care of their retired four legged members.  This allows for our furry heroic veterans  to live out there lives in the company of the person they have come to know.  Police dogs are normally retired at around 8 years old, although some dogs stop working a little earlier, especially if they’ve succumbed to injury.

Beautiful Fall Colors

Beautiful Fall Colours

While handling a working dog can be the rockstar job of any police or military organization, especially if one is very busy, it can also take an accelerated toll on the bodies of both handler and dog.  I humbly apologize if I’ve offended anyone with this remark.  Rockstar may not be the appropriate word for those who’ve never owned a dog or had interest in working one.  I write this with the assumption that most handlers, of police and military dogs, obtained the passion to work a dog in the early years of life.  There are many, like me, who joined an organization with the sole intent of working a dog.  For those who haven’t worked alongside a dog, searching for people, risking your life, saving the occasional suicidal person or finding an elderly dementia patient, and putting the trust of a dog  and your abilities to read his body language in your hands,  it’s truly difficult to describe the passion, faith, and respect, that one gains not only for the dogs but the career and those who work within it.

Call of Duty

Please remember, as you read this, that police and military dogs sacrifice their lives throughout North America and overseas annually.  While these working dogs are essential in locating people, and can be a force multiplier, they’re normally at the pointy end of the stick so to speak.  This means that when a dog is tracking (wearing a tracking harness while attached to a 20, 30, or 50 foot leash depending upon region), he may be a considerable controlled distance ahead of his handler and fellow brothers and sisters in uniform.  I have personally seen where my dog has taken the brunt of the force that would have been directed to me.  He’s obviously saved me from grievous bodily harm in certain encounters with dangerously motivated offenders.  I jokingly say certain cases because I do recall a night in which I fell down a cliff with my dog in the wee hours of the night…thank God for small trees to break my fall.

Needless to say, sacrifices are made by both dog and handler.
Military and police working dogs are highly trained animals that serve their country alongside their handlers. These dogs are true heroes that are regularly asked to risk their well being in order to preserve the lives of their handlers and fellow police or military personnel. These wonderful dogs are put in dangerous environments and are trained to respond to their handlers instructions with an absolute obedience that’s second to none.  Rest assured these dogs have been exposed to months of training under the appropriate environmental conditions.  When citizens and family pets run in the other direction, these working dogs get excited to take action.IMG_0717

Retirement

When it comes to retirement, military and police dogs need very special care.  In the event that a handler does not remain with his dog,  potential dog owners would need to meet very specific criteria in order to qualify for adoption.  I can speak from experience, as I kept the Black Dog after he retired in July.  Some may question why a handler would give up his dog upon its retirement.  It certainly isn’t easy to give up ones dog.  With the Black Dog, I spent more time with him than  my family for nearly eight years.  Obviously, I couldn’t part ways with Nox.  I did, however, give up my second dog.  I worked a second dog in the last stages of Nox’s career.  He’d essentially signed up for the ride a-long program for his last eight months.  He still loved going to work and driving around.  It’s a difficult decision to give up one of your partners, but it’s simply not possible for some handlers to keep their dog.  In a perfect world, I’m sure that very few dogs would leave their handlers upon retirement.

Here are a few things to consider with the adoption of a retired police or military working dog.  Like their handlers, or people in general, dogs have terms of service.  Dogs are living breathing creatures…we’re no different in that respect.  How long can one expect to push their body to the brink before a few injuries start to linger?  Imagine running through dark hilly forest at night, hopping booby trapped fences, or having your dog drag you through an icy alley because he’s tracking a strong scent

While some agencies treat these heroic four legged veterans as they morally should through veterinarian care and expensive food costs, there are many agencies that do not provide care for these retired furry members.  As mentioned above, years of apprehending dangerous people and putting their lives at risk is hard on the body.  Once these working dogs reach retirement, the veterinarian bills start to creep up.  While these dogs were definitely bred for a life of service, with their high prey and hunt drive, they also had no say in their occupation.  I choice to be a dog handler, as it was a life long passion, so I only have myself to blame for injuries sustained throughout my career.  My dog, on the other hand, did not

