Helping Puppy Mill Dogs

This weekend I visited a wonderful woman doing rescue for small breeds, mostly bichons from puppy mills. I had somewhat randomly discovered that she lived close to me, and went to visit in hopes I could help out a bit. I also had a selfish motivation: as many of you know, Karen London and I are writing a booklet on adopting an adolescent or adult dog, and we are always looking for input from people in shelters and rescues.

There were 4 or 5 dogs from puppy mills that were terrifically shy; so much so that they ran  away from people, even after being there for a very long time. Obviously, this is a very common problem in dogs who grew up in almost total isolation, and was one of the challenges she was facing I hoped I could help with. We had one session, and it looked like it might be very helpful to use the methods described in The Cautious Canine. We put all the dogs away except 2 of the cautious ones, and I sat on the floor and tossed treats toward the dogs, who started a good 15 ft away from me. At the end of 20 minutes, the dogs were within 3 or 4 feet, and most encouragingly, they followed behind me when I got up and moved toward the door. Of course, this is going to take a long time, but we were both encouraged at how well they responded.

In my experience, how the dogs ultimately respond depends on their genetics. All of them have had no socialization (at best, at worst been abused by people) and how they cope with a new environment is mediated by their genetics. If they are naturally shy they are probably never going to be comfortable around strangers, but could learn to be comfortable around their ‘family.’ If they are naturally a bit bolder, who knows how far they can go?

The key to getting this to work is to not go too far at any one time. I never leaned toward the dogs, never tried to pet them, and never threw the food too close to me. If they had to stretch to get the food, back legs planted and body ready to bolt, the food was too close and I’d be careful to throw it further away the next time.

I suspect it also helped to have 2 dogs there at once, acting as a bit of competition, and perhaps also as a bit of a role model. As one dog would come closer, it encouraged the other to do the same. Too many dogs would probably end up causing trouble, and of course you’d want to avoid 2 dogs who were aggressive over food, but I like the “model/rival” aspects of this. We’ll go back when we get back from NY and Chicago (Clicker Exp, oh boy!) and keep it up.

I’d love to hear your stories about helping dogs from neglectful or abusive situations: Besides patience (we mention that so often in the draft of our booklet we are afraid people will lose patience with us….), what did you find most helpful?

MEANWHILE, back on the farm: Willie got to be off leash a bit on the weekend; based on the vet’s instructions to let him move a bit more before his appt at UW on Monday. Oooooh, what a joy to see him finally free, eyes shining, body spinning and mouth happy. But all that ended after our PT appt on Monday: the PT was able (yeah for her) to see him favor his left leg and she advised that he go back on leash for a long time. We still don’t know what’s wrong, so I am getting a second opinion from UW’s orthopedic shoulder specialist (oh yes, I am very very lucky to have all these resources close by!) That appt is for March 21, so we’ll have to wait til then to see if the condition is surgical or not in her opinion. Even if it’s not, best estimate is it’ll be 3-4 months before Willie is recovered, and lots and lots of leash restrictions until then. If surgical, could be longer.

Tough news for Willie, he looked absolutely miserable when he came back to the house and had to stay on leash. Tough news for me; I don’t need to tell you how hard it is to not be able to explain to your dog why you are taking away all his fun. And I had entered him in a wonderful herding dog trial (the Bluegrass) in KY in May. Been wanting to enter that with my own dog for 20 years. No chance for that, looks like trialing is pretty much out for the season. And Jim and I have agreed to start fostering again; we actually had a dog lined up to come to the farm any day. (No, not from the place I mentioned above, but who knows someday? Every farm needs a Bichon? But for right now, that’s out too.)

Yes, you bet, we’ll play lots of games with Willie and I’ll figure out new tricks to teach him, but his greatest loves in life are 1) to run, 2) to play with toys (which he does so vigorously that we have no choice but to take them away, and 3) to work sheep. Ah, I know that soooo many of you have been through this; we did this for 5 weeks when Willie was 10 months. We’ll get through it. But ouch. So, it’s on leash and PT, acupuncture, chiro, supplements and meds (western and eastern) for 2 weeks, then hopefully we can at least figure out what we are dealing with.

Here’s good news though: Saturday was great fun. 10 students from the UW Small Ruminant Club came out and learned how to use ultrasound to do pregnancy checks on ewes. The shearer also came out, so they also got to help with that, along with hoof trimming and vaccinating. The ewes are all well along (first one due 3/25)  so it wasn’t a mystery that they were bred, but still there was lots for the students to see. (Me too, it’s a fascinating technology.)

Here’s Lady Godiva being ultrasounded, and illustrating something related to the fearful puppy mill dogs discussed above. In person she actually looked quite  ‘relaxed,’ which is typical for sheep in this position. As did she, they often stay still on their own, relax their forelegs and heads and look almost sleepy. But outward appearance isn’t always a good indication of internal state, and research at UC Davis found that sheep in this position are flooded with cortisol, suggesting that they are in ‘tonic immobility’ rather than relaxed. That can also be true of our dogs; they seem ‘calm’ but are actually frozen with fear. Very typical of puppy mill dogs I’m sad to say.


  1. says

    I’m fostering a 5-6 mos-old puppy who spent her formative months outside and who, according to her previous caregivers, was hit multiple times as a form of punishment.

    She is not even near what you describe with the puppy mill dogs, but she is reactive around new people – barks, hackles, growls. No lunging or teeth on skin, but I could see it happening if pushed.

    I’ve been teaching her to target my hand, so that she sees open palms coming towards her as a good thing. This will come in handy with de-sensitizing her, I think (I hope). We’ll see how that goes as I slowly introduce her to new people (willing friends and colleagues).

    In addition to patience, which seems the most importance, making the socialization and training fun for the dog can help boost confidence, I would think.

    The sheep picture reminds me of the sheep at the sanctuary where I work. We used to have a sheep shearer come out who would shear the sheep standing, instead of flipped. Problem was it took longer, the sheep aren’t halter trained and aren’t used to being restrained. I would presume their bodies were being flooded with stress hormones too. We switched to a flipper who can knock out the 7 sheep in about 45-50 minutes, or about 6-7 minutes per sheep. I imagine for a haltered trained sheep desensitized to handling, standing might be more comfortable, but for our slightly crazed sheep, the speed at which the animals can be sheared ended up being more important and possibly less stressful than standing.

  2. Jane says

    We deal with quite a few extremely shy dogs at our shelter, and they’ve become a favorite of mine to work with. We use the same techniques you mention of taking the dog to a quiet room, sitting on the floor, talking quietly and tossing high-value treats. I often make a game out of guessing the number of treats I will need to throw to a distant spot on the floor before the dog will finally just HAVE to come out and investigate. I assume in the first session of 45-60 minutes that I will never pet the dog, and possibly never make eye contact. I do a lot of yawning and pretending to be fascinated with something on the floor like a blanket or my shoelace–calming signals that take the pressure off the dog a bit.

    We’ve also found that many dogs who have spent a lot of time living outside will react very differently outside on a walk than they do inside, even if at first it’s hard to leash them and get them out the door. They are considerably less tense once out in the open air, enough that I think it can help to jump-start the bonding process with the person walking them. One thing that’s amazing to me is that, once I’ve spent a long initial session with these shy dogs, they will usually remember me days later on my next visit to the shelter. We can usually pick up just about where we left off, without having to go back to square one. It’s all about that first hour or two, and making sure to build that slow trust!

  3. says

    Both of my first two dogs had socialization issues when I got them. The first one took years to rehab because, well, I didn’t know what the heck I was doing with him. He taught me so much I don’t even know where to begin. My second dog was a completely changed dog within a week of bringing her home, and was pretty well over any major fear she had by the end of the first year. She benefited tremendously from my experience. Even after just the first weekend I had her you could see it on her face “FINALLY, somebody who GETS me”.

