How to Care for a Retired Working Dog
There are thousands of working dogs around the globe, each either bred for a specific purpose or trained to complete a much-needed task. Working dogs can help those with disabilities, serve on a police force or in the military, or chase cattle and sheep around on a farm. Some breeds are just meant to do a job – and they tend to do it well!
But, as with anyone else who has a long and successful career, it eventually becomes time to retire. And, like anyone else who is entering retirement, these dogs deserve to be cared for while relaxing and enjoying their golden years. Thankfully, many different programs exist to put them into good homes where they can enjoy some well-deserved rest and fun while staying safe and comfortable.
Let’s take a closer look at how you can make sure a retired working dog is getting everything they need throughout their retirement.
Understand How They Might Handle Retirement
When a human retires, it’s expected that they’ll do whatever they want while enjoying some time to themselves. Unfortunately, it isn’t always that easy. One study by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that retirement can lead to a 6-9% decline in mental health.
The same can go for retired working dogs who are suddenly out of the field – literally or figuratively. Working dogs are raised to have a purpose, and they get used to certain routines. Giving up their life of work isn’t easy, and they might experience work withdrawal. That can manifest itself in a variety of ways, including:
- Signs of depression
- Not wanting to be around people
- Not wanting to be away from people
- Changes in eating/sleeping habits
If you want to adopt a working dog after they retire, there are a few things to keep in mind. First, understand that they might have some difficulties adjusting to a more relaxed, family-friendly lifestyle. You can make the transition easier for them by continuing training, providing a lot of exercise and activity, and giving them time to relax.
Let’s dive deeper into how you can keep your retired dog comfortable and happy.
Set Up the Right Environment
When you bring a retired working dog home, it’s important to have the right environment to make them feel comfortable and welcome. They might be a bit anxious at first. Having a designated room just for them can make their experience feel less overwhelming and scary. Remember, they might have only had a handler throughout their life, rather than a family. It can take some time for them to get used to “home living.”
If you do have a room for them, make sure you design it in a way that makes them comfortable. The room should have plenty of storage options for toys, treats, and activities to keep your dog busy. It should also have some basic necessities that will keep your new four-legged friend happy. That includes a dog bed that is large enough for their breed and other pieces of furniture where they can lay and relax.
Even the temperature is something you should factor in. Keep the room no higher than 70-80 degrees, or your dog could quickly overheat. If it tends to get hot in that area, make sure the room includes a fan.
The designated area itself should foster a happy, positive environment, so try to choose the right area. Some of the best spots for a pet room include:
- Extra bedrooms
- Living room corners
- Your bedroom
Even after your dog gets used to the rest of the home, having a room just for them is beneficial. According to the American Humane Society, dogs are den animals. They find comfort in having their own personal “sanctuary.” After years of working, it’s even more important for them to have a place they can go to feel safe and to relax.
Teach an Old Retired Working Dog New Tricks
It’s not fair to expect working dogs to be mentally and physically active one day and completely “lazy” the next. All dogs need exercise, but a retired working dog will be much happier (and healthier!) if you continue to work with them. That doesn’t mean you need to mimic the job they used to do. But, making sure their mind and body stay active will be beneficial for you both.
Depending on their physical abilities, make sure you exercise with your dog each day. That could be something as simple as a walk around the neighborhood to an hour or so at the local dog park. If they’re older or have mobility issues, try activities that are easier on their joints, like swimming.
Keeping a dog’s brain active is just as important – especially for older furry friends. Brain games are great ways to keep their minds sharp and young, and they can be fun to put together. Something like a “food puzzle” is a great way to pique your dog’s interest. Or, fill a bowl of water with toys and treats, then freeze it solid on a hot day. Your dog will love digging around to get their favorite goodies, and they’ll stay cool.
Retired working dogs can be overly curious and want to examine their surroundings, especially if they aren’t being physically or mentally stimulated. Make sure you’re keeping them safe by sealing up any potentially poisonous substances in your house when they’re walking around. Everything from dryer sheets to tea and coffee can be harmful to a dog’s health, so if they seem to be natural explorers, protect them from their own curiosity.
Caring for a retired working dog can be an incredibly rewarding and fulfilling experience. After everything they’ve done to help mankind in some way, giving them a good life in their golden years is the least we, as humans, can do to say “thanks.”
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