I am occasionally asked “When’s the best time to retire a police dog?” and I will admit it is one of the more difficult questions to answer by phone or with an e-mail without actually seeing the dog. Every dog is different as well as its working environment and activity level. But, at the same time, I believe it’s really an easy decision to make for those involved firsthand when personal feelings are set aside and the safety and well-being of the dog and the personnel working with and around the dog are considered.
Here’s part of a reply I sent [in 2013] to a supervisor about an older dog;
It’s a difficult decision to retire a good dog – particularly when it’s served us well. However, just like officers, there’s a time to do so and we shouldn’t wait until the dog can no longer work or gets seriously injured because we didn’t retire it. Worse yet, what if another officer gets injured because the dog was not able to perform to the same standard we expect from all of our other dogs or a brand new dog? If the dog’s performing the same as he did five or six years ago, keep working the dog. If he’s a little slower but still finding people, maybe we re-evaluate. Can the dog still perform the same agility tests or obstacle course frequently or do we lessen and eliminate some of those exercises due to his age and potential for an injury? Can he still scale a 6-foot fence without assistance and struggle?
And, the evaluators (“the decision makers”) shouldn’t necessarily include the handler – particularly if he/she will be transferred from the unit upon retirement of the dog. If the handler can get another dog or is eligible to do so – or not – it’s time for a serious discussion – and I’m thinking based only on the age of this working patrol dog – it’s time to retire him and give him a year or more to enjoy the good life – he probably earned it. It’s also a little more humane to do so now instead of working him beyond his time.
I’ve seen a few police dogs that worked beyond their time – and it’s not appropriate nor fair to the other officers that they are expected to fully support in a patrol (and maybe SWAT) environment. When we allow it to continue, hoping nothing bad will happen, we are inviting trouble.
It’s often a tough decision to retire a police dog – but then again, it’s really not.