What to Expect When Adopting a Puppy Mill Rescue Dog

Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, behavior consultant, former veterinarian assistant, and author of "Brain Training for Dogs."

If you are considering adopting a puppy mill dog, it's important to know what to expect considering that puppy mill dogs are not the average dogs most people are accustomed to.

Puppy mill dogs are dogs mainly kept for breeding purposes and their associated profits, with little regard for the dogs' health and well-being. Also known as puppy farms, or more formally, canine commercial breeding establishments (CBEs), puppy mills are basically large-scale commercial dog breeding operations.

Dogs kept for breeding purposes in puppy mill operations are housed in squalid wire cages in inhumane conditions that negatively impact their physical and mental well-being. This is the total opposite of what responsible breeders do. A responsible breeder's goal is to produce puppies that are socialized and healthy and meant to be sold to responsible homes through a screening process.

Many times, prospective puppy owners purposely seek puppies from pet stores or internet sites knowing that they come from puppy mills. These prospective puppy owners feel that, by buying from these sources, they are helping these dogs. However, purchasing a puppy mill dog just opens up space for another puppy mill puppy and provides profit to the puppy mill industry so they can keep on breeding inhumanely.

The impact of living in unsanitary and isolated quarters deeply affects a puppy mill dog's health and well-being, often leading to medical ailments, under-socialization, and behavioral problems. Forewarned is forearmed goes the saying, and therefore, knowledge is power if you are considering adopting a puppy mill rescue dog.

1. Potential Medical Problems

Puppy mill dogs are often raised in horrific, crowded conditions and there are often reports of neglected dogs with open wounds, severely matted hair, ribs and spines showing, being fed moldy foods and dirty water, and housed in filthy, stacked wire cages.

Living in such unsanitary conditions can certainly put a toll on these dog's overall health and well-being, which is why it is imperative to have these dogs see a vet as soon as they are adopted.

It is not unusual for these dogs to develop congenital diseases and chronic conditions that may lead to significant veterinary bills. Some puppy mill dogs may not even survive following adoption, leading to high costs and heartaches.

What health conditions are likely to be found in puppy mill dogs? When looking at statistics, it was found that, when 80 dogs were rescued in 2011 from a puppy mill in Hertford, North Carolina, almost 50 percent had parasites, 23 percent had ear infections, 15 percent were affected by various eye disorders, including keratoconjunctivitis sicca, and dogs older than 18 months had moderate to severe periodontal disease.

Other conditions that are often found in puppy mill dogs include skin disease occurring as a result of urine-soaked, matted fur, skin diseases caused by mites, fleas, and secondary infections, dehydration, injured paws due to wire cages, breathing problems due to high ammonia levels, and some dogs are found to be severely underweight.

You should have your recently adopted former puppy mill dog see a vet at your earliest convenience.

2. Potential Behavioral Problems

Dogs raised in puppy mills receive little or no exercise and lack most forms of socialization or enrichment. This has a deep, negative impact on the dog's personality and emotional well-being considering that these dogs are housed in cages or runs with little opportunity for social contact, often for their entire reproductive lives.

There is plenty of anecdotal evidence suggesting that, after being rescued, former puppy mill dogs continue to display persistent behavioral and psychological abnormalities.

According to a study published in Applied Animal Behaviour Science, when compared with a convenience sample of pet dogs matched for breed, sex, age, and neuter status, former puppy mill dogs were found to demonstrate significantly higher rates of fear and phobias, lower trainability, compulsive and repetitive behaviors, heightened sensitivity to being touched, and difficulty in coping successfully with normal existence.

Fear is not unusual considering that puppy mill dogs often miss out on socialization opportunities during the puppy's critical socialization period, a window of opportunity that generally takes place between three and 16 weeks of age, during which puppies are most open to learning about their environment. Lack of socialization during this critical time may, therefore, lead to the onset of fear and subsequent behavioral problems.

Because puppy mill dogs live most of their lives in cages, they have a hard time adjusting to novel stimuli. The sound of a coffee maker, vacuum cleaner, or washing machine can evoke stress and panic. Some dogs may be particularly fearful of men or may develop trust issues towards their new owners despite how well-meaning they are. Countless puppy mill dogs have a fear of sudden movements, unfamiliar objects, and loud noises. Here are some additional tips:

  • Puppy mill dogs may need to be desensitized and counter-conditioned to novel stimuli that evoke fearful responses. For fear of noises, the "hear that" method may help. Calming aids may be helpful too in lowering the fear threshold.
  • Puppy mill dogs may also not like being touched or may resent being picked up, and they may be fearful of going outside or even wearing a collar and leash.

This study gives us strong evidence that the dogs kept in these large-scale breeding facilities don't just suffer while they're confined there, but carry the emotional scars out with them for years, even when they're placed in loving homes.

— Dr. Frank McMillan, DVM,

3. Potty Training Challenges

Puppy mill dogs are raised most of their lives in cages or kennels. This means that when they need to urinate or defecate, they'll just do it without much thinking. This can pose significant challenges in the potty training department once adopted and placed in a new home.

