Friday, April 19, 2013


Trust is an issue with mill rescues, they have no reason to trust anyone.  After years of neglect and abuse, trust must be earned little by little. Be patient.

NEVER force or allow friends to force attention on a mill survivor. Do not to look your dog directly in the eyes. This is a sign of dominance and can often scare a mill survivor.  Friends and family should do the same.  It is not uncommon for mill dogs simply never to accept outsiders. Let your dog set the pace.

Protect without enabling. This is a tough one. We all want to protect and coddle a mill dog, but this is usually not the best for the dog. Remember, these dogs have NEVER heard a TV, a door bell, many have never heard traffic or a car horn. These things can be frightening to a mill baby. It is our nature to try to protect our mill dogs from frightening things, but they MUST become accustomed to the sounds and activities of a normal household.  The fear response can be hiding, cowering or even flight. This is why we suggest letting them drag a leash even when in the home. Your reaction to their fear can either escalate it or calm it. Every dog knows how to read nervousness. If you become upset at these sounds the dog will believe it is something to fear.  If you remain relaxed, your mill survivor will also calm down. They will soon figure out on their own that these things are not harmful. By following your lead, the dog is also learning to trust you.

Massage! Although not every dog appreciates a good massage, the benefits are amazing. They can relieve stress for you and the dog while gaining the dogs trust in the process. Often mill dogs are handled roughly, grabbed by the scruff, ears, legs. . . whatever is available.  Getting them to trust human hands can be a task. Before you begin, make sure your dog is in a place that is comfortable for them, not necessarily you.  It will be much easier for the dog if you are in their comfort space instead of the other way around. Start by gently and slowly running your hand from the back of the neck all the way down to the lower spine. You can increase the pressure as you continue to stroke. This will do several things. It is teaching your survivor that they can be touched, especially in areas where they might have been grabbed, without pain. Secondly it stimulates the part of the spinal cord that controls the rest and relaxation responses of the body.  Most importantly, it builds trust.

NEVER yell at or rush toward your mill survivor. This will only worsen the anxiety and possibly cause fear aggression. Remember, these dogs do not know anything about life outside of a cage. Be gentle in your guidance and they will soon learn what is expected of them.

Trust must be earned and cannot be forced especially with a puppy mill survivor. The key to a rewarding experience is patience.  Enjoy each day as your survivor discovers a world outside of a cage and learns to love and trust, and be satisfied in knowing that you are the one to show them this new life.

For more information on relaxation massage please see

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Leash training

Putting a leash on a dog is as natural for us as getting dressed, but to a puppy mill survivor, it can be traumatic and terrifying. Many view it as a snake that is about to attack.

We suggest harnesses for all puppy mill dogs. Puppy Mill survivors may have never had a leash on in their lives. Start slowly. First let them get used to the feel of the harness. Allow them to wear it around the house where they are comfortable. Some dogs will actually lay down and refuse to move the first time a harness is worn, some will actually try to bit at the harness, but don’t give up. They will get used to the felling and eventually pay no attention to it.

Once your mill survivor has gotten used to the harness, snap the leash on. At this point, do not try to lead the dog anywhere. Allow them to drag the leash. There will be some panic at first. Some dogs will try to run from the “monster” that is chasing them, others may freeze, some will actually attack the leash. Whatever their response is, know that it is temporary and they are acting out of pure fear. This response does not usually last long, maybe a few minutes to as much as a half hour. The worst thing you can do is give up and remove the leash. Allow the dog to come to terms with it in their own way. We suggest that this is done indoors so there is less chance of flight (running away).

Ok, so now they realize that the leash is not about to eat them, what next? We occasionally pick up the leash and hold it without pulling the dog or putting pressure on the harness.  This is done many, many times throughout the day.  If your mill survivor will accept food treats, this is the perfect time to give a few. 

Now you can start to lead the dog in the direction you want them to go. NEVER pull the dog by the leash. 

