Why Do Police Dogs Retire?

Our writers & fact checkers independently research, test, analyze, and recommend the best motorcycle products. We may receive commissions from purchases made via our links.

This article may contain affiliate links where we earn a commission from qualifying purchases.

The life of police dogs is fraught with danger, risking their lives to assist and protect law enforcement. But why do police dogs retire relatively early?

Police dogs start working as K9 units when they are roughly between the ages of 12 and 15 months and are referred to as the bravest dogs in the world. They are trained to detect drugs and explosives, hunt down bad guys, find missing people, and consistently run towards danger.

Police dogs retire if they are injured or get old. Most police departments will retire their K9 units when they are about 9 to 10 years old. Police dogs live in highly stressful and demanding conditions, which is why they retire from active duty when they are between 8 and 10 years old.

We will be sharing fascinating bits and pieces of knowledge to help you understand what police dogs do in law enforcement, the laws protecting police dogs after retirement, the factors that determine why police dogs retire from their jobs, what happens to police dogs after retirement, and how you can adopt a retired police dog.

After conducting extensive research on why police dogs retire and watching interviews with K9 trainers, we have shared the definitive answers that will enlighten you. If you ever wondered what happens to police dogs when they retire, you're not alone.

In this article

‍All About Police Dogs in Law Enforcement

Intelligent and tough breeds such as the Belgian Malinois and German Shepherd are considered to be exceptional police dogs. The average working life for a police dog would be somewhere between 8 and 9 years, depending on their health.

As K9 units are constantly placed under strenuous circumstances, they may exhibit abnormal behaviors like separation anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and even aggression.

The Unlikely Salvation from Robby's Law

Military and police dogs were generally euthanized or "put to sleep" once they retired from active service until 2000. The government had its reasons for this. They felt K9s couldn't adjust to a sedentary lifestyle after living a stressful life in law enforcement. Their specialized training and experiences in the field make them dangerous and could potentially harm the public.

However, President Bill Clinton signed a law in Congress in 2000 to protect retired military and police dogs. It was known as Robby's Law, and it permitted the adoption of police and military dogs by their handles after retirement. Widespread approval by the public greeted the law, and many handlers were delighted as they could now legally adopt their K9 companions.

Factors Affecting the Work, Length of Service, and Retirement of Police Dogs

Police dogs help fight crime their entire lives, from being little puppies to adult dogs. They fight crime like their human counterparts and are always brave in the line of duty, facing many risks.

The life expectancy of a police dog is impacted by various factors from the health, maintenance, environment to the hazardous and stressful situations they face when searching for missing people after a natural disaster or searching for drugs and explosives. Some of these factors include:

Dangers and Stress at Work

Police dogs are often the first to arrive at any crime scene or a major catastrophe where people are hurt or missing, such as after a building collapses or an earthquake. In some instances, they are placed in unfairly dangerous situations and hazardous environments where criminals can hurt them.

They also face external threats like exposure to toxic chemicals or dangerous drugs, explosions, or being hit by gunfire during a shootout. For that reason, military and police dogs are considered the bravest dogs in the world and have won countless medals for their gallantry.

Their Training

Police dogs face dangerous situations and threats every day serving in law enforcement. Therefore, the performance and abilities of police dogs while carrying out their duties safely and efficiently without endangering themselves depend exclusively on their training. Poorly trained police dogs will make costly mistakes on the field that may cost lives, even their own.

For example, a K9-unit who hasn't been trained to return to their human companion when commanded quickly may be hesitant or distracted in a life-or-death situation. If the dog doesn't heed the command or respond quickly enough, it may give the armed suspects the chance to escape, or worse, fire their weapon at the officers or the dog, killing them on the spot.

Poor Handling

The lifespan, health, and well-being of police dogs are directly impacted by their human handlers or law enforcement personnel. Police dogs with proper training will act instantly and put on their game faces at the flick of a switch. These K9s are heavily dependent on their handlers to give them direction in the line of fire to do their jobs safely and effectively.

A shoddy or unprepared handler will not only put their dog at risk but everyone out there with them. Failing to handle a trained K9 unit can result in numerous tragedies like unintentional bites, dogs being fatally wounded by criminals, or being left behind in the patrol car.

Their Maintenance

Police dogs are costly to maintain and train, mainly because they must be adequately fed and healthy. Their medical needs must be addressed immediately, and their training, payroll, and equipment cost significant funding.

Police departments that have K9s on their payroll must have enough money to care for and train police dogs properly; otherwise, they will shorten the work-life of the dog. That will mean their police dogs will need to be retired earlier than usual since the performance of a police dog in the field relies on their maintenance off the field.

What Happens to Police Dogs After Retirement?

Whenever a police dog reaches the age of 7 or 9 years, there may be talks surrounding their retirement from the police force. Sending a police dog that is injured or impaired is unnecessarily cruel and can even be dangerous for the dog and law enforcement. It's always in the best interest of aging or injured police dogs to retire them and have them adopted by their handlers so they can spend their remaining years in peace, love, and comfort.

Even the general public can sign up to adopt police dogs, but you must know that life with a police dog won't be as easy as it seems. That's mainly because the demanding and stressful lives of a K9-unit can cause them to exhibit negative behaviors, including:

  1. Depression
  2. Aggression
  3. Anxiety
  4. Anti-social behavior
  5. Separation anxiety
  6. Post-traumatic stress disorder

Most people don't want to adopt a retired police dog for these reasons because it requires a significant commitment, and you must be prepared to handle all the dog's needs.

Should You Adopt a Retired Police Dog?

There's no denying that retired police dogs should be treated like real American heroes as they have served their country in the line of duty. They deserve to spend their retirement years in luxury and witness the love and affection of a loving household. Robby's Law has meant that retired police dogs can now be adopted by their handlers, which is the best thing for them.

However, even civilians have the option to adopt a retired police dog. It's an excellent way to thank dogs who protected your community and kept everyone safe. Still, you should only consider adopting a retired police dog if you're prepared to give them your full attention and care, as most of them are in their senior years.

That means you will need to commit a lot of time and money, which may involve ongoing medical expenses. Your K9 could have retired due to medical problems or injury, and you will have to take care of all their medical care. Also, the process of adopting retired police dogs isn't easy but can be very rewarding, as you will be living with a true American hero.

If you're ready for the additional responsibility and commitment, head over to your nearest police station and start your search to adopt a retired police dog today.