While a working dog can make the inevitable transition to pet, he may never truly be a pet.  The thing to remember is that many of these working dogs still retain years of repetition and training.  It’s important to note that most police dogs are more social than the average dog but they still retain certain drives that the average dog does not exhibit.  This is what made them so spectacular at their jobs.  Most working police or military dogs make horrible pets, but they can adjust in their older years.  They’re the kind of dogs that would have destroyed homes in their youth, due to their energy level. They will need a lot of care and attention which means offering them the right sort of environment and the time to adapt to a new way of life they would feel comfortable in.IMG_0781

In his first week of retirement, the old Black Dog took me on three km walks.  It was a test to see how he’d react to the neighbourhood dogs.  He passed that test, as he was more socialized than every dog that he encountered.  This slowly progressed to five and seven km runs.  It’s September and we’ve progressed to eight and nine km runs.  Who would have thought that the two of us, with proper diet and exercise, would fully recuperate from years of running around in the wee hours of the night.

Reading A Dog

Just a final note on housing a retired police dog, it’s definitely not for someone who isn’t skilled at reading a working dog.  This evening, the Black Dog took me out for our eight km run through a valley filled with tall prairie grasses, marsh land, and a beautiful golden sunset.  Despite the fact that I was running through a city park, it felt as though I was in the wilderness.  We encountered quail and a frightened beaver that splashed us with water…it was a free shower.  We also encountered friendly skateboarders who donned the attire of entrepreneurial pharmaceutical salesmen.  Lord, bless their souls.  The Black Dog’s head perked up from approximately 200 m away.  I quickly clipped his six foot leash to his pinch collar.  He displayed his typical prance and body language when locating someone of interest.  While he’s retained his ability to sense inappropriate behaviour, he still feels that he’s duty bound to apprehend anyone who resembles a criminal.  I’ve said it before, read your dog.

Life Lesson

I tend to end each story with a life lesson.  Today will be no different.  While it’s great to reminisce and think of the gold old days, there comes a time when we must pass our knowledge on to others.  If others are successful, or even better than us, then we know we’ve done our job right. I’ll end on a quote from the 14th Dalai Lama, “The purpose of life is to be happy.”

I hope you’ve enjoyed my post.  If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to leave them below.

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32 Comments

  1. Wayne Says: September 29, 2015 10:29 pm

    What an interesting post! I am a dog lover, and grew up with dogs all my life. It’s true what you say, they are rock stars and are genuinely mans best friend. They will do all they can to protect you
    My children have also grown up with dogs and now both have dogs of their own which are children in their houses.

    Reply
  2. Colin Says: September 30, 2015 5:13 pm

    That was a really interesting read! I’ve often wondered what happens to military or police dogs when they retire as I imagined they would need a special kind of care after all that time in service.
    Is it difficult to find a home for a retiring dog when the handler can’t carry on looking after them?

    Reply
    • Shawn Says: October 1, 2015 1:15 am

      Hi Colin, that’s a great question. In my experience, there’s never a shortage of people willing to take on a retired dog. Unfortunately, some of these dogs have been returned within a few days of going home with the new owners. Not everyone realizes what they’ve gotten themselves into until they’re at home with the dog. My second dog lives on a farm and she’s doing great, but her new owner was fully aware of her history. I actually sat down with her new owner to explain the risks associated with adopting her. Since I was rather fond of her, I wanted to ensure that she was properly cared for too. It’s fair to compare these dogs to professional athletes. They use up their best years doing what they love, but their bodies pay for it later in life.

      Thanks for the comment. It’s great to hear that others care about these dogs too.

      Take care,

      Shawn

      Reply
  3. Peter Says: October 4, 2015 11:40 am

    Hi Shawn,
    I enjoyed reading your post. I’ve always imagined that most working dogs would rest with their handlers. After being with your dog so long it must be heartbreaking if you are forced to part, for the handler and the dog.
    It’s interesting that you compare a retired dog to an athlete, their bodies are tired and they may need visits to the vet, that is something I had never considered. Also the fact that they will still feel duty bound. There are certainly several things to consider before adopting one of these four legged friends as a pet.
    Great article and I hope Black Dog is enjoying his retirement.