    The techniques I have learned through my experience that I now use and recommend almost exactly mirror the techniques in Cautious Canine. When I bought it, I loved it, and immediately asked my parents to read it because they had a hard time understanding how to behave around my 2nd dog. (they were so used to the first one who was long since over his “issues” at that point)

    Just as I told you years ago at Barnes & Noble in Green Bay – I love you because you have tremendous talent EXPLAINING the things I can’t. I have the natural instincts and understanding of dogs, but I am a complete disaster when it comes to teaching other people to “see it”. Cautious Canine is a gem for this very reason. :)
    (By the way, if you EVER want to come back to do a book signing in Green Bay, just say the word!) :)

  4. Paula Lancaster says

    I know you are tired of hearing “Patience” but that is what it takes. Our little Popo, who came from an Amish puppy mill as a foster and stole our hearts, was soooo fearful. He had never seen the sky or walked on grass or even a plain old floor. I remember days spent standing in the cold freezing rain , praying…Please poop, please Poop! and finally POOP! yay! TREAT! I purposley ignored him the first week, so as not to put pressure on him. But I’d eat a sandwich in front of him (and 2 of my other dogs) as often as I could. My thought was also to give him some competition and role models. Sits get treats! I knew I had him when I saw him trying to figure out how to get up on the couch from a slick laminate floor(which of course, he also had no experience with). He knew he could get from the rug to the coffee table (traction) and then realized it would be easy to get from the coffee table to the couch. Although jumping on the coffee table is forbidden at my house, I let him do it and treated. It built his confidence and problem solving skills. Watching the other “normal” dogs was also very important. They are my best helpers. I’d like to make it clear though…I didn’t go out and adopt 5 dogs all at once. Adopted Creed…trained him, adopted Sandy…trained her, adopted Gracie, trained her…and that is why this works. They are all wonderful and trust me so when I bring home a new foster, they kinda roll their eyes and think…OK what do we have to do with this one?

  5. says

    I adopted my Pit Bull a little over 8 months ago. She doesn’t have the lack of socialization that those Bichons have, but she came from an abusive/neglectful place and had some trust issues. The greatest help for her was to relieve as much pressure from her as possible, and try my best to make her feel protected. When she first came to me she was quite reactive to perceived aggression in people (at first as little as a loud, sharp laugh would elicit a bark, forget raised arms and voices), though thankfully it was always a “please stop what you’re doing” bark, and never more than one or two, and she never lunged/ran after/showed any intention of biting. After months of careful desensitization and counter conditioning, if she’s nervous about someone she’ll look to me for input. All I have to do is smile and tell her she’s OK and she visibly relaxes.

    Thank you so much for your posts, I find them incredibly fascinating and can never get enough!

  6. Dee says

    I have two dogs with “shyness” issues. One came from a local shelter at about 6 months old. Lots of people wanted her at the shelter because she is so cute (a white English Cocker). The shelter staff gave her to me because she was never afraid of me, my husband or my daughter. We were the only people who met her she wasn’t afraid of.

    I worked with a local APDT trainer to help my Cocker overcome her fears. She spent the first puppy class under my chair shaking. We called the exercise you described “Cookie Man.” We had a person sit on the floor and we dropped food around the person, getting closer and closer until she was eating off of the person. We went to class and had private sessions at home and in parks for a couple of years.

    We did a lot of reconditioning with treats and distance – starting far away and getting closer. She was afraid of so many things. The neighbors and our friends helped, too, tossing her treats every time anyone came into the yard or house. We worked on the AKC Canine Good Citizen behaviors as a guideline for what we wanted her to feel comfortable with.

    After about 2 years, she was a lot better, but she was still anxious too often. I wanted her to have a calm, happy life. I had her evaluated by a veterinary behaviorist. She put her on the canine equivalent to Prozac (can’t remember the drug name) and we started over as if she was a puppy being socialized (along with 12 pages of instructions). It worked! She used to be terrified of the little boy next door. Now he she adores him. She is calm and happy in general. She is not afraid of garbage cans, parked cars, men or children.

    I still have to keep small children from running up to her on the street to pet her. I’m not sure how she would react and I don’t want to find out she would be afraid.

    My trainer thinks she knows what breeder my dog came from because she has gotten calls from owners with dogs that look just like my dog and have the same problems…all from the same breeder. She says I’m actually lucky (and my hard work has paid off) because the other dogs are much worse than my dog.

    I have a second dog (a mini Aussie) that I got from an assistant of my trainer who originally got her with the intention of breeding her. Even though she was socialized, she is still anxious/shy. My trainer’s assistant gave her to me because she felt she shouldn’t breed that anxiety. I had her spayed and have been working with her for a little over a year. We’ve made a lot of progress, but have a long way to go. (My veterinary behaviorist wanted to shoot me for getting another anxious dog.) We’ve done a lot of clicker training for eye contact and passive default behavior. A Thunder Shirt takes a little of the edge off, but not all of it.

    I found Gentle Leader harnesses are magic for taking walks. Both of my dogs are afraid of other dogs, but not when they wear GL harnesses. They were conditioned enough to not need them in the neighborhood after about a year, but still used them when we went to the hiking trails in the area.

    Teaching both dogs a list of basic commands has helped a lot too. When new people come to the house, if we give them a handful of treats and ask them to take the dogs through their commands, it calms the dogs down very quickly. I’ve found the younger the person, the more they love this exercise. It is one of the ways the little boy next door has bonded with my dogs. My Cocker is partially deaf. My Aussie can hear and is sharp as a tack. The neighbor kid LOVES to do commands with her because she is so quick to comply. He says, “How does she know English?!” My daughter’s friends love to sit on the floor with the dogs and run them through their commands.

    Please tell Willy I feel for him… and so does my little Aussie. I broke my leg 8 weeks ago and my being on crutches is like him being on a leash. I still have another 4 to 6 weeks before I get to walk. My poor little Aussie is going as stir crazy as Willie because I can’t walk her and play with her outside like usual. Agility equipment in the living room gets old fast. She emptied the toy box last night…. and she has a LOT of toys.

  7. Shalea says

    A greyhound group with which I was very loosely associated had pulled a young-ish litter (just a couple of years old) directly from a farm (so never trained, never raced, and, in their case, no effort made to socialize). Despite the lack of effort to socialize the dogs, most of the dogs were typical of greyhounds and loved people.

    One girl, however, was like a little wild animal, keeping her distance and not willingly approaching people.

    She was fostered by a woman who had several greyhounds of her own and good instincts for not aggravating the problem, but little time or opportunity to work with the dog directly.

    My dog at the time was older, as well as being very sane and sensible, so Gypsy came to spend some weekends with us for more focused work on getting her to warm up to people.

    I hadn’t read Cautious Canine yet, but I had read Turid Rugaas’ book about calming signals, so I took a dual approach. When I was not working specifically with her, I was super-careful to appear non-confronting (didn’t face her head on, didn’t approach her directly, kept my jaw relaxed, etc.) so as to allow her to relax in my presence as much as possible.

    And when it was time to work with her, I still didn’t engage her directly… sort of. I made a show of feeding my boy chicken and ignoring her completely. When a little brown Gypsy-shadow appeared on the far side of my dog, she got some chicken too. In a relatively short time, I was able to pat her during those sessions, and by the last weekend she stayed with us I could even approach her (carefully, calmly, and non-confrontationally, but still).

  8. says

    I got a rescue Aussie (or aussie/bc cross) named Token when he was 2 years old from a rescue that said his prior family’s patriarch tried to kill him one time for eating their couch (among the many other times he was reprimanded read: beaten). He had MAJOR trust and shyness issues. I think there were a couple of things that helped him.

    1) He got his own safety zone day 1. When he got overwhelmed he would put himself into his crate to relax. It was covered with a blanket so it was a safe warm cave. We don’t need the crate anymore, but occasionally when he’s upset he’ll find a small hidey hole and relax.