Dog owners want their dogs to not have accidents around the house, and when crated, they expect their dogs to "hold it" because dogs are known to have a natural inclination of not soiling the areas where they sleep.

However, in puppy mill dogs, this instinct is not present. When placed in a crate or kennel, they are therefore prone to soil in it, even if this means getting their fur dirty and wet. This is because a crate or kennel may have been their regular bathroom for weeks, months, or years.

Potty training a puppy mill dog is therefore not without challenges. However, there are many steps owners of recently adopted puppy mill dogs may take to ameliorate the situation.

  • Keep your dog on a regular feeding schedule (this helps establish regular outings). Skip the cheap, supermarket kibble which leads to bulky and frequent stools and opt instead for a premium dog food.
  • Familiarize yourself with your dog's pre-potty cues and readily accompany your dog out when you recognize them. Praise and reward for successfully eliminating outside.
  • Clean indoor messes with an enzyme-based product that helps remove traces of any residual smells.
  • Avoid using punishment-based methods when you catch your dog eliminating in the home (like scolding or pushing your pup's nose in his mess) as this will only teach your dog to hide to pee or poop because he associates eliminating in your presence with fear.

With time and persistence, you can also train your new puppy mill dog to go potty on command.

Further Tips to Help Puppy Mill Dogs

  • Provide a quiet area for your new puppy mill dog to retreat when frightened.
  • Provide a structured routine. Routines provide predictability and a sense of reassurance.
  • Use positive reinforcement methods for training and behavior modification.
  • Be patient and take baby steps when introducing new stimuli. Let your dog approach at his own pace.
  • Enlist the help of a dog trainer/behavior consultant for help.

The Bottom Line

Puppy mill dogs need loads of patience, understanding and love. It can take time and loads of dedication to help these dogs overcome all the damage that has occurred during the many months or years spent in unsanitary and harmful conditions.

Maintaining realistic expectations is important. Not all puppy mill dogs are capable of overcoming their issues. Some will remain shy and skittish for life. Others may overcome many of their fears, but the process typically goes slowly.

Watching these dogs bloom and grow through baby steps, day after day, can be a very rewarding experience.


  • Mental health of dogs formerly used as ‘breeding stock’ in commercial breeding establishments, McMillan, Franklin D. et al.Applied Animal Behaviour Science , Volume 135 , Issue 1 , 86 - 94
  • The Humane Society of the United States 2012, Veterinary Problems in Puppy Mill Dogs

© 2018 Adrienne Farricelli

Nancy E Brougher on March 24, 2020:

I am opening a very small abused senior canine sanctuary with a fenced in wooded back yard n even a dog door to use during day I have several caregivers who will cover for my partner RENEE and I if ever needed. One of us will sleep with the dogs every night in my queen size bed or one of MANY dog beds in our DOG ROOM which leads directly into my bedroom The dog room has beds, blankets , food and water toys, and as I mentioned a dog door for use except at bedtime I am trying to find the most neglected dogs to live their senior years with me perhaps feeling love n security for the first time in their lives I ve been in touch with Pet Finders and Furry Tails and SPCA . There was a profile of a dog from a puppy mill who had been in the bottom of 3 stacked crates Urinated and defacated in her whole life Can you help me find her ? Thank you NANCY E BROUGHER [email protected] 717 880 6612

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on April 05, 2019:

Brittanie, so great to hear you rescued a puppy mill dog! Bless your heart for helping this dog out. I hope she warms up soon and gets comfy.

Brittanie Anne from Seattle WA on April 05, 2019:

This is great advice! Thank you! I just recently adopted a rescue from a puppy mill. I'm hoping these tips will help her become more comfortable in her new surroundings.

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on October 08, 2018:

Yes, the level of committment needed is great with these dogs and not everyone may be ready to face the challenges, but as the saying goes, when there is a will there is a way. Glad to hear you have found a great match for your boy!

Heidi Thorne from Chicago Area on October 08, 2018:

The whole puppy mill issue is just devastating to these poor creatures! And, yes, it requires a dog parent that's willing to work with him or her on serious behavior retraining.

BTW, we adopted a senior (9 years) playmate for our golden boy. She's amazing. Hope all is going good with you and your dog fam!

As discussed in last week’s blog, rescued puppy mill breeding dogs come with a whole lot of emotional baggage. Fear is the number one issue- fear of people, other animals, and new sights and sounds. Should you decide to foster or adopt a rescued puppy mill breeding dog, how can you help her adjust to her new life? Here are some pointers for creating an emotional environment to help your new dog feel safer.

-Enter the process with realistic expectations. Understand that your rescued dog may not ever be a “normal” pet in terms of her trainability and responses to new people, other animals, places, and things.

-Patience is a virtue as progress may feel exceedingly slow at times. Do your best to avoid pushing your new dog past her comfort level.

