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Adopting A Puppy Mill Dog

by Mel Freer on November 16, 2011

in Dogs, Random Thoughts

people adopting puppies from puppy mills must be patient as these dogs have many issues to overcomeI first met my dog Daisy at the animal shelter where I had volunteered for eight years. Daisy had already beaten the odds in her short lifetime. First, she had escaped a puppy mill as a breeding dog at the age of four years old (most breeding dogs “burn out” at age five and are killed by the puppy miller). Second, when the rescue organization considered having her euthanized, because she was so emotionally damaged by her experience, her foster mom fought for her life and begged our shelter manager to take her in. And finally, she touched my soul so deeply that I couldn’t stand the thought of this terribly frightened and damaged dog being deemed “too far gone” to be saved and euthanized at our shelter. I offered to foster her almost immediately, and she beat the odds yet again.

Looking back now, it’s almost hard for me to remember all that it took to help Daisy find her inner Lab. She has come so far since that first day I brought her home with me and my dog Aspen. In fact, it will be four years this month.

Adopting a puppy mill dog is not like adopting any other dog you typically find at a shelter or rescue. They are damaged, unsocialized to humans, and take a lot of time to rehabilitate. They are not the type of dog that everyone should adopt, but for those who are willing to have patience, perseverance, dedication, training, a gentle hand and voice, and time, a puppy mill dog can be a very rewarding experience.

What can you expect if you adopt a puppy mill dog?

1. They are afraid of everything – you, kids, doorways, cars, leashes, wood floors, stairs, sudden movements or loud noises, cats and sometimes other dogs.

Daisy cowered in my sight and often skulked around as if she expected me to hit her or hurt her in some way. I was always careful to move slowly and to talk in low, soothing tones.

2. The last thing you want to do with a mill dog is force them to accept your attention.
What they need most is SPACE. They need to time to get used to the new sounds and smells of you home and the daily routine. They may also need to be housed in a separate room that is quiet and away from all the hubbub of the rest of the household.

In the early days and weeks, Daisy stayed in a kennel in my spare bedroom. I avoided talking to her and instead went about my routine as if she wasn’t there so that she could get used to my routine and my movements. On occasion, I would sit with her in her room, a distance from her kennel, and just let her get used to my presence. Sometimes I would toss her good treats so she could learn to expect good things when I was around.

3. Having another dog in the home that is calm and friendly is helpful. Puppy mill dogs have always lived with other dogs. To them, having another dog around can be a big comfort. It also helps you to have another dog because your dog can show them the ropes. Where to go potty. How to get a treat. Where the safe spots are to relax in your home.

Daisy followed Aspen everywhere. She would watch what Aspen did and mimic her. If Aspen went outside, so did Daisy. If Aspen went through a doorway, Daisy would follow (most of the time). I also used Aspen to teach Daisy how to make eye contact. I would say “watch me!” to Aspen and reward her with a treat when she did. Then I would turn to Daisy and do the same thing. If Daisy so much as made a glance in my direction she got a treat. Over time, she worked up to actual eye contact.

4. Patience is everything.
One of the hardest things to do is wait for a puppy mill dog to approach you. You can help this process along with really tasty treats, but expect that they will be cautious around you for months to come.

Because Daisy was afraid of everything, I never knew what might trigger her to run and hide. Often, just coming in from outside was difficult for her. There were times when Aspen would come in and Daisy would get spooked just as she was about to follow her. This usually meant that both Aspen and I would have to go outside again and start the routine of going through the doorway again. Sometimes it took 3-4 times of doing this for Daisy to feel comfortable enough to follow. Patience is something I learned really quickly when it came to Daisy.

5. Expect progress to be made in slow steps and expect that there will be steps backwards as well.
I have always said that with Daisy it was two steps forward and three steps back. For several days, she might successfully enter the kitchen doorway on the first try and I would think she had finally shown that she was past that hurdle, but then something would happen, a slight movement or sound, and she would back away from the door and circle my car in fear. That meant we would have to learn how to come inside all over again.

6. Consider feeding your mill dog in their crate.
When I first adopted Daisy, I would try to feed her in the kitchen, but she wouldn’t come and eat if I was there. Next, I tried the living room. Daisy would eat there, but there were strict behavior requirements for me if this was to happen – 1) She had to be able to eat while facing me, so she could see where I was at all times, and 2) I had to be facing away from her because me facing her was like giving her direct eye contact and she was terribly uncomfortable with that. It wasn’t until I met a woman who had success at rehabbing puppy mills that I finally learned that Daisy was most comfortable eating in her kennel. That’s where she eats to this day.