    Reply
    • Shawn Says: October 5, 2015 11:30 am

      Hi Peter,

      I appreciate the kind reply. It certainly is difficult to part with a dog that one has worked with for an extended period of time. It’s much different than parting with a pet. I hope that I’ve done justice to that experience with words. It truly is a passion and bond wrapped up in one experience, knowing that your dog will lay down his life without question. Speaking of retired athlete, I feel like that myself…perhaps another story. The Black Dog will have a good retirement…he’s earned it.

      Reply
  4. colin Says: October 4, 2015 11:48 am

    Thanks for this–highly informative and well-written.
    I’ve found that there are a lot of dog lovers out there who aren’t necessarily looking for a puppy from the pet store–often they’ll go to the humane society or something similar. Just wondering what the process is for people looking to adopt retired police dogs. Obviously it’s not for everyone, but how would people go about looking into adoption?
    Really like your ending Dalai Lama quote too. Thanks again!

    Reply
    • Shawn Says: October 5, 2015 12:40 pm

      Hi Colin, I appreciate the kinds words. I can appreciate those who want to skip the puppy process, as puppies can lead to many sleepless nights. While there are very few of these dogs adopted, there are various groups with an adoption process. I don’t know where you live but I discovered this link to the Warrior Dog Foundation http://warriordogfoundation.org/contact-us-2/. From their site, I discovered you must fill out this contact form. While there are many benefits, this comes with sacrifice too. This may also lead to expensive vet bills. I could be wrong with the RCMP adoption program but I believe they provide an adoption system for some of their of their unsuccessful dogs. So there it is, one in Canada and on in the USA. I hope this helps. My dog isn’t up for adoption so he certainly can’t help.

      Reply
  5. Egardiner Says: October 8, 2015 5:35 am

    What an amazing post! And one I find incredibly sad… they are such loyal and beautiful animals with such massive hearts. It’s devastating to think that some may not receive the love and care they deserve once they retire. It would be just as heart breaking for the dog as it is for the human to be separated from their working partner… please adopt a dog!

    Reply
    • Shawn Says: October 8, 2015 7:52 pm

      Hi, thanks for the kind words. I truly appreciate it. Retired dogs deserve our respect as they are more than just disposable creatures. I’ve never encountered a handler who wasn’t attached to his dog, and most keep their partner if possible. As I’ve indicated, there are important points to consider when adopting such an animal.

      Take care,

      Shawn

      Reply
  6. Marie Says: October 11, 2015 10:04 am

    HI Shawn – it’s great to hear about the police dogs being rehomed, I can imagine if your full career was in the dog division you could end up with several dogs who have been retired, as well as having to work with your current partner.

    I have seen the same thing with the mounted division and the retired horses, again a close partnership but not always practical to keep one after their working life is over. Their requirements become very different.

    Reply
    • Shawn Says: October 12, 2015 12:28 am

      Hi Marie,

      Thanks for reading my post…I appreciate it. You’re correct, sometimes practicality interferes with what we want.

      Take care,

      Shawn

      Reply
  7. Vivi Says: October 27, 2015 10:39 pm

    I absolutely love your posts! You have such passion and love for dogs, it shines through your writing. As a dog lover and owner myself, I really enjoy your writing. It’s great that you’re pointing out all the things that need to be taken into account when adopting a working dog, not all dogs make good pets, the more people realize this the less will end up in shelters or on the street. Your post underlines what amazing creatures dogs are, and how they are willing to sacrifice anything for their alpha leader, they really do show unconditional love like no one else. The video at the end is beautiful, the Black Dog is an amazing beast! The life lessons are much appreciated too, people need to be reminded that life is meant to be lived in happiness, we forget that so often. Keep writing!

    Reply
    • Shawn Says: October 28, 2015 4:19 am

      Hi Vivi, I’m glad that you love my posts, as I’m happy to share them with others. Life is more enjoyable with a dog.