-It can help to have another, well-adjusted dog in the household to role model healthy emotional responses.

-Be sensitive to your dog’s reactions. It’s not a given that your puppy mill rescue will react positively to being held or cuddled. Some dogs prefer more physical distance.

-In order to acclimate your dog to strangers, recruit your dog loving friends and relatives to come over, one at a time. They should enter your home in a quiet and gentle fashion, allowing your dog to approach them on her own terms.

-Find a reputable trainer who enjoys working with fearful dogs. Such an individual will be an invaluable coach for both you and your dog.

-There have been plenty of books written about working with fearful dogs. Ask your trainer for his or her recommendations.

Rescued puppy mill breeding dogs are certainly not for everyone. Boy, oh boy, caring for them properly is a lot of work and requires so much patience. The reward for all that hard work and patience is the opportunity to observe a battered little soul slowly emerge from its shell and experience what life can be for a dog who is loved.

Have you ever fostered or adopted a puppy mill breeding dog? Any words of advice?

Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Author of Your Dog’s Best Health: A Dozen Reasonable Things to Expect From Your Vet
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

Please visit to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health. There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health are available at,, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.

21 Comments on “ Caring for a Rescued Puppy Mill Breeding Dog ”

Peggy, you mentioned a dog afraid of males. I would crate the dog with someone she trusts in the room. If the dog has a favorite treat, have a male visitor come, interact with the person she trusts, then try to give the dog a high value treat, such as dehydrated beef liver. We make these and use it to make dogs happy, most love it.

If the dog will not take it from the male, have him lay it down where the dog can reach it and leave, as a start. has a lot of information including a library of free online videos.

my puppy Teddy at a pet store in Fort Morgan. I brought him home on my Lunch break, he weighed 1.3 lbs. I was so excited, I walked around the pet store for 2 hours just holding him. When I got home from work he could hardly stand on his own and I called the vet. It was late and I had to wait for a return call and when I the vet finally called me back he said to give him corn syrup that he is hypoglycemic. I wandered why he sat in my arm so still. I was so scared. I had to have my mom take him to vet three days later he was still having episodes. They took blood tests and found out that he had an extremely high white blood cell count and said he was full infection and probably wouldn’t make it. We asked if there was anything we could do because the pet store only offered puppy exchange. I didn’t want another puppy Teddy was my puppy and he picked me and I picked him. We gave him fourteen days of antibiotics and were told to feed him whatever he wanted and if he got low on sugar to give him something sweet. When my mom had questioned the owner of the pet store she was told “let me take him for a week he’ll be fine and besides I have several more just like him at home.” This really scared me and I started wondering what kind of life he had before they brought him into the store to sell.
From the article, Puppy mills dogs have a very hard life and no family. They spend their lives in very small cages receiving only what they need to live and no extra love at all. I can’t imagine living with no attention, no toys, and well pretty much nothing. Just to think that the puppy I fell in love with might have lived this way for the first few weeks of his life. There is a good chance that he spent most of his time in a cage and explains why he has a problem with abandonment.
Everything deserves the chance at a better life. There are better ways to make a good living. There are other places to purchase or adopt a pet to love and care for. Puppy mills thrive on the business of pet stores and websites.
They are starting a pledge to stop puppy mills go the website listed above and there is a link to sign up. Also encourage others to research responsible buyers before deciding to purchase a pet. They have several links on this website for shelters and responsible buyers. Puppies deserve to live as man’s best friend and not in a cage with bad health.
Pet stores have tried to defend themselves and stat that they buy from breeders and not from puppy mills. This is a contradictory statement because most responsible breeders want to meet with the people looking to buy their puppies. They want to make sure that it is the right choice and that their puppies will go to good homes not just any one off the street. Even if the pet store claims they buy from only USDA-licensed breeders. The only thing about this is that USDA-licensed allows breeders to have hundreds of dogs kept in tiny cages. They also allow several bad marks against the breeders without shutting them down. I don’t see how this much different than a puppy mill. The dogs are still kept in inadequate living spaces and I’m sure there isn’t enough help to care for them properly.
The list for pet store excuses goes on and on but I know that I will never purchased another puppy without knowing who the breeder is and how the puppy was taken care of. I love my Teddy more than anything he is like my child, but I just wish he would’ve had it better before he got me. He spent the first couple of months with me in and out of the vet to make sure he was ok. He had a vaporizer to help him breathe and I’m just happy I found him and can give him the life he deserves. All animals deserve a good and compassionate life and not to be treated just like profit, but like family.
There are so many options when purchasing or adopting a best friend. Make sure to take the time to research what is best for you. Also make sure that you are in a good place to care for a puppy. A lot of those in shelters are from people who didn’t research or take the time to make sure they were ready. There are so many animals in shelters that need good homes and care.

