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Guide To Adopting Military Working Dogs

Hello! Thank you for your interest in adopting a Military Working Dog. This guide was last updated on December 13, 2010.

I have put this guide together to share everything I learned during the process of adopting a retired MWD (military working dog) from Lackland AFB. Information on the internet can be sketchy, so I'm going into as much detail as possible. This is based on personal experience. I don't know everything about MWD adoption and your personal adoption process may vary.

About The Dogs

First and foremost, understand that these are not perfect dogs. Some of them are older dogs who have seen years of service. They have all of the ailments that accompany age and hard living. Some of them couldn't pass MWD training in the allotted time and were dropped from the program. Others are retiring because their handlers discovered health problems. Though they may never have traveled overseas or seen a battlefield, all of them have spent their entire lives training to save humans from danger.

Primarily, you will find German Shepherd Dogs, Labrador Retrievers and Belgian Malnois. Once in awhile, another breed or mixed breed dog is available. The dogs that were dropped from the training program are 1 to 3 years old, on average.

Depending on the dog you adopt, it may be fully schutzhund trained, or it may not even be house-trained. It may be environmentally sensitive, afraid of heights, independent, aggressive toward other dogs, and so forth. Some dogs are only available to law enforcement, families without small pets, or families without young children.

Now that I have given you all of the disclaimers, let me tell you about the dog that I adopted. Bart N186 is the most loyal and beautiful dog I have ever owned. He was dropped from the training program for being environmentally insecure. Eight weeks after I brought him home, he graduated from obedience class, won an amateur race, and became a confident member of our household. The local schutzhund group thinks he has real talent. He passed his AKC CGC and TDI tests, making him a canine good citizen and registered therapy dog. He is also learning rally, agility, and tracking. He is alert, incredibly strong, and an amazing deterrent against intruders. With his family, he is affectionate and can go from guard dog to lap dog in three seconds flat.

There are many other retiring dogs that need adoption. Whatever the dog's history, physical and mental health, the adoption coordinator will tell you everything in as much detail as possible. The dogs are given a temperament test and altered (spayed or neutered). They are also given a complete veterinary exam before adoption. There is no adoption fee!

Dogs at Lackland AFB live in a 6'x8' concrete and chain link run, in a facility with many other dogs. It is not fully protected from the elements. They are walked and brushed for 15 minutes, every other day. Expect your dog to have the symptoms of a long kennel stay if he has been waiting very long for adoption. He may also be quite dirty. The dogs are used to being transported in crates. Several people have successfully brought a dog home in the back seat with a harness and seatbelt attachment, using seat covers.

Most of the dogs are eating Science Diet. They are fed at midnight and 4:00pm. If you plan to use another brand of dog food, remember that the change must be made gradually over a week to avoid stomach upset. The dogs are treated with Frontline and Heartguard on the first Friday of each month. They are microchipped and have a tattoo in their left ear.

Finding Retiring Dogs

All of the dogs are trained at Lackland AFB in San Antonio, TX. Dogs may be available for adoption at any base with a MWD program. You will need to call the base directly. Ask to speak with someone at the MWD facility or kennels, hopefully their adoption disposition coordinator. You may need to use the keywords "in excess" or "pending disposition" to find dogs available for adoption. For adoptions at Lackland AFB in San Antonio, send an email to the adoption disposition coordinator at You can contact him by phone at (800) 531-1066, however email works best. When I adopted my dog, the coordinator was Mr. Rodney Sparkowich. MSgt. Joel Burton and TSgt Joseph Null have also acted as coordinators. The Lackland AFB coordinator places hundreds of dogs every year, so understand that he is very busy.

After you contact a base with dogs available for adoption, ask for an application. The application is lengthy. You will be asked very specific questions about yourself, your home and yard, current and previous pets, family members, intentions for the dog, training techniques you use, veterinarian contact, and personal contacts. Make sure these personal contacts will be available by phone on adoption day. I highly recommend filling it out in Word format and emailing a copy as an attachment. If your application gets lost, you will have the original document and can just email it again.

If you are adopting a dog for service with a law enforcement agency, there are more dogs to choose from but additional paperwork is required. Contact the adoption disposition coordinator and read this document: Law Enforcement Agency Information.

Adopting A Dog

Once you have sent in the application, call and/or email to make an appointment. Usually your appointment will be on a Monday, but you can also make one for Tuesday or Wednesday. Expect this date to be a month or more in the future. About a week before your appointment, check in with the adoption coordinator and ask about available dogs. You can visit this web site (Department of Defense Military Working Dog School) but understand that it is not a complete list, nor is it entirely up to date.

