All dogs are good dogs, but not all dogs are good service dogs. Some service dogs-in-training fail to make it through the process—usually because they’re just not fit for the different roles a service dog has to play. This is great news for the rest of us because those who “fail” service dog training almost always go up for adoption.
Adopting a dog that doesn't quite make it all the way through training is just one other way that you can go about providing a home for an animal in need. Many organizations source their dogs from rescue groups, and adopting them out directly is a way to keep them from going back into the shelter system. You may have a few more hoops to jump through than going the traditional shelter route (and you’ll probably have to wait a while), but if it’s something you’re interested in, it’s definitely worth looking into. Here’s what to know before starting this process.
Dog Training "Dropouts"
Being a service dog is a big job, and not all pups are cut out for it. The reasons are either health-related or behavior-related. Health-wise, dogs may suffer from eye issues like cataracts, joint problems, or have food or other allergies that make it difficult for them to be on top of their game at all times. Behaviorally, things like too much energy, too much friendliness with strangers, or difficulties on leash can disqualify a dog from service training.
On the bright side, a dog who is unqualified for service may be the perfect pup for someone who's simply looking for a pet. Remember that service dogs are working dogs whose handlers rely on them to perform very important tasks, from guiding them through public spaces to sniffing out bombs in airports. Pets, on the other hand, have a lot less responsibility. Things like allergies or too much energy don’t discount their ability to love and be loved, which is essentially the job of our animal companions. That being said, most of these dogs do like to "work" in some way even after being adopted. So it will be good to research what your service dog "dropout" likes to do before bringing them home.
How to Adopt a "Dropout"
There are many national dog organizations that adopt out canines who fail to make it through training. You’ll often see these dogs referred to as “career change dogs,” since they’re simply changing careers from service animal to pet.
Some of the most popular service dog organizations with adoption programs include Service Dogs Inc., Freedom Service Dogs of America, Guide Dogs for the Blind, and Guide Dogs of America, though there are plenty more.
Prices to adopt a career change dog range from $0 to $1,000+. The high prices are often attributed to the significant amount of training and health screening and maintenance that these pups undergo during school. Because they are being trained to do many serious and intensive tasks they need to be in near-perfect health and receive top-notch training. All of this takes time and money to do well. The intensive training and health care make them very desirable as pets, therefore, these organizations often have way more potential adopters than dogs ready to be re-homed. You may have to wait months—or even years—for a dog to become available, which is a very long time if you’re ready to add a new animal companion to your family.
To find adoption requirements, visit the websites of service dog organizations you are interested in. There you’ll see details about what they require and whether any dogs are currently available. You’ll also find links to fill out adoption applications. Be sure to read all of the provided details before applying, and to become familiar with the adoption process and the associated fee.
If you have any questions, just call the organization directly. They’ll almost always be glad to answer any lingering inquiries that you have or give you more information on their individual adoption procedures.
Is Adopting a "Dropout" Right for You?
When it comes to getting a new pet, adoption is always the right way to go. As to whether you should adopt a dog right from the shelter or get a career change dog from a service organization, it’s up to you—both are great ways to make a difference.
A few things to keep in mind, some of which we’ve gone over already:
It will take a while. Don’t expect to bring a failed service dog home anytime soon. You’ll very likely have to hop on a waiting list, and it could take years before you’re next in line.
It’s not always cheap. Service dog organizations invest a lot into their trainees, and the fees they charge for adoptions help them recuperate those costs. You may have to spend upwards of $1,000 for a career change dog, versus a couple hundred dollars for a dog from a shelter.
You may be limited on breeds. Dogs who are most likely to be found in service dog organizations tend to be Labs, Golden Retrievers, German shepherds, Poodles, or mixes of these breeds. If you’ve got your heart set on a Bulldog or a Shih Tzu, you’d probably have better luck with a breed-specific rescue group.
As always, be sure to properly prepare for a new dog before adopting. Whether your new pup comes from a rescue group or a service dog organization, you should always stock up on what you need before they walk in the door, and be ready to take on the task of training and building your bond.
Service dog "droputs" have a ton to offer the right adopters. If you’d like to add one to your family, start doing your research and filling out applications.