7. Anyone who tells you that you need to show your puppy mill dog that you are “alpha” and that you are in charge should be ignored.
In fact, my advice is to walk away VERY, VERY QUICKLY. Puppy mill dogs have been used and abused. Their only experience with humans has often been scary and painful. They do not trust you FOR A REASON. Teaching them you are alpha is like saying “I recognize your pain and fear and I’m going to one-up it.”

Daisy was sensitive to loud voices, but she also extremely sensitive to the tone of my voice. If she sensed that I was angry or frustrated, she would immediately cower or hide. Even my loud laughs could frighten her. If I had used force, she would have shut down and may have been damaged beyond repair. Remember, I said patience?

Adopting a puppy mill dog can be challenging but rewardingDaisy has made so much progress since that first night in my home. Now we have morning cuddle sessions accompanied by belly rubs (her favorite). She gets all silly and hops around with excitement when I give her her dinner. She seeks out attention so much now that I wonder how I can shut it off (not really). She even lifts her paw to me to let me know that I shouldn’t stop scratching behind her ears. And just this summer, she learned how to swim, at seven years of age!

Adopting and caring for a puppy mill dog can be one of the hardest things to do, but if you are the right person, you will never experience anything sweeter. Daisy has taught me that.

For more on whether you are the right person for a fearful, puppy mill dog, Kevin Myer’s post “A Fearful Dog Speaks” is worth a read.

This blog post is part of Pet ‘Net 2011!

Bloggers far and wide are blogging all about about pet adoption today. Here are just a few of the topics bloggers are writing about as part of Pet ‘Net 2011:

  • Things you need to know about before bringing a dog home
  • Introducing puppies/kittens to senior pets
  • How to do a shelter makeover
  • Breed-specific rescues
  • How photos make a difference in pet adoption
  • How to Choose the Most Appropriate Rescue Pet for You
  • Pet Adoption Alternatives
  • Considering senior dog adoption

Go on over to Petside to find links to other great pet adoption blog posts!


Help Mel win a $500 donation to her favorite animal shelter!

Please visit the Petside Pet ‘Net event website and vote for this post. If we win, Mel will get $500 to donate to her favorite animal shelter. Scroll to the Cast Your Vote section, click the select button next to the PetsitUSA logo, and then click the submit button. Thank you for your vote!


By taking any of the simple steps below on November 16, 2011, Iams Home 4 The Holidays and their Bags 4 Bowls initiative will donate bowls of food to local shelters in honor of Pet ‘Net 2011!

1. Tweet @Iams with the Pet ‘Net hastag #IHeartShelterPets and Iams Home 4 The Holidays and their Bags 4 Bowls initiative will donate 25 bowls of food to local shelters.

2. “Like” Petside’s Facebook Page to earn 25 additional bowls of food AND…

3. Share your adoption story on Petside’s Facebook Wall for the chance to be featured on Petfinder.com as a Happy Tail story!

4. VOTE for your favorite blog on our Pet ‘Net 2011 Hub Page! Petside will donate $500 to the winning blogger’s shelter of choice.

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Petside.com November 16, 2011 at 9:57 am

“And just this summer, she learned how to swim, at seven years of age!” I CAN”T get over this. amazing


MelF August 31, 2012 at 2:24 pm

I’m sorry I didn’t see this earlier. I am constantly amazed by Daisy learning to swim too. Now she loves the water. Just a couple of weeks ago we went to a dog park along the Mississippi River and she ran right in and paddled around. Rotally made me smile. Daisy continues to surprise me every day. 🙂


Leslie Smith November 16, 2011 at 10:15 am

Love these success stories. Finally the life for Daisy that she deserved. Thank you…


MelF August 31, 2012 at 2:25 pm

Thank you Leslie. I have to admit that I am really conscious about give Daisy the best life possible. I know it sounds silly, but I think I am trying to give her everything she didn’t have early on in life to kind of cancel out the bad stuff.


Vicki November 16, 2011 at 1:33 pm

I’ve fostered a couple of puppy mill dogs and everything you say is right on target. I’d add a couple of caveats. They’re usually not potty trained, and if the dog is an adult, that can take awhile, so you need to protect your carpets and floors. Most importantly, no matter what records the rescue organization presents on health, vax, and deworming, be careful. One of the dogs I fostered had a health certificate verifying she had been dewormed, but a couple of weeks into fostering her we discovered she had whip worms, a type that are very persistent in the soil and can linger and infect other pets for up to 5 years.