Kyla and Jody, reading your stories is so inspirational. What love you both have and what patience. The stories of Blue and Bill and how far they’ve both come, and how much they must have suffered before your kindness is truly amazing and awe inspiring.
You and everyone else who has either fostered or adopted a “thrown away” animal or a puppy mill dog are to be commended for your dedication and your love.
Thank you for sharing and for letting others know the great joy that comes from taking in dear animals that others have either abused or thrown away. Every pet that we have ever had has been one that has been abandoned by a heartless human being. And the joy that each has brought to us is truly immeasurable.

This is a great article, although I’d like to add that it’s not fair to say a puppy mill survivor will never be “normal.” My dog, Bill, was one of the worst cases our rescue had seen. It’s a long story, but for months he just wouldn’t move. We had victories when he walked through the living room by himself, when he jumped out of the car by himself six months later, and when he barked for the first time after living with us for almost a year.

Bill’s now been with me for almost four years. He’s helped me foster 50 dogs (having other dogs in the house has been extremely helpful for him). He hikes off leash (he used to flatten as soon as he got outside), accepts pets from children (he used to bolt every time he’d see one), and even eats dinner out of one of those Kong things dogs bat around to make food fall out (I used to have to feed him in bed just to get him to eat).

Is he normal? I don’t know. What’s normal? I’ve yet to meet a dog with no issues. He’s definitely manageable and a joy to have around, that’s for sure.

How did I do it? It wasn’t magic, and I’m not even that patient. With Bill, though, I had to learn to be patient. I exposed him to other dogs as much as possible, and that was really key. Other than that, I gained his trust and then continuously pushed him a little out of his comfort zone – just a little – each day to help him grow.

He inspired me to start Happy Tails Books and Up For Pups. If you follow my web link, you’ll find a few great books (one free) full of resources for people who adopted puppy mill dogs.

Adopting a puppy mill survivor has been a great opportunity for me to grow as a person, and I couldn’t imagine not having Bill in my life now.

Like Heather H., Rob M & Melinda K I also have one of the 227 feral rescues from the Puppy Mill/Hoarder. According to the Vet who spayed her she had a “well-worn” uterus. My DVM confirms based on reading her medical history she was probably nursing or just weaned a litter at the seizure. Additionally, she was a “group of 1” when pulled – possibly b/c she had a litter or was isolated to wean the puppies. Several orphaned pups were found on the grounds. Most of the dogs were free roamers or held in large groups in small pig-type pens.

Blue was/is terribly fearful of humans – she spent much time either pacing or trying to hide for many months. She would not eat or drink in my presence. I spent the entire 2nd month and a half handfeeding her every morsel of food she ate. We started with chicken & meat only, then mixed with kibble and finally just kibble – one piece at a time. First with me sitting on the floor holding the food behind my back, then side approaches, then I moved to sitting in a chair. The last week I introduced my dog and had one on each side of me – alternating pieces of kibble. Twice a day feedings. She learned Max would not fight for the food and I would not allow him to take the food meant for her.

She was tethered to me any time outside of the crate for 2 months, then was allowed loose with a drag leash under supervision. Otherwise she was crated at night and when I was not home for a year (mostly for her own safety b/c she could panic). While most fosters/rescues thru here are tethered to me until trustworthy, with Blue I found the “forced intimacy” to be an added benefit.

For the first 18 months I had a male dog – also a rescue but more in the normal range – who was her mentor and my helper. Max was very people social (other dogs were his issue) and I used him to show Blue canine-human interaction. He introduced her to the real world and became her security. She would drink water if he was – always placing him between her and potential threats (me, other people, dogs). Max introduced play to Blue – I don’t think she had much “play” in her former life. It was a joy to see her relax and even wag her tail. When Max died, Blue regressed slightly but eventually our bond strengthened and we regained ground.

A couple months after I lost Max, my brother adopted an 8-wk old puppy born in rescue & given a good start. Macey spends most days here. It took a week or two until Blue took to her and decided to help raise the puppy. A little puppy really helped Blue come out of her shell – alot. She is now a “play addict” – who’s the puppy? After years of rescues I made sure Macey was well-socialized, confident and now nearly bomb-proof. Blue feeds on her confidence.

Blue is still fearful of strangers, men in particular. I taught her to “touch” hands on the “Hello” command. She will take food from women and only from men after a long time (several meetings).

She will never be “normal”, but every time I think “this is the dog I will always have”, Blue surprises me with more progress.

Dr. Kay and everyone else who has added so many wonderful comments…does anyone have any idea how to overcome, or at least ameliorate this problem? A neighbor adopted a large (70 pound) mixed breed female puppy mill rescue. She was obviously beaten and abused by a male (that was in her records) as she is terrified of them and does not interact well. Any ideas on how to help her overcome this fear?
She is well settled into her new home, (a senior lady, living alone, adopted her) , but any ideas would be welcomed. Thanks.

Ruger was a puppy, 6 weeks. The only issues I have with her is the fear of being dropped and that she is the queen of GI tract issues due to being fed cheap (the brown bag that says “CAT FOOD” on it) cat food which is what the puppy mill fed.