Most mill survivors are submissive and tend to follow rather than lead. While holding the leash and speaking softly to the dog, take a few steps away and try to get the dog to follow you, then a few more. It is a slow process but the least traumatic on the dog.  Some dogs are more resistant than others. We have occasionally had to move a few steps away and sit down on the ground to get them to move toward us. When they do, they are praised and we move a few more feet away, repeating the process until they follow easily.  With patience and persistence, your mill survivor will be leash trained and ready to explore its new world.

***An important note**** NEVEAR leave a leash on a dog that is unattended. The last thing you need is for them to become hung up on something and panic possibly hurting themselves.

Monday, April 15, 2013


Coprophagia is a fancy word for feces eating.  No matter what you call it, humans find the eating of poop disgusting and rightly so.

Many dogs, especially those from puppy mills have a tendency to eat poop either their own or another dogs.  As disgusting as that may be, there are reasons for this behavior especially in the mill survivor. A normal mother will consume the wastes from her puppies as she cleans and stimulates them. But it often goes farther than that.

Overcrowding, poor quality or lack of food, and aggressive behavior from a “cell mate” can be the cause.  Sometimes, as an act of self-preservation, puppy mill survivors resorted to this in order to stay alive.
Another reason is a simple one, if you can imagine, you have a very limited space (usually 3 x 3 ft.) in which to live, eat, sleep and raise your young. You must also defecate in this same area. Although the cages are normally wire bottomed not all of the waste falls through. Now you must either sleep in it or get rid of it one way or another. 

Once out of the mill, some dogs actively seek out poop because they are so used to consuming it. If you have a “seeker”, give them something else to seek. Many dogs like popcorn, so you can try tossing a handful into the yard prior to letting the dog out. They will often turn their attention to finding the popcorn treasures instead of something else. If popcorn doesn’t work for your dog, try something else. It is not what they are finding, it is the act of seeking that is the distraction. 

Over a period of years, this becomes a habit that some find hard to break. Thankfully there are things you can do and products out there to help. 

Most importantly, keep the dogs area free of stool. They cannot eat what they cannot find.
Do not allow your mill dog to go out and take care of business alone. The temptation is going to be greatest right after he /she does the duty so make sure to be there and distract, clean up or move the dog away from the area.

When all else fails, a product called FOR-BID, a safe, vegetable protein and sodium glutamate that works in the digestive system to give stools a bad taste, and yes, it does work. The animals seem to like the initial taste when sprinkled on their food but are usually deterred from consuming the waste product.

Regardless of the reason, the cure lies in understanding the unacceptable behavior and knowing how to intervene.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Locomotory behaviors

Many puppy mill survivors have an anxiety disorder known as stereotypic locomotory behaviors which can encompass circling, pacing, wall-bouncing, tail chasing and obsessive licking. It seems the more time a dog has spent in the confined area of a puppy mill, the more anxiety develops.  Let’s face it, puppy mill survivors are psychologically different when compared to the general dog population. 

A study performed by the Center for Shelter Dogs showed that “ex-breeder puppy mill dogs displayed significantly higher rates of fear (to unfamiliar people, to other dogs, and to noises and motions in their surroundings). They also showed about one-half the level of aggression that typical pet dogs do toward unfamiliar people, other dogs, and to their owner. While this might be seen as a good thing, it appears to be due to the overwhelmingly high levels of fear in the dogs, which then suppresses normal aggressive behavior. So it seems to be a good thing, but only because of very bad reasons.”

Overall, the results of the study show that dogs kept in puppy mills develop extreme and persistent fears and phobias, altered mental functioning, compulsive behaviors which is why they need us to be patient and kind but firm and in-charge.

The first thing that anyone wants to do with a fearful dog is to comfort it. This is not always the best thing depending on the behavior the dog is exhibiting. For a dog who enjoys human companionship, that cooing and cuddling is a signal to the dog that it is doing the right thing. If the dog is behaving fearful, there are mixed messages being sent and the dog may believe that you want this behavior to continue.  There is a very fine line between comforting and condoning.  