MelF August 31, 2012 at 2:27 pm

Yikes Vicki! That is really good advice. I was fortunate in that Daisy had another foster home before me, so anything she may have had was treated before I got her. The potty training was a concern early on, but she followed my Aspen out and watched what she did and followed suit. It really helped.


Edie November 16, 2011 at 3:40 pm

Not everyone would have been able to “really quickly” learn the patience that you did, Mel. Kudos to you for your success. I know Daisy’s progress is its own reward — but you also deserve a great deal of credit.


MelF August 31, 2012 at 2:28 pm

Thank you so much Edie, but I think Daisy motivated me in ways I have never been motivated before. I am so lucky. She has taught me so much.


Charlotte dog training November 29, 2011 at 1:12 pm

That’s a great story!
Your tips are really great, I hope that more and more people will follow your example and rescue dogs from their shelter!


MelF August 31, 2012 at 2:27 pm

Thank you Charlotte. I hope they do too!


Joni August 30, 2012 at 2:56 pm

Maggy, my puppy mill dog. named after Margaret Sanger, one of the first advocates for birth control in the U.S., and I are on an interesting journey. I have had her for five months. She and I definitely have a relationship now. She comes when she is called, makes eye contact, takes food from my hand, loves to be scratched and rubbed and wags her tail. She is afraid of everyone else. She has started to go potty on our walks, but still soils in the house. She now enjoys her walks on quiet streets, but balks and gets skittish around traffic. We still have aways to go, but I love this dog and she loves me. At my age, 58, I don’t need a dog who loves everyone. We are enough for eachtoher.


MelF August 31, 2012 at 2:33 pm

Maggie – Thank you for your comment. Because of you I was able to see the other comments I missed. One of my new foster dogs (one I have since adopted) went missing 2 days after this posted and I was so busy looking for her that I completely forgot about this post. Thank goodness your comment brought me back!

I loved reading about Maggy! I also know about Margaret Sanger. An amazing woman. I absolutely love that you named your girl after her.
It can be one of the most rewarding experiences to help a puppy mill dog. I can tell you have already seen what can happen when love, time and patience are given a chance. I am so glad she is making such great progress. Daisy continues to surprise me with all that she does and learns. I wish you and Maggy the very best life has to offer. Thank you for saving her.


Liz McCauley July 26, 2013 at 4:25 pm

Hi, Mel. Great reading all these positive comments. I adopted a puppy mill discarded dog male breeder in 2007 and changed my life. I’ve spend the years since fighting our dog laws in PA and rescuing the Shiba Inus that end up in our shelter. I am fostering a 10 year old female right now that is particularly petrified of steps. I’m working on giving her chicken do entice her up them, but no luck yet. I haven’t introduced her to my three yet, but hope that will help if, as you said, she will follow their lead. Any “tricks” you can offer for the step issue?


MelF August 10, 2013 at 5:37 pm

Hi Liz

Sorry for the late response. I think having the other dogs show her how to navigate steps may help. Daisy had a tough time with them too. I used a leash and treats to help her slowly make progress. We would try one and then quit and then try two steps later. She mastered them brilliantly after her little brother came along and showed her the ropes. So much so that I had to put up a baby gate! She started sneaking downstairs at night to raid the cat’s litter box! 🙂


Erin August 6, 2013 at 12:29 am

I adopted a 4 1/2 year old male havanese from a rescue organization. He was a puppy mill dog that had been fostered for 8 months before I adopted him. We are adapting well but slowly. He is pretty much house trained and will take treats from my hand. He appears to feel most comfortable in his kennel but sleeps in his bed in my room at night. He also has just recently decided that the couch is a comfortable place to lay. But will only lay there if I am not close to it. I am wondering if I adopted a 2nd non puppy mill dog if that would be helpful in him learning “normal” dog behaviors? Or if that would just add more stress. What are your thoughts?


MelF August 10, 2013 at 5:34 pm

Hi Erin

Sorry for my delayed response. I have found many puppy mill dogs do better with another more confident dog around (one that hasn’t been damaged by people), however I would recommend you do a thorough check on the new dog you do bring into your house. I was fortunate to have Aspen, who was even-keeled and well-raised by her previous family. I know a lady you had to give up her mill dog because her dog started beating up on him. Go in with eyes wide open, but yes, consider getting another dog. And, kudos to you for making so much progress with your baby. I know how hard it is to see them so afraid, but based on your comment, he is feeling safe with you.


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