    2) I have an emotionally/behaviorally/physically healthy Aussie rescue. I got Ariel when she was a young puppy (~7 weeks) so she never had anything bad happen. He still lets her greet people/dogs/anything before he decides they are safe to this day.

    3) I didn’t let him stay in his shell. Just not accepting his behavior (dislike of contact) while making sure not to push him too much every day meant that eventually he would choose to cuddle up to me and follow me around. Anyone who met him also was warned to let him come to them, and because my Ariel (girl) is so gregarious, he’s learned to go get love from strangers too.

    4) ACTIVITIES!!! We hike, we’re learning to sheep herd, we go on bike rides! He and Ariel go everywhere I can take them, so Token has been exposed to lots of situations making him less reactive to new ones.

  9. says

    We offer a reduced rate class for rescues at our training facility. We have seen many shy dogs.

    Locally the rescue near us just took in over 150 Carin terriers from a hoarder. This was so sad. One house with 150 dogs with so high the dogs reached the counter without even jumping.

    I cannot for the life of me understand a hoarder. They really meant no harm but caused so much harm to these dogs.

  10. Beth says

    I’ve never had a shy dog (all of ours have been puppies save for one adult, who was well-socialized and came from a show home, where she was a house dog).

    I have dealt with a very shy semi-feral kitten. That is a whole different kettle of fish from a shy dog. If you toss treats at a shy cat, it will become instantly suspicious of your motives and decide that even having you in eye-sight is a bad idea. Shy cats are often best dealt with by ignoring the completely (no eye contact), letting them see you put down food and immediately walk away (hovering near the dish sets off alarm bells), and not making any sudden moves. After the cat will stay within sight of you, you can then begin introductions by dragging something on a long string for kitty to chase. After that, some will tolerate being stroked with a long wand, though since my shy cat was a young kitten I was able to move right from having her chase stuff to touching her.

    The difference, of course, is in large part because cats are not true social animals; feral cats living in loose “colonies” will buddy up with a partner, but a cat is by genetic nature a solitary creature. The strong desire to form a social group is lacking, and taking advantage of their natural curiosity is the best way to win them over.

  11. Beth says

    I wanted to add that while some cats (like my current one) are highly food-motivated, in my experience those cats are rarely shy. If you try to win a shy cat over with treats, they are convinced you want to trick them in to doing something (which really you do) and so will walk away from even a favorite food.

  12. says

    I volunteer for Retrieve a Golden of MN and we have rescued hundreds of puppy mill dogs over the years. We use foster homes exclusively and have learned that puppy mill dogs need the other dog in the home to role model after. They won’t go through doors or let humans approach at first but gain great comfort from the resident dog and will follow them. I have had to send my resident boy outside 3-4 times in order to get the PM dog to follow him all the way through the door–or down the stairs, or into/out of the car. They are well socialized to other dogs from their puppy mill days.
    We have found your techniques–sitting on the floor–which ineviteably draws the resident dogs for attention and soon the PM dog follows.

    We will only adopt them to families that already have another dog for this reason. We also require a physical fence due to their severe flight response when startled. We won’t adopt a PM dog to a family with children under 10 years old because of the natural unpredictable moves and noises :) that young children make. When we have ignored these criteria, we have had dogs returned because they just plain don’t come out of hiding.

    Once they do start feeling safe, they are the most loving and most rewarding companions!

    Dr. Frank McMillan from Best Friends Animal Sanctuary is doing a longitudinal study involving dogs from commercial breeders. You might find his information interesting.

  13. Jennifer Hamilton says

    20+ years ago, I lived in Madison and, as a hobby, raised Burmese pythons. I was also part of the Wisconsin herpetological society and did education programs working with kindergarten to university students.

    I’ll never forget the day I invited the UW Vet school students and their professor over to my house to ultrasound my 20 foot female python. All of the students in their white lab coats piled out of a white van carrying lots of equipment…looking very excited and very scared, all at the same time. My neighbors were all watching out their windows trying to figure out what was going on inside my house. (I didn’t advertise I had giant snakes in my home as I didn’t want to cause any drama.)

    In the end, the vet students were amazed at what a gentle giant my python was as they worked that ultrasound the length of her body and counted 22 eggs. It was really a great experience for everyone involved, including my python!

  14. Beth says

    I’ve seen agility training work really well for for dogs that are shy. All the positive reinforcement, learning everything is ok to touch and get on to, learning that guessing will get you treats really helps build confidence.

    We have had a few dogs who come in afraid of everything… dogs, people, the building, equipment… everything. At the beginning these shy dogs don’t feel comfortable having the instructors or other people near them and often they won’t take treats from their owners. We just keep offering anyway so that they get the routine… do something and a treat is offered. I think that having all the action going on with other people and dogs and nobody paying attention to them helps them let go a little. We use VERY high level treats for these dogs so that even just sniffing them makes them drool. We put the treats on target plates to make the “taking” less intimidating then if it is from your hand. They start seeing the other dogs in the class get on the table, run through the tunnel, take the treats and they figure out it is OK. Even with the most timid and shy dogs they start taking treats within the first few weeks. And within a few months they just come out of their shells.

  15. says

    I got Maia at 7 months, after she had spent the first 6 months of her life inside a kitchen (hoarder type situation). She turned 2 this past October and I am only now seeing solid results from my work. The past few days have seen her ignore two separate people out on walks and also be able to take treats and be (somewhat) calm around my contractor, who had been her mortal enemy!

    The thing that I found is that it is not just patience but perseverance. When I started using LAT and counter conditioning with Maia, it felt like we took one step forward and two steps back. It’s only by looking at her progress over a long period that I can see just how far she has come.

    The other big realization was the fact that I will never ‘fix’ Maia, and that is okay. I manage her environment as much as possible to allow her to live as stress-free as possible, and that gives her the resources to deal with stress when she has to.

  16. Chrissy says

    We adopted our oldest dog nearly 4 years ago and she was absolutely petrified of most humans. At the time we’d thought she’d been abused, but now with the experience and knowledge I’ve gained, I think she was just completely unsocialized.

    Of course patience was absolutely key, but what made a very big difference for us was signing her up for dog sport classes (flyball). We didn’t do anything special there in terms of training (we really didn’t know what to do to be honest) but we just went through the classes with her, ignoring her outbursts when humans got too close to her, and praising her good behavior. We didn’t push her, but did have people toss treats to her as much as we could. After the first 8 week session she was a new dog – still quite reactive to strangers, but nowhere near as bad as she’d been when we started.

    Now years later she is still weary of strangers, but much less likely to go into a barking frenzy if one looks at her. Often she will even get within a foot of a person, sniffing them cautiously, as long as they don’t make eye contact. Now that she’s reached this level, I am using a clicker to have her target the person (touch her nose to their hand or leg) which is really doing wonders.

  17. Phyllis Beasley says

    My Sheltie is not a puppy mill dog, but did miss those important first 6 months of socialization and may also have some genetic shyness issues. When I first got him, he didn’t want to step out of the house, freaked on the end of the leash at everything (we called it being a fish at the end of a fishing line). At first, I clicked/treated just for looking out the door, then c/t for one step out the door, etc. The clicker work was amazing in helping him instill confidence.

    Play was another way I learned to reach him. He is only mildly interested in toys, but I learned that he responded well to human play bows and chase me (chase the person, not me chasing him!). Even now, if we are in a new place and he is very anxious, I play a game with him that we call “ready, ready, throw the puppy”. I lift him up a bit off the ground, swing him gently back and forth, then “toss” him. He loves it and comes bouncing back to me, jumping on me and asking for more. For some reason, this seems to alleviate his anxiousness. Of course, this definitely wouldn’t work for every shy dog, but some do respond (eventually) well to play.