      Take care,

      Shawn

      Reply
  8. Jester Says: November 5, 2015 3:28 pm

    Totally Loving Black Dog!!! I totally get what you are saying about knowing what you are getting into when taking on a dog. I have hunting dogs for over 25 years and they to are of a different nature than just being a pet. One adoptee we had took me a year to find a home for. I had people telling me they walk 2 -4 miles every day. My response was always this dog needs to RUN 10 a day or he will trash your house and everything you own. And he needs to hunt birds, it’s what he does by instinct and was trained even more. I’m sure it must be hard on handlers when they keep their retirees with them. My heart goes out to all in this profession and please accept my Thanks as well.

    Reply
    • Shawn Says: November 6, 2015 2:49 am

      Hi Jester, your words mean a great deal. It’s nice to hear from someone who understands that working dogs are uniquely different than family pets. As my site grows with E commerce and working dog equipment, I will certainly have to educate myself on other area of the working dog world.

      Thanks, Shawn

      Reply
  9. Joon Says: November 13, 2015 11:17 am

    This post reminds me of the movie Max that just came out not long ago. I’ve been wanting to see the movie for awhile still did not have the chance to. I’m a veteran myself and it’s interesting to hear about what military dogs go through and how they may suffer through similar trauma that military personnel go through.

    Reply
    • Shawn Says: November 15, 2015 4:37 am

      Hey Joon, I haven’t seen the movie either but I think the shepherd loyalty is universal. I’m a firm believer that our two and four legged veterans should be respected and compensated for their sacrifices. Thanks for the comment. Take care, Shawn.

      Reply
  10. Julie Says: November 15, 2015 10:02 am

    Your post in regard of retired military dogs is too good.
    But There are lots of misconceptions about the fate of military working dogs once they are retired from services. Most of them are eligible for adoption and are placed into appropriate and loving homes. They are highly trained so its important to keep this in mind while adopting these dogs.

    Reply
    • Shawn Says: November 15, 2015 11:34 am

      Hi Julie, you’re correct and it’s key to remember they are trained. They don’t forget this training. The average family should not have such a dog if they’re unfamiliar the capabilities of a police or military working dog. Most police dogs are kept by their handlers, thus making it difficult to adopt a police dog.

      Reply
  11. Anh Nguyen Says: December 14, 2015 2:48 pm

    Thanks so much for this post, I learn a lot of new things about police dogs. It’s great to hear that most dogs stay with their handlers, I was afraid no one would care for them when you mention they are usually not adopted.

    I really enjoyed this article and the lesson you gave. I would love to hear more stories from you, so keep us updated.

    All the best!

    Reply
  12. SamDal Says: January 3, 2016 1:57 am

    An eye opening glipse into the life of our hero military and police dogs. I had no idea of the difficulties they endure. I have read they also suffer from PTSD and find it difficult to be around loud noises or crowds after their service is completed.

    Loved your blog and it helps the fact most of these service dogs are my two favorite breeds: the Belgian Malinois and GSD.

    Reply
    • Shawn Says: January 4, 2016 9:34 pm

      Thanks for the reply. These dogs are certainly bred for a life of service. I’m uncertain about the PTSD, but I can envision that happening. They certainly are resilient creatures, though.

      Reply
  13. NemiraB Says: January 4, 2016 10:38 am

    Hello here, you wrote an interesting and engaging article about your companions and what it means to be a handler of service dog.
    I guess that not every breed can fit to requirements, which are for police or army dogs. A little bulldog could loose his temper and his legs are to short.
    When I read your article, I can imagine how much of energy these dogs give for completing their tasks.
    I wonder if they do have an insurance if something goes wrong? It could cover medical bills and provide some help in retirement.
    Dogs are my favorite animals after horses. It was a delight to read your blog about these great animals and friendly companions.
    Thank you, all the best, Nemira.

    Reply
    • Shawn Says: January 8, 2016 3:54 am

      LOL, yes a bulldog may not fit the requirements but I’m sure it makes an awesome pet. They’re great looking dogs. The insurance is something that I’ve been looking into. It’s somewhat like finding a warranty for your used car with 100,000 miles on it.