Lucy is my latest. She spent the majority of her 6 years in a cage cranking out puppies (She had 6 registered litters that I know of. The breeder registered each litter and it’s on record with AKC). When I got her she was loaded with mammary tumors and bad teeth. The tumors were removed and the bad teeth were either cleaned or pulled. She lost 14 teeth during the cleaning. The Vet said that “pulling” really wasn’t the right word to use as most of them just fell out.

Lucy had a hard time running when I first got her. She had lived in that cage for so long, her muscles didn’t work well. Now she zips all over the place and loves to hunt around for rodents and bunnies.

Lucy was not much for cuddling when I got her and I understood this. She was readily accepted by the rest of my Dachshunds. She began watching them and how they interacted with me. Eventually she started coming to me for attention and started sleeping next to me at night instead of off someplace on her own.

The only thing that I did not allow from her was hiding in crates. She liked to hide in dark corners for hours and I blocked all that off. I did it without her knowing that I blocked them because I wanted everything to be positive for her. And I never got after her when I found her in places where I did not want her to be. As a matter of fact, I actually allowed her to get away with quite a bit until I felt that she bonded to me, then I could start training her.

Now she is “my dog” and you can’t tell her any different. We go for long walks on the farm and she runs and plays in the grass. She goes with me everywhere when we travel. She is just the perfect dog.

The advice that I could give to people about a puppy mill dog. Take it slow, and I mean sslllloooowwwwwww. Allow them to explore and learn about the world outside the cage. Don’t force yourself on them. Let them come to you. And when they finally do start coming to you for attention, drop what ever you are doing and give it to them. Do this until you feel confident that they have bonded with you. Then if your busy when they ask for attention, just say something like “Not right now. I’m busy” but give them a little pat and say it in a nice way. Then when you have completed your task, call them over or go find them and love on them. They will understand.

Important information being circulated among us on this topic. Do want to point out that not all “rescued dogs” are puppymill survivors (did appear in a couple of posts that the terms were used interchangeably).

Having “worked” with a good many puppymill survivors, I can say that I agree with the post that says the most important element is the presence of another dog – a friendly and accepting dog who will teach the survivor so much more than we can and lead the survivor into situations that become teaching opportunities. So much is trial and error – try it and if you see something positive, then expand on it. What is acceptable to one dog will be frightening to another. Becasue confidence is the opposite of fear, everything you teach addresses fear and creates an opportunity to reward. Dare to be silly – I’m a terrible singer but survivors I have known love to hear singing. So we sing.

Having read with interest this blog, and posted comments, I simply could not resist adding mine. Last November, after emotional loss of “Coco” (beloved chocolate cocker spaniel companion of 11 years, after adopting from a shelter), I determined to honor the memory of me departed buddy, by (this time) adopting an even less fortunate (Coco had been well treated, and @ 2 1/2 was well rounded, socially – very self-confident) “cousin”. Following some research, I travelled to Lancaster, Ohio (about 3 1/2 hr drive, from my home), where I met “Tarragon”.

“Tari” (as I now call him) had been living with his foster family (including 3 cocker’s they owned, and other foster kids) for about 8 months. He is also a chocolate cocker ( a bit smaller stature – 5 lbs. lighter – than Coco), about 6 1/2 yrs/old. – according to the ‘history’ provided to Columbus Cocker Rescue – when they rescued him from one of those E Ohio/W. PA ‘puppy mills’ (where he had been a stud for about 5 years).

Upon my arrival, Tari and his adopted/foster ‘brothers & sisters” met me outside (avoiding any problem with confined space). His well adjusted foster sibs eagerly greeted this stranger, while Tari observed it all from a ‘safe’ distance. It was quite clear all of them (at that time a total of 6) had been well cared for, and were genuinely ‘loved’, by Tari’s foster ‘parents’.

About 3 1/2 hour later, having actually touched Tari about 5-6 times, though having observed no indication of any ‘fear aggression’, I was completing the necessary adoption papers for ‘CCR’, as I spoke with the Director (on phone). We discussed my recent retirement (I am also divorced/bachelor and, I lived alone – with the recent departure of Coco), and my view that situation would allow time committment necessary to gradually enhance Tari’s retarded self-confidence (I would not have attempted this activity, were I still working regularly).

So, ‘we’ bid adeiu to Tari’s foster family, and began the 3 1/2 hr journey ‘home’. Tari, for the first 3/4 hr of that trip, elected to remain in the solitude of the back-seat. Then, surprisingly, two fury paws appeared on the console next to me – followed, warily, by two rear paws. Then, Tari wedged his head under my armpit, seeking my lap (not something normally permitted – while driving – BUT excused in this instance).

‘Home’ is a townhome. Arriving presented an unexpected (by both me, & Tari) challenge. Staircases ! Oh my ! Just to prepare others – considering adoption of ‘puppy mill grads’ – stairs are…daunting ! ‘Down’ even worse than ‘up’.

