When Guide Dogs “Fail”

Guide dog schools often have a breeding program.  Dams and sires are retained to breed pups that will one day become Guide dogs for the blind. At least, that’s the intention. From the moment the pup is born, it will be evaluated to determine its potential as a guide dog. If the pup meets the requirements (size and early health condition), it will be whelped and then placed with a ‘puppy-raiser’ or ‘puppy-walker’ family. The various guide dog schools usually have puppy-raiser programs. The puppy will continue to be evaluated throughout its puppyhood.  I am only generally familiar about the puppy raiser-experience. I can say, that there are stringent requirements and guidelines to meet, before a puppy is placed with someone. Ideally, the puppy-walker will expose the puppy to many things in the 12 to 18 month period that they foster it. Some puppies will fail evaluations along the way. I am not certain about these dogs, but I suspect that the guide dog school find good homes for them, if the puppy-raiser chooses not to keep them.  The dog that survives the evaluation and periodic testing until it is finally ‘good to go’, faces a new and even more arduous series of challenges. The training involved in teaching a dog what it needs to know at the guide dog school  usually lasts upwards of six months. This is the ‘make and break’ period where trainers and apprentice trainers teach the dog the skills it will need to guide a blind person. They don’t all make it. That does not mean that a dog who ‘fails’  guide dog training, has reached the end of the line.   There are all sorts of reasons why a dog would not make it. Perhaps the dog is easily distracted by noise, scent or motion (to the point where it can not overcome the distraction, regardless of all efforts to correct it).  Some of these dogs, will be re-trained for another purpose…. drug, explosive and arson detection, special skills training for a wheel chair user, alert dog and so on. The dogs that are not retrained, will often be offered as pet dogs to good families or individuals.  These dogs are anything but ‘failures’.  They are well behaved, social creatures that can be the pride and joy of someone’s household. If you live anywhere near a Guide dog school (check the ultimate list on the blogroll), and you plan to acquire a dog, consider contacting the school. If you go onto the individual schools’ web sites, you will probably be able to learn if they offer this). They might have a dog (pure bred or cross bred) for you at minimal cost.  The dog will have had excellent health care and attention throughout its young life.  Sometimes the guide dog schools keep a list of individuals who are seeking to buy a dog that did not pass the training. There might be a waiting period, but I think it is well worth it. This is an excellent alternative to buying a pup from a breeder or through a shelter, especially if you are seeking a dog that is already seasoned for sociability. 


16 responses to “When Guide Dogs “Fail”

  1. very true. This is something I lived through with my first guide dog pup-in-training, Arturo. He was dropped for health reasons. With Guide Dogs for the Blind, 40% of the dogs get dropped for health issues. Career changed or released dogs do make wonderful pets. I’ve heard all kinds of stories from people who have adopted career changed dogs.

    Just as a note from a puppy raiser, if you choose to adopt a career changed dog, we puppy raisers LOVE it if you stay in contact with us. These dogs are our life for a year and a half, and we miss them like nothing else when they’re gone!!!! 🙂

  2. Definitely! I am in daily communication with Opal’s puppy-raiser. We have struck up a friendship even though we have never met. I am so grateful to Opal’s alter-family. They did an awesome job with my girl.

  3. i would like to adopt a lab that failed it training

  4. Good for you! I suggest that you contact a Guide dog training centre near you. If you are unsure where they are, link to the ultimate list of guide dog schools from my blogroll. Go to the website of the school nearest you, and contact them to ask if they have an adoption list you can get on for dog that did not make it all the way through training….

  5. Hi
    We would love to obtain a “failed” service dog (preferably a lab) for our family. I have a long history of working with show and hunting stock but believe that a service dog’s lineage will produce a calmer, more trainable dog…which is better suited for our family.

    Any ideas on how I would go about finding where I might find one?


  6. I’m not sure where you live, but if you can locate one of the guide dog training schools (check ultimate list of guide dog schools on my blogroll) you can start by checking the web sites of the schools nearest to you, and then contacting them to see if they have an adoption program for the dogs that ‘don’t make it’.

  7. Can you please give me the training centers in the New York area.

  8. Hi Hailey, I suggest you look at the gdui.org/school web site. In the Eastern USA, there are the following schools: Guiding Eyes for the Blind in Yorktown Heights, NY…the Seeing Eye in Morristown New Jersey, Pilot Dogs in Columbus, Ohio…Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind in Smithtown NY and finally, Freedom Dogs for the Blind in Casstown NY. there is also Leader Dogs in Rochester Michigan. It may be possible to go further afield in your search…like California, Florida, Oregon…all states with schools.

  9. Maddielovesdogs

    My family is wishing to get a new dog, but we really don’t have the time for a new puppy and my parents would love if the dog was already trained. I heard about this and I was really interested.
    We live in MA and were wondering if you could help.

  10. Hi Maddie, if you look to my response to Hailey’s comment regarding the same request; a failed guide dog in the USA…you should be able to contact any of the eastern US schools.

  11. Thank you so muich for posting this! My situation is basically the same as Maddie’s but I’m looking for a golden retreiver in the Midwest area. I live in MO. I’ll check it out, thank you!

  12. I once picked up a yellow lab, that failed…I was told it was because they could not break him of his fear of bicycles, he would rather run into a street to get away from them.
    I got him for just a small donation, at the time I think it was $100 that I gave. his name was Snoopy and boy did he love to run, I mean run away! He was a huge pain to get to learn not to run away… my family and I grew to love him so much I can’t begin to explain. I had him a long time until I had to put him down because of extreme seizure problems..I drastically miss him, I thank God for the seeing Eye Dog foundation for failing him in Michigan and giving him to me. He was my best friend. My biggest fan, the one who didn’t care that I was a loly tool and die maker. he only knew I loved him and he me! it has been some time now and I still pray for another chance to find another like him…a BRAT! but he was mine. or maybe I was his?
    sadly, I haven’t ever found another chance like that since. and then to top it off I fell from a high height and destroyed my back to where I am on disability for the rest of my life. So with being on Social Security and still having 3 kids to raise, I doubt I will ever get a chance for another friend….no! a brother, like Snoopy.
    If any of you get a yellow lab, they can be pains, they are very strong willed, they chew everything! and they have a sense of humor..if you believe me or not..but I hope you cherish them as much as I have Snoopy. And if I may ask, if you ever have a free moment, do me one favor, give a prayer for me that I will one more time come across another yellow lab like Snoopy, that I can afford to buy….
    See even when The Seeing Eye Dogs Fail at one thing……they are leaps and bounds over others.
    remember one thing if you have one…cherish them….or one day you may be like me, looking at one and only have a happy memory of them or worse, a daytime dream of getting another while knowing things can change to where that will probably never come around again.
    I live in Florida now, I live on a 1/2 acres lot. one day I pray God will give me a new friend that is like Snoopy, that can enjoy this property with me and my family. keep me in your prayers.

  13. Great post! Idk why but all of a sudden i got the urge to watch all dogs go to heaven lol

  14. My daughter and wife have bad eye sight. I am possibly interested in a guide dog who hasn’t finished training. Both have trouble at night when their contacts are out. Neither are classified blind. Please inform me of suggestions to help them.Thanks

  15. could you please tell me who to get in contact in Nova scotia to find out if they have any dogs who ‘failed’ their test ?


  16. How can I get on a waiting list to adopt a dog that gets dropped from the program? Anyone know?

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