Life of a service dog
Red Cross service dog in Italy, January 1909.
The typical working life of a service dog is usually eight to ten years, depending on the owner's needs and preferences.
Service dogs are free to act normally when they are not working. Typically, the animals are taught to identify work versus free time by whether or not they are wearing their gear. Exceptions to this rule may exist, such as a seizure alert dog, which must not ignore an impending seizure even when it is not wearing its gear. Nevertheless, just as with any other trained animal, working dogs must still obey commands even when they are off-duty. Because of the strict behavior expected from a working dog when it is on duty, many owners will usually not permit people to pet the animal, or be reluctant to remove gear on request (such as for security inspections.)
When a service dog retires, it may remain with his owner or a family member as a pet. If the owner is unable to care for him and a successor dog at the same time, he may be returned to the program for "re-homing." Typically, the family that raised it as a puppy is given the first opportunity to keep him as a pet. Others are adopted out to carefully screened homes. These dogs are highly desirable pets because of their manners and obedience training; waiting lists for such placements may sometimes be measured in years
My dog Esperanza is trained as a diabetic alert service dog. I DO NOT see a day when she will retire as she is so attentive to me - she just turned 6. But I do give her plenty of time to be a dog. When comming out of a store or out of my home & people are not around I give her the release command & let her walk on a long retractable lead. When it is time to go into a store I just shorten the lead and tell her to get into position & she is in working mode. She is 12 lbs and absolutely adorable - everyone wants to pet her. I DO occassionaly let people pet her. They need to ask first and I evaluate the energy of the person and Esperanza's energy before saying yes. She will look at the person who asks & look at me waiting for permission & only when I tell her "say hello" will she go say hello to someone. She greets them then quickly returns to my side. I do not like to give Esperanza a lot of treats so when she has behaved well that is her reward - being allowed to say hello to people. In addition to the diabetes which is what Esperanza is trained for I have multiple sclerosis. I am unable to run with her. I often take her to safe open areas where she can run off leash. I give the command "go exercise" & she runs around & plays like a puppy. I try to keep a healthy balance of work & down time so she doesn't get bored or frustrated.
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