I have enjoyed ‘walks’ with my ‘buddy’, in the somewhat secluded area of my home, for years. “Let’s go for a W-A-L-K, Tari !” Hooked-up (leash), Tari quite ‘dutifully followed the lead of his new Master (alpha dog…lol). Multiple other ‘issues’ (house-breaking separation anxiety etc). All related to retarded social development (companion lack of self-confidence).

However, now about 5 months later ? Daily/weekly ‘improvement’, in all delopmental areas. He actually shows interest – still timid/reserved – when we encouter other dogs & humans, while walking and, he no longer simply ‘follows his alpha (me)”. We still have ‘accidents’ (occassionally) indoors but, we are improving.

In addition, Coco was a ‘shared-custody doggie’ (with my ‘Ex’ – who happens to be a flight attendant, thus not in easy position for a ‘solo custody’). I offered to continue that ‘relationship’ with Tari (assuming they could bond) and, after some consideration, she wanted to give it a try. I am quite pleased to advise that too, seems to be working (& I believe will help Tari’s social development).

As others have observed, I expect Tari’s ‘rehab’ to be a long term (likely perpetual) project. In 5 months he has come so very far – yet has so very far to go. However, that bond is growing (with both of his adoptive ‘parents’), and`our pleasure in witnessing that growth – and his enjoyment – makes us smile.

For those considering ? You need more time, than that you may have previously devoted to raising a puppy. You must be….P_A_T_I_E_N_T. The reward (IF successful – NOT all will be) ? Considerable.


Puppy mills are not the only source of terrified dogs. Any dog that has been isolated and or abused during the first 6 months of life – or longer – is going to be very challenging to rehabilitate. Experts refer to it as “missing the window for socialization”.

In Alaska one of the main problems are dogs left on short chains in horrific conditions, in some cases for years. These dogs are often owned by “hermit” types and the animals have never seen another human before. The only human contact they have experianced has been negative and abusive.

We have rescued over 200 sled dogs over the past 10 years that had been abused and abandoned for one reason or another. With time and PATIENCE all but 4 have found loving homes of their own. The 4 unadoptable dogs will live out their lives here at the sanctuary. All but one loves for my wife and I to care for them and love on them, but are still terrified of everyone else. One, well he loves my wife but still hides if I even talk to him.

If a person is considering adopting or fostering a puppy mill dog, or any other unsocialized animal, DO YOUR HOMEWORK FIRST! The organization that is adopting out the animal MUST do a through preadoption interview with all family members.
With patience, love and more patience, most of the puppy mill dogs of the world can live happy lives – if we give them the proper environment and tools to do so.

Great article, thank you for getting the word out and giving great tips and ‘fore warning’. It can be quite a challenge bringing a rescue dog home. My very first rescue dog was by far my greatest challenge & a wonderful learning experience. The biggest lesson I learned – no matter how much you ‘love’ this dog, love alone doesn’t always fix things. We went on for months in a confusing, trying cycle. I didn’t understand why he didn’t like me more, why no matter how much I loved him, he don’t seem happy. I finally got some great advice and started searching for a trainer who would understand his needs and teach me how to meet them. Our obedience classes were more about trust and communication than obedience once we established trust, he understood and appreciated my love. Six years later he continues to be the most loyal, loving best friend ever. My advice, as similarly stated in the article: find the right person to evaluate the entire environment – dog, individuals in the household, the home environment, establish boundaries and learning activities. I do believe in Cesar Milan’s triangle – exercise (mind and body), discipline, affection. The whole world could benefit from this Peace, Love, and Pawprints!!

Over the past decade, my husband and I have taken in several hundred dogs from the notorious Amish “breeders” here in Ohio, and also many from the dog auctions in Missouri.

Here are 6 more tips that we have found helpful:

1. Leave a leash on the dog 24/7 when not crated. That way you can get the dog in an emergency without chasing and frightening him. Some dogs will avoid you and hide in the yard or corner of the house, making socialising challenging. We leave a 6 ft leash attached to the buckle collar dragging in the house, and a 30-40 ft lightweight nylon line for outside, with a knot every 10 ft (so you can step on it to catch him, it wont slide under your foot.)

2. Consider an “umblical tether” in the house — hook the 6ft leash thru your belt and go about your business. Great for housetraining but even better to get the dog used to being in the general vacinity of a person and just hanging out. The person is not putting pressure on the dog to pet the dog, make eye contact with him, etc.

3. Try to hand feed all meals if possible. If the dog wont eat from your hand, put the dish on the ground and sit next to it and read a book. He learns to associate humans with good things.

4. Give frequent tasty treats thru the day, by hand if possible,if not then toss the treats to the side of the dog (not at him) and let him eat from the floor. Not lousy dry store bought “dog treats” but good stuff….hot dog slices, cheese, leftover steak or chicken or pepperoni pizza.