    Finally, another tool that has helped my dog learn to cope with scary things is the “touch” cue. It’s a way that he can control the situation when he meets new things or people. Even now, if we lift up something or do something that startles him in the house, and he runs off barking, he will automatically come back to nose touch the object that startled him (even without me giving the touch cue) and once he’s touched the object, he realizes it’s okay and relaxes.

    Of course, all these things took a long time to incorporate. My Sheltie is now 3 years old and will never be a completely confident dog. And there were many other ways I dealt with the fear, but these were several things that I felt were significant tools.

  18. Nora says

    This is a very timely post for me. I have never adopted a rescue dog before, but am now in the process of investigating adoption and am meeting a dog being fostered in a few days. My beloved Bichon died recently. I was investigating breeders but after reading about puppy mills and rescue groups I decided to look into adoption. I am not a dog expert (my last dog trained us and was terrific notwithstanding our lack of knowledge and failure to provide her with much training). Any one have any tips/advice on adopting and caring for a rescue dog when you are still somewhat of a novice on training and socialization? What should we look for in a potential adoptee if we may not have the skills to help a more seriously troubled dog? And, is it a mistake to adopt while still grieving a former dog – intellectually I know a new dog will not replace my old dog and that I should not expect a new dog to be anything like my old dog, but I am afraid I will subconsciously place unfair expectations on the new dog.

  19. says

    Oh I am so excited that you are coming to KY in May for the Classic! I’m in Lexington so I will absolutely come out to watch you and Mr. Willie :-)

  20. emily says

    All such helpful information, as ever!

    This is off topic, but this morning I came across a stunning description of the dog’s unique capacity for understanding smells, and I couldn’t help but share with others whom I hoped would appreciate it. It is from Mary Oliver’s somewhat recent collection of essays, entitled _Long Life_. (And by way of context, “Ben,” of course, is one of her dogs.) Here goes:

    “I have seen Ben place his nose meticulously into the shallow dampness of a deer’s hoofprint and shut his eyes as if listening. But it is the smell he is listening to. The wild, high music of smell, that we know so little about” (27).

    Perhaps nosework would provide new entertainment for Willie while he is leash-bound?! Here’s hoping we all hear some of that music today!

  21. Sandy says

    Patience, yes. And not expecting too much, taking it slow, and seeing the changes take place incrementally over time.

    Having another dog that the shy dog can learn from was critical – I don’t think I could have brought my dog TT home without already having Sophie. I could not touch him but she could. They loved each other right from the beginning. And he learned to trust from her. It’s quite touching- he will back off from people but as soon as Sophie goes up to them, he’s right there too. And more and more he is becoming comfortable with people although I know he will always be shy.

    He was a feral puppy, then in the shelter so when I got him he was scared of his own shadow and had never lived in a house before – never even been in a house. But he has come a long way – it’s amazing.

    You gave me great advice at the time, Patricia – which was to use Sophie and let him learn from her and also to let him come to me. That is still critical – he will let me come up to him now but nobody else. Other people cannot approach him, he has to approach them. Even with me, if I make a sudden movement he will jump away. He hates having anything put on him such as a collar or a harness – that was very very difficult in the beginning and he still doesn’t like it but will tolerate it. The car was an issue in the beginning – I’ll never forget that first long ride home, the poor guy was terrified. And now he loves the car. Through it all though he never displayed the slightest hint of aggression, his instinct was flight not fight. I think he would rather chew off his paw than bite someone.

    Doing things that build confidence has been important too but not pushing him or doing too much. He’s very sensitive to pressure – we took classes at the beginning – we have a wonderful local dog trainer – and the first couple of months we just walked in and out of the building. Stay for five minutes, go out for five minutes. Just let him get used to it, feel comfortable. He came along great and then we took another class recently and for some reason he was uncomfortable. We tried staying in the kitchen so he could just watch but he made it really clear he wanted to leave so we left. I wanted to honour his wishes – to let him know that I heard him. I think that’s another important aspect of it all – for a dog like that you have to become his hero – let him know in every way that he is safe with you and that you will protect him.

    We’re taking tracking and search now and we just started looking for hidden people – everyone in the class is dog savvy and understands his issues and it’s working great. What could be better for a shy dog than to find a person at the end of his search sitting still with their hand out full of treats?

    As I said he’s learned so much from Sophie – she has helped him enormously. Sophie can be reactive to other dogs – it’s somethign we are working hard on and she has come a long way. But I’ve become aware of a problem – how can I ensure TT learns the good things from Sophie and not the bad things? A couple of times he’s barked and lunged at another dog along with her – on his own he would not do that. Same as the car – Soph goes nuts if another dog approaches the car adn he will too when he’s with her. But on his own? Nothing – two big bouncing dogs surrounded my car the other day when I had TT alone in it and nothing – no reaction. That told me a lot. I guess the solution is just to continue working on the problems with Sophie.

    I could talk about my beautiful TT forever! The risk I took when I brought him home was that he would never bond with me but I’ve been lucky and he has and I guess the people reading this blog can understand how much it means to earn the love and trust of a dog like that.

  22. Shasta & Spencer's mom says

    I adopted ‘Spencer’- his name now- from a breeder, at 17 months, as he was supposedly returned after at least 1 less than successful home. Having my other golden Shasta, who is 1 1/2 years older than Spencer at home, did help somewhat, in his adjustment. We took training class after training class, all positive of course! and he gradually learned to be less of an idiot around other dogs & people; we took a tricks class, a leash walking class – at first he walked in huge circles, poor thing had probably never had a walk in his life, a canine good citizen class & now have found his niche, in agility. The best thing I learned was to watch him, in every setting, every situation, to see his reactions & gauge how to proceed from what I saw & thought he needed. I read several of your pamphlets !, on separation anxiety, housetraining, playing with your dog & had more conversations with our very patient, understanding trainer than I can recall. I tried to give as much routine to him as I could, plus initially had a ‘sitter’ stay with him when Shasta & I went on our therapy dog visits. We practicing going into the vet’s office just to say hello to the staff there & get positive attention. I tell him everyday as I put his food dish down – “you’re safe -you’re in your forever home”. I can tell you it has been a tremendous amount of work, but I love him more than air & can even tell you the exact moment when I fell in love w/ him, after about 6 months together. Yes, it does take great patience, lots of reading, training &practice & the support of other dog folks who will listen to you share your ups & downs. And, after 22 months of love & work, he passed his therapy dog certification test last November & now gets to go on visits too, instead of being left at home.

  23. Margaret says

    Nora, you wrote: “Any one have any tips/advice on adopting and caring for a rescue dog when you are still somewhat of a novice on training and socialization? What should we look for in a potential adoptee if we may not have the skills to help a more seriously troubled dog? ”

    Actually, I think a dog from a good rescue, especially one that can foster dogs, can almost be the best starter dog for people without a lot of experience. With adult dogs who’re in a foster home, you get the combination of kind of knowing the personality they’re going to grow up to be, a certain amount of basic house training and socialization and the insight of the people who the dog’s been living with. Really good rescues are pretty good at helping match people up based on dogs’ observed personalities and what the adopters are able to take on.

    And I agree that innate personality dictates a lot of dogs’ resiliance to bad experiences. Mine was a stray for a very long time in a very rural mountainous area, probably feeding himself, to a large extent, with his non-neglible hunting skills, followed by a month or so in a responsible but somewhat distant foster family…but is still the dog renowned for “smiling” in his shelter picture from behind the chain link of his cold outdoors run. He’s just a very good natured guy and likes people a lot – which is good as it rather mitigates the fact that he’s not terribly obedient and is very slow to learn new words!