There is no guarantee that any dogs will be available on the day of your appointment, especially if you have specific gender or breed requirements. Mr. Sparkowich does his best to schedule appointments every day to both civilians and law enforcement officers. Sometimes there are too many dogs, other times there aren't enough to go around. A dog can retire or drop out of the training program at any time, so there is no schedule as to when dogs become available. He may not know until 5pm the weekday before your appointment if there will be a dog for you to see. If there isn't, he will try to reschedule you as soon as possible.

There is a pet-friendly Motel 6 on the 410 Loop (Motel 6 West/SeaWorld #651). They are very close to Lackland AFB and offer a 10% discount to AKC members (code CP542764). As of June 2009, expect to pay $200 for 3 nights. The rooms are like pods in a space station. Everything is space efficient. There is a flat screen TV built into the wall. There is no blow-dryer, iron, clock radio, fridge, microwave, or coffee machine. There is not even a box of kleenex. Pillows are small and towels are barely big enough to do the job. The room is clean and the staff is friendly. If you prefer to stay at a Studio 6, you can use the AKC discount code CP542765.

You will need to take two forms of ID, a collar, a leash, a toy, and whatever you would like to use to transport the dog. The dogs are trained with large and XL Kongs. They are used to a metal slip collars made of very long links with a heavy leather leash. They are taught to pull their handlers everywhere, so don't expect the dogs to walk nicely or heel. If you would like, you can bring your own dog to see if he/she will get along with the MWD (military working dog).

When you arrive at Lackland AFB via Valley Hi Drive, you must stop at the visitor's center. You and all passengers must show your IDs - usually a driver's license and a proof of insurance for the vehicle. The adoption coordinator calls ahead to make sure you are given a pass. From there, you will drive to the kennels at 1239 Knight Street. From the visitor's center, go straight ahead to the first light, turn right, and drive quite a distance until you see a small building and kennels on your left. Inside the building, his shared office is the first door on the right with glass windows.

After reviewing dog's records and deciding which ones you want to see, the adoption coordinator will take you out to a large, fenced agility field. He will bring one dog at a time. You can evaluate them however you wish. I took a few chicken jerky treats, a tug toy and a tennis ball. It took about 15 minutes to begin to see each dog's unique personality. The coordinator comments on their personalities based on many years of experience, so you will get more insight into the dog than just a little play time.

When you choose a dog, one of two things happens. If the dog has already had its video-taped temperament test and been altered, you can take him home the very next day. You sign a release form, slip on the collar and leash, and go home with a new family member. If the dog needs testing and/or alteration, the adoption coordinator will tell you what date the dog will be ready to go home. You will have to make a return trip.

Adoption Details

Make sure that you learn all of the commands and hand signals your dog has been taught. You will be given your dog's complete records. In that package, you should have proof of rabies vaccination. Your dog will not have a tag. You must take these records to your local veterinarian. He can issue a tag for your state's normal fee, without giving the dog another shot. My vet did not require me to bring the dog, only the paperwork.

You will need know your dog's microchip identification number and call the microchip company, usually Avid or HomeAgain. They can update the dog's records with your contact information. This is an important aid to recovering your dog if he is ever lost or stolen. If the number is not in your dog's paperwork, the vet can scan your dog to find it. There is often a small annual fee associated with the microchip subscription. HomeAgain charges $15 per year for their service, which includes rapid lost pet alerts, pet medical insurance, a 24/7 emergency medical hotline, a national pet recovery database, and access to lost pet specialists.

Once you are settled in, take pictures of your dog and visit Military Working Dog Adoptions. They keep track of retired MWDs and will want to post pictures of yours. Also, mention that your dog is a retired MWD to pet supply vendors. PetSmart and PetCo don't offer special discounts, but almost everyone else does.

Your dog will not be listed with any breed registries and his paperwork won't contain information about his bloodline. If he is a purebred, the AKC (American Kennel Club) will allow you to register your dog through their PAL/ILP program. This "Purebred Alternative Listing", formerly known as the "Indefinite Listing Priviledge", will allow you to enter many AKC events. If your new dog is not purebred, you can still register with the AKC through their new mixed breed program.

There is now a fact sheet explaining more about Military Working Dogs. Also read the new Frequently Asked Questions document.

I hope that this information has been useful and will help you get started. Adopting a retired MWD is a long process but well worth the effort. These are special dogs that deserve a good home.