Anxiety can be another form of fear and displays as pacing, circling or excessive licking. This is the physical activity of the mental state. It can be occasional, occurring only when the dog is stressed.  We first try to figure out what is stressing the dog.  It could be anything from a moved piece of furniture or a new person in the house.  At that point, do nothing. I know, this sounds cruel, but by letting the dog figure things out on its own will alleviate some of the anxiety and build their confidence. Picking them up at this point and “comforting” them will only cause them to be more anxious about change. Once they have calmed down and are less anxious, the praise and cuddling begins. Celebrate the successes. It is almost like having a child, although you want to do everything for them, you know there are things – no matter how hard – that they must figure out on their own. 

In the following video you can see Chloe in her circling and pacing mode. You may think my voice is too stern, but it is what works for her, I am not asking but telling her.  She is still submissive and cowers when reached for no matter what tone of voice is used.  After she is in my arms and still tense, I do not immediately start the praise. I wait for her body to relax to begin the praise and petting thus teaching her that the relaxed mode is what I want from her.

Puppy Mill survivors are always a work in progress. Dealing with their fears in the right way can help them become less fearful and more confident. Be patient and try different approaches to find what works best for your mill baby.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Fear of Bowls

In most mills, dogs are never given water or food out of a bowl. A “rabbit” water bottles and automatic bin feeders are hung on their cage where they can be accessed without opening the cage door preventing escapes.  Often these water bottles are left for days, some turn green with algae but it is the only source of water available to the dogs. After all, the most important thing in a mill is to save time and make money. Time spent washing and filling water and food bowls is wasted according to some mill operators.  When offered water or food in a bowl, most mill dogs see this as completely foreign, and can be very frightening to them.

Remember the mill dog is used to living in a tight, confined place often with other dogs. The food they did get may have started fights or have been spoiled. If the dog is submissive, it may have only been left leftovers by the dominant dog in the pen.  A plate of high quality food in a big open room is scary enough but add to this that every time the human was there with the food, it was often used to get the dog close enough to grab causing more pain and fear.

Teaching a mill survivor to eat and drink normally can be a task, but patience and persistence will pay off.
Start by offering the dog food and water in a quiet room, don’t stand too close to the dishes but stay in the room so he/she can associate you with the meal. Many will only eat or drink when they feel it is safe to do so. If you have not seen the dog eat or drink for a few days, more effort may need to be made to make them feel secure. We have found that sitting on the floor not directly facing the dog but holding out a piece of food can sometimes entice them.  At one point, it took hours and a very sore back but the dog finally grabbed the food from my hand (and yes I meant grabbed – had to count my fingers afterwards). But trust was starting to be built and she was eating and that was more important than anything.  Sometimes having another dog around helps as well. Remember mill dogs live in a community of sorts and often can learn from other dogs. Thankfully this was the case with Red. She followed the other dogs’ lead and after a week or so, she was eating from the bowls alongside another rescue.

Getting them to drink from a water bowl can be a bit more challenging and take some creativity.  You can try adding a bit of chicken broth to the water, which will occasionally work. One trick we found came quite by accident. These dogs are used to the feeling of the metal ball against their tongues when drinking from the water bottles. We found that leaving only about a half inch of water in a stainless bowl did the trick for some. When they went to drink, their tongues touched the bottom of the bowl giving them a familiar feeling.  It worked with some dogs but not others. We have also tried using raised food and water dishes.  Dog used to eating and drinking from automatic dispensers are used to standing with the head level to the body when eating or drinking. This will occasionally work too, but every mill survivor is different, so be patient until you find the right combination for your specific dog.

When all else fails you may need to resort to hanging a water bottle above the bowl. This is what they are used to. We slowly lower the bottle over a period of days until the tip in in the water bowl forcing the dog to basically drink from the bowl.  

No matter what method works for a mill rescue, the key is patience. We all worry when a dog doesn’t eat or drink for a day or so, but you must remember, a mill survivor’s whole world has changed in a very short time and they are stressed. They need time to adjust and to feel safe before they start eating and drinking without fear.


Photo credits