  24. s says

    Patience is so key and I admit I have so little!!! I can’t say what happened to one of my dogs – when we fostered then adopted her, one of her teats was pulled and drawn (its since regained some of its elasticity) so we don’t know if she was puppy mill or just back yard bred or what, but the rescue had picked her up from a shelter as a “stray” – this dog won’t leave us, so I find that hard to believe unless she was dumped. She freezes upon hearing any frustration, anger, or loud noise even it its just me yelling to the kids to come in or something not even in anger – she’ll head to her dog bed. If she’s in immediate vicinity and say someone spills something and says “dang” (of course nothing worse haha) she immediately slinks to ground. Even if we say oh its ok good girl, she cowers. We’ve never raised a hand to her. if you tell her “down” (even super sweet), she cowers, rolls on her belly, even now a year later. she constantly licks (but she’s not really submissive – hard to explain but she’s not a submissive dog even though she presents herself that way). She also reacts to cars driving by VERY strangely.

    With all of this, I just keep trying new things – I’ll realize the “normal” path won’t work so I”ll try something different. I haven’t figured out the down yet though, I’ll admit! We’ve had to modify some commands to be less “forceful” even when we weren’t saying them forcefully. like drop is “drop drop” in a lilting voice because drop makes her cower and go belly up even when said sweet as pie (when we are playing BALL which is FUN so no one is frustrated or angry or anything, but the word must have some strange connection for her)…drop drop works really well. So, I’d say patience and willingness to try a different tactic!

  25. Kat says

    Patience, patience, patience. I’ve not worked much with unsocialized dogs but I’ve tamed a lot of feral cats in my time and patience, patience and more patience is the foundation of the whole process followed closely by responding to the individual you’re working with. What works with one won’t necessarily work with another.

    Having another dog as positive role model is something I notice quite often. One of Ranger’s neighborhood buddies is a shy JRT. When we walk the dogs together the JRT likes to be slightly ahead leading the way until he sees people then he hides behind Ranger but once Ranger has walked up to them and is getting lots of petting and praise the Jack is right in there wanting his share. When he’s walking without Ranger he’ll have nothing to do with strange people although a few of the people he’s met a couple of times with Ranger are now able to approach and pet him even when he’s alone. The Jack is the product of a backyard breeder who basically let her whole pack of Jacks run around together in her large yard but never did anything to socialize them.

  26. Melinda says

    I just adopted a 7 year old female german shepherd who is very timid and shy. All I know of her background is that she was a “brood bitch” at a breeder in another state and I think she spent most all of her life in an outdoor kennel. She paced her first day here and didn’t seem to know what the dog beds were for.

    I have a 5 year old male german shepherd who is awesome…the best temperment of any shepherd I’ve had (got him as a puppy and worked alot with him training, socializing, etc) She has been very comfortable with him from the beginning and I definitely think having him has helped her follow his lead. She also is very attached to me but is fearful/timid around my husband and other people. She has been here ~4 months and is slowly getting better. We just try to not pressure her and let her come around at her own pace. Also doing some basic obedience with her has given her some confidence. It’s been trial and error seeing what works and she seems to revert sometimes. When I’m home she does better but when I go to work (my husband works at home) she follows me to the door and then stays in the basement alone most of the day :( I try to make it light and cheerful and not a big deal.

    She is so sweet and I can’t wait until she realizes that she is safe here. It’s been a new and difficult experience for us (our first rescue) but very rewarding to see her make progress.

    I feel for you and Will…Buddy had his ACL surgically repaired about a month after she came along. Having them restricted and not able to understand is SO hard. I hope Will heals soon and doesn’t have to have surgery.

  27. Shannon B. says

    Someone else mentioned it as well, but Trish, have you considered that while Willie is leash restricted you start tracking with him? Tracking is an on-leash sport that really wears them out both physically and mentally. And who knows, maybe Willie’s calling isn’t sheep after all but search and rescue!

  28. Laurie says

    My Amos was a puppy mill dog sold as a stud to a backyard breeder with little experience. He came to us through rescue. He was afraid of everything, and would happily have stayed in his crate for months. We tethered him to the Coffee table in the same room with us in the evenings, and everyone had a bowl of treats. We would just do our thing, and started by tossing a treat whenever he looked at us. Throughout the course of an evening we would just keep treating for him looking or responding to his name. Within a few days he was hesitantly approaching for attention. Because of his interest in eating the cats, he was tethered when not crated in the house for six months. This gave us lots of time to work on his shyness! Two years later he has the run of the house and prefers to sleep next to someone, asks for attention often, is very friendly and sweet with our family and appropriately social for an Aussie with new people. I also brought him to training classes as soon as I could for some work in a controlled environment and have found that when approached right agility and tricks training have built his confidence greatly.

  29. heather siessel says

    the best thing that i learned when working with my fear aggressive aussie Jixxer was from your book, “the other side of the leash”. I never stopped and realized how MY reaction was effecting him until I read your book. Once I became aware, whenever we ran into one of his stresses, I would put on my confidence hat and just remove us (if i could) from the source of the stress for him.

    It took a long time for me to get it — but i did see an improvement once I did — and it helped him. So thank you for your book ! Sadly, I lost him three years ago to cancer at the young age of 6, but those 6 years with him taught me so much…

  30. says

    If a dog’s anxiety level cannot be lowered to the extent that the dog is not constantly experiencing high levels of stress through the management of their environment, medications should be considered, sooner rather than later IMHO.

    I prefer to focus on figuring out what makes the dog feel good before I worry about getting them to do things. If we have a way to tap into their brain’s reward system we are not only on the way to helping them feel better, we now have the key to motivating them to perform new behaviors.

  31. Mary Beth says

    Trisha, please come to Ohio! We’ve got 377 puppy mill dogs in an emergency shelter and you could work with them to your hearts content. I was so shocked to watch an older dog come off the truck of 120 dogs at 1 am after a long day moving them and she started to play. Bouncing and play bowing, oh so cute. I’d say about 10% of the dogs were happy and “well adjusted”. 10% were downright nasty(who could blame them!) and 80% were shy and fearful. I haven’t seen them in the last couple weeks, but I hear that many of them are crawling out of their shells.
    The hard part is adopting a dog like that. It’s hard to adopt the happy to see you dogs that are bouncing off their kennel doors and scaring people walking past and its hard to adopt the shy, backward ones too.
    I think its really important for people to remember to let the dogs approach them, not chase them around trying to pet them. And its really important to set up rules and boundaries. And super important to use sound training methods from day one. So many dogs come in to the shelter with zero training and no rules which have created the myriad of problems that led for them to end up in the shelter.
    Dogs that haven’t made it to the shelter but have garnered repeat visits from the Dog Warden, the majority of time need one of three things. (1) learn to not dart out doors (2) truly need to learn the command “come” (3) need interaction or toys or exercise to burn off energy to reduce nuisance boredom barking(or need a more secure calm place to be when the owners aren’t there).

    Or go to Texas to see the hundreds of Rottweilers from the large bust there. Seems like these large scale busts are getting more common….so your upcoming book is really going to be needed!!!

  32. jackie says

    We adopted our dog at the age of about 12 months. He had spent around 3-4 months prior to that living feral. Given the area where he was captured, and his behaviour, he had almost certainly never been kept in a house and he’d probably been physically abused.

    He is now about three years old and he is still extremely worried by ALL humans outside of the immediate family, and by most dogs. We think he had no socialisation with dogs and minimal or no socialisation with humans. He is sufficiently aggressive towards humans (has bitten) that we now muzzle him outdoors and minimise contact with visitors. He speaks ‘dog’ very poorly and so often behaves inappropriately with them. This is despite two years of classical conditioning, plus growly dog classes and so on.

    On the plus side, he does have a few doggie friends. He has overcome his fears of household activites, cars and so on, is happy and relaxed around the house and on quiet walks, and loves training so much that with careful management he can cope with and enjoy an agility class.

