service dogs picture Loic Venance, AFP / Getty Images

In January, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania's School of Veterinary Medicine quietly embarked on an important new study to investigate a curious phenomenon: trained service dogs suddenly quitting early on in the job for no apparent reason. Until now, the issue had not been examined.

"We're studying seeing-eye dogs and a population of assistance dogs to try to find out why they don't seem to want to do it anymore," the study's lead researcher, Dr. James Serpell, tells Paw Nation. "They just seem to stop working, meaning they stop doing what they're trained to do."

The study will take three years and is funded by the Morris Animal Foundation. "We are working very closely with three organizations," says Dr. Serpell. "The sample size we're aiming for is a total of 800 dogs that are already out working as guide or service dogs." The breeds of dogs being studied include Golden retrievers, Labrador retrievers, German shepherds and Labrador/golden-retriever mixes.

The rates at which service dogs stop working vary by organization. "Twenty percent is the highest figure I've seen, yet not all organizations would say 20 percent," says Dr. Serpell. "But all have early-retiring dogs that return within the first year or two or three years."

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