5. Housetraining the males especially is very hard. Will often take months. Consider a belly band (doggie diaper) while you are working on it, so your furniture isnt damaged and you dont get too many grey hairs!

6. Watch the females for breast cancer, check for lumps often.

7. Remember to use CANINE body language to help him relax.

Do not bend down or lean over the dog, instead sit on the floor and lean away, inviting him in, not imposing on his personal space.

Do not reach on top of his head/back or move quickly or “pat” him, instead move your hand underneath where he can see it sloooowwwly and stroke gently under his chest or on his sides.

Do not make direct eye contact, instead turn your head sideways and look at him only out of the corner of your eye.

It’s hard work but so worth it, so rewarding!

I adopted a 10 year old dog who was not in a puppy mill, but had been a caged breeder for 10 years. Patticake had been dumped on the street, badly abused, and needed a quiet place to die (she couldn’t walk, and her hindquarters were atrophied from no use). She came here, and I realized that she had no idea that she could get off her cozy bed, so I had to take her out several times a day, and keep water next to her, or she wouldn’t drink. It took a few weeks and lots of love and supplements, but she started walking. A great doggie chiropractor performed miracles, and now she runs along the beach with the rest of my pack!
Patti has been with me for about 2 1/2 years. No one in my life has ever looked at me with the adoration I see in her eyes. And even now, she will tolerate cuddling when I just can’t stop myself, but does not enjoy it. She does like to be stroked, likes to be near, but will only eat in a secluded spot. She will never be “normal” but then, neither will I
Patti doesn’t like anyone but me, even after years. She will bark at everyone else, and is just beginning to allow folks at the dog park to touch her, which make me celebrate every time!

I cannot stress enough the importance of another secure dog.

I have 4 of my own all, like Patticake, with various horror stories…and there’s usually one or more foster dogs. I kind of specialize in traumatized dogs, because they quickly see that the 4 residents are always treated with kindness and respect, even when they misbehave. New dogs quickly gain confidence. In our rescue, we always tell people that 2 dogs are easier than one and with a traumatized dog, this is the basic truth.

It is so rewarding to help a lost soul, and I guarantee, they give you way more than you will ever give them!

Hi, great article and important subject.
I have always found that the best way to connect with a shy or troubled dog, of any age, is to do FUN activities, like learning tricks! Nothing makes your pup (of ANY age) happier than to be able to make ‘you’ smile! When she learns a trick, you smile and others smile, not to mention that ‘you’ enjoy this activity also… Then when the pooch learns a trick well, you invite others to do the trick with her, which leads to socialization. Even if you intend to teach her agility, discipline, freestyle etc, START with teaching tricks, to build a great bond, and wake up the genius and ability to learn in your pooch!

But, sometimes, no matter how experienced the foster home and no matter how hard we try, we can not rehabilitate some dogs. And, there should be some way of saying to the people who adopt/foster these dogs that it is OK to have tried your best. And, it is OK to let them go.

Am I saying that fosters and adopters should not do everything in their power to rehab these dogs? Of course not. But, sometimes, all the training, desensitization and counterconditioning and medication in the world can not fix them.

And, the rescuers should not feel guilty about that. Because they do feel guilty when they fail and it is not their fault.

I own one of the dogs “born in custody” that Heather mentions. The presence of my older dogs has been instrumental in building Jet’s confidence. As those dogs age, we have found it really important to make sure that Jet is prepared to live in a world without them. Over time, we have gently pushed him to experience the world on his own. We still have a ways to go, but now his confidence is self-perpetuating accomplish one “scary” interaction and he feels that much safer to take on another. He needs to experience the world thru his own brave eyes rather than see it only as a reflection thru my older dogs.

Perhaps our biggest challenge has been to discourage others from feeding his insecurities with affection. At first, people thought I was being so mean. But over time, people we interact with regularly have seen the transformation from tail-tucked, crab-walking, trembling dog to one who greets people with a wagging tail and relaxed body. It’s much more fun to interact with *that* dog than the other one. In that way, friends and family have helped transform his life.

Thank You Dr. Nancy for this post.

As a trainer I get a lot of dogs that are fearful and the pups from Puppy Mills are so grateful for the help. They respond very well to the proper kind of socialization and confident owners that we can make their lives so much better.

I have a video on you tube that I get a lot of response and query from and this Portughese Water Dog came to me, a biter and petrified of everything at 1 yr old. In 3 months we turned her around and she’s in a wonderful home and loves everyone.

Because of the video I do quite a bit of Skype training for those who are in other parts of the country and it is so helpful to be able to see and show folks exactly how and when to do a certain thing. Timing is crucial to dealing with these fearful pups.

They can recover with patience, kindness and perseverance.

As one of the adopters of the dogs Heather Houlahan mentions upthread, I would add that it is not for everyone. Great patience is mandatory the dog may never be “normal”. But every little victory adds up, and the emotional rewards of seeing these dogs — in our case, over 200 — eventually become well-adjusted enough to live with people and have happy (if imperfect) lives is one of the best things I have ever done in my life.