    We got some things wrong, simply because we had no idea what we were getting into. So my tips would be (and I’m sorry if they sound very tough/negative.)
    (1) Don’t rehome a seriously nervous unsocialised dog (SNU Dog) if you are a first time dog owner (!)
    (2) Have another dog already. Like the puppy mill dogs, I think he would have benefited enormously from this; he was more relaxed in the shelter environment where he was kennelled with a friendly dog.
    (3) Decide how slowly you should go in introducing him to things, and then go ten times slower than that.
    (4) Even if you are an experienced owner of normal dogs, remember that you will have to handle your SNU dog in a very different way (I know some people who’ve had problems through this).
    (5) Do not adopt a SNU dog unless you are able to keep him in a very quiet environment for as long as it takes, and are able to provide very structured training environment with stooges to rehabilitate them, rather than attempting to do so around a busy family life.
    (6) Love is not enough. Do not expect your SNU dog ever to become ‘normal’. If he does end up normal, that’s fantastic, but expecting too much can be heartbreaking.

  33. says

    I would like to point out that “puppy mill dog” as a definition of a dog’s issues ignores a huge difference between puppy mill puppies and old, breeder dogs. Puppies, even older puppies, often come out of mills with shyness issues, but a careful, patient approach will usually bring them around. A several-year-old breeder dog that has never known anything but a puppy mill environment is MUCH more difficult to salvage. These are truly broken souls, and even people who have done rescue for many years are seldom prepared for how badly broken they are the first time they take one in.

    Note that I’m referring to dogs from true puppy mills, where the breeder dogs are kept in cages barely large enough for them to turn around and never get out to stretch their legs, not just back-yard breeders. These breeder dogs are terrified of open spaces. If in an outdoor kennel, they tend to go into a dog house and not come out. If in a foster home, they tend to hide in the bathtub or behind furniture and not come out. They also have a great deal of difficulty knowing how to interact with other dogs.

    Jerry Dunham
    Tejas Coonhound Rescue

  34. Carolyn says

    My sister adopted a six month old Golden pup from a puppy mill situation. Herc was completely unsocialized with people, he was in a catatonic state when they took him home and for the first day. They had a year old Golden who was very social and Herc learned to love and trust humans from him. Herc became a normal Golden in terms of his approach to humans although he had many health problems throughout his life.

  35. trisha says

    I’m waaaay behind answering comments.. so many good questions and comments, my apologies. I am truly slammed right now, as busy as I’ve ever been, but, before I get back to reviewing exam grades:
    I agree completely with Jerry that dogs rescued from mills who have been breeders for years are often a different story than younger ones. Some of them do appear to be profoundly damaged although again, genetics makes a huge different. I worked with a dog who had been kept in a tiny cage for 6-7 years and completely neglected, no contact with people, who came out of her ‘shell’ in months; others… sometimes never completely recover.

    That brings up a good point made (on another post?) that serious cases can profit from medical intervention. I agree, and suggested the rescue home I visited on Sunday talk to her veterinarian for adjunctive medical therapy. Pills in themselves are rarely a cure, but they can jump start a conditioning program.

  36. says

    Rescue dogs…I think I would put one of them with 2-3 extremely social dogs for the training…here’s why. Walking with my three dogs that are extremely social (with people and dogs), two other dogs approached. I immediately sensed caution on the other owners part. I called my “dogs” and they all came (five total). I asked for a sit and immediately began passing out treats. After the dogs abandoned us for smells she informed me that he smaller dog had never accepted a treat from anyone…perhaps she was so cautious in letting others approach the dog, it rubbed off. I recalled all dogs for one final treat…they all once again came, I asked for a sit, and yes, you guessed it…they all accepted treats.

    We need to remind our selves occasionally that they are very in tune with us…and sometimes give us what we expect.

  37. Debbie Schoene says

    I brought a young (1-3 yo?) Australian Cattle Dog mix home with me when I returned from volunteering in the aftermath of Hurrican Katrina. I had no knowledge of her background. She was extremely leery of people, particularly men. To your point, Trisha, about genetics playing a significant role in overcoming shyness, I believe her basic nature must be a “mentally stable” one as she made a 180 turnaround and now will even approach unknown men, looking for a treat. Nothing that 1,000 hotdogs couldn’t fix! 😉 Since her fears were people-focussed and not environmental or situational, I would take her everywhere with me and ask anyone who came in contact with her to give her a bit of hotdog. Luckily, that’s all it took. The only exception to that–and it’s a real puzzle– is her reaction to my adult stepson; she is absolutely terrified of him and will not even accept from him the most high value treat imaginable. If she even catches a whiff of him, she lets out a frightened bark and hides in another room. Since I am 100% certain he never did anything to merit this response, do I conclude that someone in her past that looked/smelled like him abused her? Or does she just have a peculiar quirk about him? We’ll never know, I guess, but it’s interesting to wonder what goes on in her furry red head!

  38. Joyce Styron Madsen says

    Fantastic article! I’ve known Margaret since lobbying for WI90 and I’ve fostered three of her dogs so far. (Actually, 5 if you count the 2 “foster failures” who are now part of my five-dog family.) One had been so traumatized that I despaired of her ever coming out of her shell, even though she was the 7th puppy mill dog I had worked with. For months, she wouldn’t even look at me. But after 13 months of patience,, she finally would — reluctantly — accept food out of my hand. And where she once cowered at my approach, she now tentatively comes to sniff my hand. She’ll never be as at ease as my others, but I take comfort in each little step in the right direction. Thanks for giving all of us some helpful pointers!

  39. Marilyn says

    First, I must say Thank You Trish for helping me and so many others with our shy and fearful dogs. I have to agree with Jerry Dunham about breeder dogs. And of course when you rescue any puppy mill dog you don’t have the advantage of knowing what the dog’s genetic heritage is. Our Havanese was a pm breeder until she contracted a uterine infection shortly after she gave birth to her final litter. Although the infection nearly killed her, it was probably the best thing that could have happened to her because she was rescued, brought back to relatively good health and put up for adoption. Total time in the mill, about 3 1/2- 4 years. She was what some people refer to as a pancake dog, totally shut down. My husband and I had adopted dogs before, but were totally unprepared for how totally unresponsive this dog was. We were winging it, could not find any relevant information on the internet or in books. Maybe we just didn’t know where to look. Most of the literature dealt with reactive dogs, not puddles like Rosie. (We were finally referred to a shy dog list on yahoo that has given tremendously helpful advice, including referrals to your books and this blog.) She refused to come out of her crate — when she finally did, she established 2 safe spots in the house where she spent her days, watching life pass her by. She’d look at us with white ringed eyes and clamped tail, trying to make herself as small as possible. She was in very poor condition, refusing food even though she was severely underweight. It was 2 years before she’d take a treat from us, 3 years before she would accept food from a dish. She has been with us now about 3 1/2 years and has progressed tremendously, interacting with people she knows, even sometimes with people she doesn’t know. She has no interest in toys, cats, squirrels, or other dogs (we keep trying), does not know how to chew on a bone, but has learned to crunch up cookies and ice cream cones! She will never be what people consider “normal” but as long as she feels safe and loved, that’s just fine.
    The advice I can give to prospective pm adopters ….Patience, patience, patience, time, time, time, and above all DON”T TAKE IT PERSONALLY. It’s only natural to say “What am I doing wrong” or “Why isn’t she responding” or “Maybe he’d be better off with someone else” or even “Why doesn’t she love me? I love her….” These dogs have been through who knows what horrors every day of their little lives. It will take so much love, time, and yes patience to restore a semblance of safety, security and trust. But it is so worth it, both for the dog and the caregivers. Take advantage of the many resources available, ie books, blogs, positive training programs to learn as much as you can. And remember, you are not alone. Only when puppy mills are eradicated will this problem ever truly be solved.