      Take care,

      Shawn

      Reply
  14. Vesi Says: January 13, 2016 10:25 pm

    What a great post! I’ve just started training my dog to do basic search and rescue (I’m considering becoming a volunteer and joining ARDA) . He is an extremely high energy easy to train dog, and I thought it will be great to have him do something that will be so needed and helpful. I only just started looking into it, and have not considered what happens after, or the risks involved. Ouch! In your experience, how high are the risks?

    Reply
    • Shawn Says: January 16, 2016 8:30 pm

      Hi,
      The call to help others, above yourself, is very commendable. I’ll relay my experience in training a dog, or several dogs for that matter. High energy is a great quality for many working dogs. For instance, when Nox was young he was a literal pain. He was an awesome working dog, with an unbelievable ball drive and willingness to work but he would have made a horrible pet. He’s older now but still loves his 10 km runs or even 15 km hikes. He’s almost dropped to the energy level of the average dog and he’s nine.

      I recall a training track, in Ottawa about 7 years ago, in which Nox tracked until he almost dropped from exhaustion. He wouldn’t give up and still engaged the quarry, amidst simulation fire and yelling at the end. He actually lied down. Since Nox was exhausted and laying on the ground, I dragged both the quarry and Nox back to cover. His engagement with the quarry did not waver. So, when I talk about drive, that’s the kind of drive that I’m speaking about.

      As far as risks involved in training a search and rescue dog, I have little experience with that. The basic principles in training a dog to find human scent are the same. For that matter, if you would like a dog to find peanut butter and jelly sandwiches you could train a dog to do that. They would, however, smell every intricate detail of that sandwich. If you love training with your dog then I would suggest doing that. Learn also much as you can by consulting others, contacting the appropriate organizations, and obtaining certification and training if needed. Follow your passion. It’s a journey.

      Take care,
      Shawn

      Reply
  15. Heather Grace Says: January 18, 2016 10:18 pm

    I have so much respect for the work that is done with the service dogs no matter where they serve. Such incredible creatures they are! I honestly hadn’t thought about what might happen to them at retirement. I guess it makes sense that an officer or handler can’t keep the dog in every case. Because of how active they are and their drive for prey or searching are there games or drills you would recommend for a retired dog still? It seems they would become unbalanced if not challenged. Do you feel that is the case?

    Reply
    • Shawn Says: January 19, 2016 10:16 pm

      Hi Heather,

      That’s a great question. I’m happy to pass along what I’ve learned in a short period of time. Not every dog is the same, Nox is a highly driven dog, so there may be some differences. I agree that a highly driven dog could become unbalanced if not challenged. I guess that’s another way of saying one’s dog has excessive energy to burn. Nox and I are fortunate to live near the mountains, so he’s spent a great deal of time on five hour hikes through fluffy snow. In the summer and fall, Nox was able to go on 10 kilometre runs and occasionally practiced some of his former skills for a ball.

      What have I learned from all of this? It’s important for the two of us to stay active. My definition of active may be different from the person who walks once around the block or the person who competes in triathlons. If a dog loves a ball, it may suffice to throw the ball for 20 minutes a day.

      I’m not a hockey player but I’ll sum up with this. Everyone starts at the same level. We take different routes along the path. Eventually, everyone ends up in the beer league. It’s the same with dogs. Some become the animal version of professional athletes, in the end becoming worn out and tired.

      Shawn

      Reply
  16. Daniella Says: February 18, 2016 7:48 pm

    Hi Shawn,

    I found your article very interesting, I really enjoyed reading it! I have two big dogs and even though I don’t work with them, I couldn’t imagine not to see them anymore. It’s amazing how people can be attached to dogs or any other animals. Maybe I missed it in the article and if so, I am sorry, but I would like to know why it is so important to inform the new owner of the dog’s past? Can the dog be dangerous in some situations?
    Thank you

    Reply
    • Shawn Says: February 24, 2016 3:51 am

      Hi Daniella,

      Informing a new owner of a dog’s past is important, regardless of breed or occupation. I’ve had five German Shepherds. One was dog aggressive, for instance. With police or working dogs it’s especially important to be aware of certain situations that may provoke a reaction. With that said, most of these dogs are very social creatures.

      Shawn

      Reply

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