How to Adopt a Retired Military Dog

German shepherds are among the dog breeds favored for military service.
German Shepherd image by Terraina Lambert from

Dogs have a long history of participation in warfare, dating at least back to the Roman Empire. The United States did not formally bring dogs into military use until World War II, when the civilian population was asked to donate suitable dogs for military service. The dogs who survived were usually returned to their owners after the war. By the Vietnam War era, however, the U.S. military adopted a policy of killing military dogs at the end of their service, and not allowing adoption. Outrage followed, and the policy ended in November 2000, when then-President Bill Clinton signed into law a bill that allows the adoption of retired military dogs. Now you can adopt a retired military dog if you are patient and follow required procedures.

Step 1

Assess your home and style of living. Adopting a dog that will not fit into your lifestyle is not fair to you or the dog. The breeds used for military work are high-energy, high-drive dogs that need lots of exercise and a job to do. If you adopt such a dog and can't meet these needs, you will have a frustrated, possibly destructive animal on your hands. If you like long walks and ventures to the beach or mountain trails, or if you are looking for a dog to team up with in agility or obedience trials, you will not find a better candidate. The three breeds routinely used for sentry or patrol are the German shepherd dog, Belgian malinois and Dutch shepherd. Detection dogs often are Labrador retrievers, Golden retrievers and occasionally some other sporting dog breeds or mixes. Most military dogs released for adoption will have had some kind of training, including some basic obedience.

Step 2

Check with organizations that work to ensure retired military dogs are placed in good homes after their service. The Military Working Dog Adoptions web site ( has information on policies and procedures for adoptions. This private organization advocates for the right of military dogs to be returned to this country and adopted following service.

Step 3

Find your state on the list of Military Working Dog resource numbers on the Military Working Dog Adoption site. There you will find contact numbers for military bases that participate in adoption programs for retired military dogs. Call the base or organization closest to where you live and inquire about "excess" or "pending disposition" dogs available for civilian adoption. If dogs are available, ask how you may begin the application process.

If no dogs are currently available, ask to be put on a wait list. Dogs often become available for adoption due to injuries the military considers "career ending" but that would not bother a companion dog. Some dogs are relieved of duty because they are simply not cut out to be military working dogs.

Step 4

Once you are on a waiting list, call often to check on your status. Trainers get busy. Adopting a dog is a priority for you, but not for them.

Step 5

Make sure you meet the adoption eligibility requirements before you start the adoption process.

You may be required to have prior dog experience and a secure fenced yard. If you do not have a fenced yard, you will be asked how the dog will get exercise and meet his toileting needs.

The dog may be neutered already, but if he is not, you may be asked to make the commitment to have him neutered.

You will need to provide two forms of identification and two references who will attest to your suitability to adopt a military working dog.

You will be asked to provide the ages of every person in your household and describe any other household companion animals living there. You will be asked if you rent your home or own it. If you rent, you will be required to provide written proof of the landlord’s consent for you to have a large dog.

You will also need to provide an explanation of where the dog will sleep, how frequently he will be left alone at home, and where he will stay in the event you go out of town. You will be asked to provide your veterinarian’s contact information, and you will be asked for a commitment to provide any future veterinary care the dog may need.


  • Military and police organizations, as well as the dogs' handlers, have priority over civilians for adoption.


  • There is no adoption fee for retired military dogs, but you will be responsible for all veterinary costs after the adoption is final.



About the Author

Michelle A. Rivera is the author of many books and articles. She attended the University of Missouri Animal Cruelty School and is certified with the Florida Animal Control Association. She is the executive director of her own nonprofit, Animals 101, Inc. Rivera is an animal-assisted therapist, humane educator, former shelter manager, rescue volunteer coordinator, dog trainer and veterinary technician.

Photo Credits

  • German Shepherd image by Terraina Lambert from