  40. Annie R says

    On the topic of sheep, rather than dogs, I just saw an amazing story on the TV news about a ewe in Nova Scotia who had FIVE lambs – quintuplets!– and the best part was that one was black-and-white spotted, something like your “Lassie lamb”, Trisha, but more evenly “patched” all over. CUTE!!!! All the lambs had different markings and colors. It’s on the Canadian news website:

  41. Mary says

    Just want to say that I’m SO sorry about Willie…I cannot IMAGINE how miserable my BC would be not being able to exercise. Like Willie, his joys in life are: 1)running, 2)balls, frisbees, sheep. Keeping my fingers crossed that Willie will get diagnosed, treated, recovered as soon as possible and get to do his favorite things.

  42. Laura says

    This is one of those times you wish you had language so you could explain to Will that it is for his own good and that you haven’t sudenly become a big meanie for no reason. This post almost made me cry because I have had to do the for your own good thing too.

    Best wishes to you both.

  43. Ellen Pepin says

    I’m sorry to hear about Willie also. My comments would echo those of Mary. I have a collie who hurt her back leg and also had to be on a leash, even in our yard. She dreamed up all kinds of mischief in the house unless I tried to get her to play. She would play two or three times and then lose interest. I have to re-read your book on play, and teach her some new games.

    I also wanted to comment on unsocialized dogs. We got ours when she was a little over one. She was found on the streets in East Orange, NJ, next to Newark. Nikki was a mix of shepherd and some kind of terrier, possibly a pit bull. She looked like a small Shepherd. She was very skinny, full of flees, and pregnant. The rescue people thought that she had been on her own for a couple of months. The shelter apparently had aborted the puppies.

    When I saw Nikki in her crate, we looked each other in the eye and I knew I wanted her. She trusted me from that moment, but my husband was a different story. She didn’t want him to touch her and retreated. After a few weeks, he was finally accepted. Other people and dogs were not. When we walked her, she would bark and lunge at people that moved, even on the other side of the street. When near another dog, her behavior was just as bad, if not worse. Over the next few years, we had three different trainers, and used strong leash corrections, prong collars, a Halti collar, and a collar that sprayed citronella when she barked. The last was the most affective. We even had her evaluated at the ASPCA by Dr. Pamela Reid, who gave us the citronella collar. She told us that Nikki showed a lot of fear aggression toward anything moving. She even lunged at a large NYC bus. However, she paid little attention to people walking by us. To Nikki, the world was a fearful place. We began to notice that she was better with groups of people or dogs than she was with people who were alone. To this day, I have not figured out why. I hope someone could you enlighten me.

    After I read your book “The Other End of the Leash” and other material, I began to use the “watch me” command on our walks. It had actually been taught to us by the first trainer, but I couldn’t get it to work at the time. It took about five years, but she was finally able to sit still as a couple of small girls went by on their bikes on our side of the street. That day was the highlight of my years of work with her. She was never comfortable with other people, especially men, or other dogs, but there was a small group of people she accepted. When we moved to Maryland, there were nearby dog parks that we took her to. The first time, I kept her on a leash and stood where other dogs could greet her. That went fairly well, so I let her loose the next time. It only took a few minutes before she started to be aggressive, and I took her home. We gradually let her be with other dogs and she was able to be there for longer periods. Eventually, she started to try and play with the others, but she was more like the lonely kid on the playground that nobody wants to play with. I was just happy that she could be with other dogs and not start a fight.

    We had to let Nikki go when she was twelve because of cancer. That was nearly three years ago, and I still miss her very much. She was my best friend.

  44. says

    One of my chihuahua came from a terrible situation. He spent his entire life (probably 5 years) in a cage before he was rescued. It has been a long road to recovery for him. You can read about him at his name is Gryffindor and he is the last dog talked about on that web page. It breaks my heart to think about what dogs go through in puppy mills and living with hoarders.

  45. Carmen says

    We are fostering a lab/shepherd puppy right now, 4 mos old, who we are working with on fear issues. Our organization got in 3 pups at 3 months old, with no socialization at all, living outdoors, etc. All three puppies exhibited fear issues, some more than others, but it became apparent that we needed to split them up into different foster homes, as they definitely fed off of one another. They are all slowly coming out of their shells, and the resident dogs in each foster home are playing a huge role in this. We have the shyest of the three, and during the first couple of weeks that he was here, rather than using a crate (b/c he would hide out), we set up an ex pen in the middle of our kitchen. We didn’t force attention on him, other than taking him out to potty, unless he sought out our attention. He was able to hang out with calm dogs and get used to the noises of the household without becoming overwhelmed. He now seeks out our attention regularly, but will still retreat if we move directly toward him. We’re able to take him for off leash walks in the woods with the other dogs and he frolics and plays like a “normal” puppy. He has a ways to go, but I really attribute a lot of the progress he’s made to spending time with our resident dogs.

  46. says

    Oh gosh, this is heartrending, reading about the puppy mills.

    @Nora — You asked 2 questions, about getting a dog through rescue if you’re a novice, and also about getting a dog when mourning.

    My “starter dog” was through breed rescue. She was really perfect for me. She had a few issues, mostly related to fear/phobias, but she was extremely gentle and well-socialized. She was 5, so she was settled in her personality and not too high-energy for me. My advice to you is to ask questions, meet the dogs, grill, grill, grill.

    Rescue organizations will grill you — ask for references and do a home visit and such. I have heard from some people it was harder to adopt a dog than a child. If they don’t ask you to jump through hoops, be wary, IMO. Likewise, though, it’s important for you to feel really confident with the people you’re working with, as well as the dogs.

    Sometimes rescue folks want so badly for a dog to go to a good home — or may be so overwhelmed with caring for so many dogs and coordinating — that they might not pass on all the info about a dog. I think this is sometimes just because it’s not possible to know everything, and a dog will behave differently in different environments. And sometimes information is withheld or “massaged” because the rescue folks don’t want to scare you off from adopting a dog.

    I’m not saying any of this to scare you. I think adopting through rescue is great, and I did it twice (plus a previous shelter dog and then my first puppy from a breeder), and most of the people do an outstanding job. I’d just say, keep asking questions, meeting dogs, etc., until you feel comfortable.

    As to the 2nd question, that is close to my heart. I lost my second service dog, Gadget, a year ago. He was my heartdog. I felt about him how Trisha felt about Luke, I think.

    I got a lot of advice from people telling me I should or shouldn’t wait to get a puppy to train as a successor. There’s no right answer. Everyone grieves differently. I will say that the first few months with Barnum were hard for me, partly because I was a total novice with puppies, and partly because I was still grieving Gadget. Sometimes I felt so angry at Barnum for not being Gadget.

    But, that passed. And even when I was feeling those irrational feelings, I still loved Barnum, and now I can’t imagine life without him. I think I will miss Gadget the rest of my life, maybe, but I know there will always be dogs to have and love in my life, too.

    The main thing is when the time is right for you, and only you can decide that. It helped me a lot to know a puppy was coming that would help distract me from my grief. I didn’t know what to do with myself; Barnum gave me a purpose. Others I know never get another dog, or wait years.

    And I do believe that no matter when I got my next dog, I would still be grieving Gadget, I would still have felt angry that this other dog wasn’t Gadget. I got Barnum 3 months after Gadget died, but if I’d waited a year or 2 years, I think I’d have felt the same, but I would not have had what I needed, too, which was a successor to train as my next service dog.

    One dog grief site I think is terrific is Remembering Niko:

    You can also find posts and pages on my blog about dog grief and mourning. I hope this helps.

  47. Joanne says

    I work with shelters and rescues and find that fear is the most common behavioral issue disguised as “aggression”. I truly believe that less than 5% of dogs are truly aggressive and have the mind to want to attack you at first glance. Too many dogs are pushed too far too quickly and you then get the “he bit with no warning” comment.

    You cite some really great discussion items in this posting. The first one is dogs growing up in isolation from humans. When you get into the subject of puppy mills in particular, how do you finally rescue the 4 year old shelter dog and really get to the root of whether the dog was born in a mill, born with an elevated fear disposition or if it’s something they have grown to know as normal. The reason I ask this is because each dog also comes with a certain motivation towards food. How can you really tell if that dog is getting 3-4 feet from you because they are gaining security or if the overwhelming sense to get to the treat is overpowering the fear response?

    The other comment is to question adding the other dog vs. not. I recently worked with a Chi that licked my hand when I walked in the door. Once the other dogs were put away, she set a 4 foot line and wasn’t going to cross it during the treat/retreat for 20 minutes. As soon as we let the other dogs out, she was at my feet trying to gather any crumbs that may have been dropped. I think this is especially common in mill dogs because they find comfort and gain security when other members of the pack exhibt the same. This Chi actually jumped on the couch and hunted in my pocket for treats when the other dogs were present. So that poses another question about fear. What situation makes the dog comfortable. It’s sad, but many mill dogs are happy in a crate with other dogs near. We as humans want to get them past that far to quickly. What can you do if you adopt a dog like this from a shelter and don’t have any other dogs to work them with. Is it a matter of training? What truly comforts these dogs? Is it olfactory, auditory, visual or all of the above? Since you have the ability for research I would love to know if the sound or smell of other dogs eases fear and anxiety in the mill dog scenario.

  48. Sivia Golub says

    We adopted a beagle who was rescued from a Pharmaceutical lab that did testing on them. They were there so they had very strong reactions when they were brought to the outside. They literally were shaking when you put them on the grass. They were afraid to walk and walked very gingerly on the ground. Fast forward two weeks after they were rescued and my husband and I came up to adopt one (they were staying at a no-kill shelter that is a farm in upstate NY and we are from NYC) they were much more relaxed and seem to be doing well. but take them out of their large kennel and they froze. we took the bravest of the bunch as we let the people know we were from the city where there would be a lot of stimulation and noise. Lets just say he was really overwhelmed. He loved his crate, so much so that it was a real problem getting him out to take him on his walks which at this point were only a block. We tried enticing him with food but he would only come out so far before running back in and then someone suggested that we put the food in the kitchen so that he would have to look for it and come out (not the brightest of ideas) but he would take the food in his mouth and run back to his crate, spit out the food and then eat it at his leisure. What was the turning point for us and him was that after a week we caved in and brought him up on the couch, he has never left since:). so much so that when we finally got a Trainer she had to start teaching him the learning process on the couch, he wouldn’t come off not even for a nice piece of meat or liver. She couldn’t even praise him normally because he would get startled and run to his crate, she had to whisper “good boy”. She found what he liked and used it. Turns out he loves soft things, so we bought him a doggy bed and it was love at first sight. She also suggested that we buy a area rug since he had trouble getting off the couch he was afraid of the hardwood floor. Now we cant get him to stop jumping up and down on the couch and he uses the rug as an extension of his bed. I was told about your “Cautious Canine” book when he developed a fear of our ceiling fan and had stopped going in our bedroom and it work. now we try it whenever he gets too afraid of something. He still is jumpy around loud sudden noises but he had come a long way since we got him in July 2010. You can say he has a lot of odd quirks like he is super aware of everything around him while all the dogs and even the humans wont notice the airplane flying overhead all of a sudden he will lift his face to the sky and then start cowering and crawling on the ground like the sky was falling. During those moments i try to distract him with one of his favorite treats or his favorite stick or make a big hullabaloo so that his attention returns to me as if to snap him out of it and then change directions.
    I am a big fan of yours and try to read everything you write and I pass it on to every dog owner i meet. Let me tell you they are so thrilled and relieved when i tell them your criteria of “healthy play”. They always felt like a bad dog owner because their dog was playing with their mouths open and another owner perceived that as being bad, when in fact both dogs were mouthing and there was pausing and clear handicapping going on. I just lead them right to you and say go and educate yourself you will be so happy. :)

  49. Sivia Golub says

    * They were bred in the facility and been in crates all their lives.

    (sorry my beginning paragraph got a little messed up)

  50. Gwen says

    I foster adult puppy mill rescues. My most recent has been a challange. If kept on a schedule, I can say she is housebroken. Unlike most things I’ve read, she likes her crate. My problem is that I have to pick her up to take her outside. She hates to be picked up. Now she has figured just how close she can get to me and I can’t reach her. I’m also having trouble teaching her to walk on a leash. She is on a leash all the time, dragging it about. however, as soon as I pick it up, she freezes. She seemed interested in playing with the ball, but isn’t quite sure yet what to do with it. I am trying to use chicken as her special treat to coax her in from outdoors, but that’s not working too well just yet. But I just started that yesterday. She’s a little shy but not totally like some puppy mill dogs. She came up to my neighbor to check her out. When I’m not home, she will go up to my bf, but if I’m home, she just barks at him. She’s become quite curious. I’m sure I just need to keep working on it, but maybe you have some ideas I don’t know about. Thanks.

  51. Crystal says

    As someone who has worked in puppy mill rescue for over 20 years and have helped to emotionally rehabilate hundreds, if not thousands of mill dogs, I will say that I strongly disagree with your thoughts. For me, the key is to be present and not do so by annoying them or constantly throwing treats in their direction. The slightest hand movement can completely freak them out. The key is to keep things still, quiet, not make contact. Again, I’ve worked with a TON of mill dogs and I’ve found just being present helpful – but not purposely trying to make contact. Some dogs only know hand movements with being hurt – the last thing you want to do is move your hand like that.

    Anyways, kudos for you for trying to get more experience with mill dogs. If you want, I encourage you to really spend extensive times with mill dogs in a rescue environment – day in and day out. I’d be interesting to see if you’d do the same things above with dogs who are much much more scared than the ones above. Most mill dogs actually aren’t huge fans of treats and couldn’t care less about food. Others are very driven by food. So, I’d be interested to see what you do for those who don’t care for food.

  52. trisha says

    Actually, Crystal, I’ve worked with a lot of puppy mill dogs over the course of 24 years, and stand by what I said. I was not advocating relentlessly throwing food at them, but slowly, and gradually over time, beginning sessions in which food-motivated dogs learn to associate people (and movements) with something good. I absolutely agree that being quiet and ‘just present’ is vital in the initial stages. But if it is done correctly (which is why I emphasized the importance of being far away, etc etc) I have seen it help Classically Condition many dogs to adjust to a new life. And of course, as you say, every dog is an individual and what they want varies tremendously. Dogs who are not food motivated, in my experience, do best if given a safe secure place (most mill dogs I’ve worked with love their crates and should be allowed to spend a lot of time in them rather than being overwhelmed with stimuli) and learn to accept people through the ‘social facilitation’ of watching other dogs interact with humans. Has that been your experience as well?

  53. Heathet says

    Hi I have a little mill dog named matilda I got her for free from the national mill dog rescue because she would not let anybody but me pick her up or pet her. I have had her for 5 months now and I am wondering if there is any hope she will let other people pick her up or pet her.

  54. LS says

    I know this is an old post, but I just came across it while searching for puppy mill dog information.
    I adopted a rough collie rescued from a puppy mill earlier this year. I have become so aware of every tiny movement and sound I make – because she is hyper alert. (example, today she is afraid of me because I have new socks on and they smell different!)

    I have written monthly blog updates on her progress – what works, what doesn’t. At first even positive reinforcement terrified her and it was best to pretend I didn’t see her at all….
    I’m still learning – but here are notes from our journey.

  55. says

    To clarify, my puppy mill dog was a breeder, so caged and bred for her first 3-4 years. The 3 things I have found most helpful with her are routine/consistency, letting her progress at her own pace and never pushing her beyond what she is comfortable with, and the presence other well socialized dogs. How far she will come remains to be seen, but the fact that she now wags her tail when she is happy is pretty much the best thing I could have imagined a few months ago!

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