Our largest breed rescue operation was the rehab and placement of 227 puppymill/hoarder survivors that had been seized and held as criminal evidence.

The young adults were significantly worse than “regular” puppymill animals, due to their Lord of the Flies existence, physical abuse, starvation, etc. They were feral dogs, except more fearful than a normal street feral. Some had been confined and unable to escape victimization, while some had been free-ranging in the junkyard that surrounded the “kennel.”

Those that were young puppies when seized, or born in custody to bitches pregnant when seized (8 months as evidence) were better, as they were raised by loving volunteers. However, they were not permitted outside the perimeter fence that enclosed them as evidence, so had no experience of the outside world. The oldest dogs had been the original breeding stock, purchased as puppies, and they varied from very shut-down (clinically depressed) to nearly normal in affect. They’d all had 7-8 weeks of normal life before being shipped off to Hell by their unsuspecting breeders.

The absolute MOST IMPORTANT factor in each dog’s rehabilitation in their foster and adoptive homes was the presence of one or more normal “helper dogs.”

The second most important factor was the patience and persistence of the new humans. Nothing happens fast with these guys, but it is absolutely IMPERATIVE that they be slowly, steadily pushed and led to expand their comfort zones. Then given time to process their accomplishment. Quietly, please.

If permitted, many of them would have found a safe spot in the corner of the basement and stayed there for the next twelve years. We had to be careful with placements, so that they would not molder with people who were too “soft-hearted” to appropriately challenge the dogs, and would instead pity them and let them be quivering wrecks forever.

Loud, overbearing people are right out. However, some people who *can* be loud and overbearing have the ability to dial it down — probably to their own benefit as well.

None of the former ferals could be trained with food, praise, touch or play as a reward — all of those things ranged from being occasions of terror to just tolerable. After eight months in custody, many would still not take food from a human hand. Many would only eat if no one — human or dog — was watching or nearby. Hand-feeding them was part of their taming protocol — they got ALL their food in small bits by hand, some of them for months. But that is not the same thing as training a dog with food. So new families had to learn how to titrate pressure and let the dog’s own satisfaction at conquering fear be the reward for having done so. This is a powerful motivator.

Plenty on my blog in 2009-2010 about these guys. There’s a sidebar just for posts about them.

Remember, not “poor baby,” but “tough survivor.”

I have taken in a lot of dogs through our adoption group. Most come with some label attached – not potty trained, separation anxiety, and on. No puppy mill dogs that I know of.

So many more dogs could be helped if more people would be willing to help them, by providing a temporary home until they are adopted.

People who work from home are especially able to help socialize a scared dog. I always keep a crate in the office for the newcomer. This allows the current dogs to sniff the newcomer, and the newcomer to feel, and be, safe. The crate generally goes away after a full day. A dog from a puppy mill would probably take longer.

Potty training probably will be hard, if the dog is used to years of pottying in a crate.

All our dogs have learned to potty outdoor quickly. Here is our advice on potty training. is a great source for dog training.

This is a wonderful post. Caring for a puppymill breeder is not easy – it requires inordinate amounts of patience. But the reward is watching this loving little personality emerge from a dog that should have no reason to ever trust another human being.

My Grace was a puppymill breeder for the first 5 years of her life. We adopted her nearly 5 years ago and while she’s progressed leaps and bounds in those 5 years, she will never be a “normal” dog – she’s what’s been called a “badly damaged” dog she’s so emotionally traumatized that there are fears and anxieties that she’ll never overcome. But as I type this, she is snoring contentedly on the big bed (not next to me, of course, as that’s too much physical contact for her!) and that sound warms my heart – the fact that she can find peace and comfort in our home is worth every single second with her.

Rachel and my puppymill breeder, Gracie Lou Freebush!

What to Expect When Adopting a Puppy Mill Rescue Dog - pets

The long road home

Don't be surprised if they are exhausted when you get them home. They are going to have to charge their batteries and get some rest! Some of them will do nothing but sleep for a couple of days. They are exhausted. These little guys have had a busy long week or more. They have been routed from "home," bad as it may have been, they have had people they don't know handling them, etc. also moving around from place to place, all kinds of new things they have never experienced or seen before. Then, long travel in many different cars to different places. You may not begin to see their real personalities for weeks and that's so normal. They are scared to death and TIRED!

Leash walking
They have not seen leashes or even collars before. We initially do not walk them on leashes unless it is really necessary. We carry them from the car to the house, into the vets office, etc.. Once the dogs are more comfortable, we start them on a leash. You can just clip it on and let them drag the leash around inside the house. The next step is walking them on leash in the fenced yard. They will get used to it just like a pup does.

Flight Risks
All mill dog survivors are high flight risks. Never take your dog outside a securely fenced yard until you are thoroughly bonded to the dog and it is used to a leash. And that takes lots of time, there's no hurry for leashes that first period of adjustment. When you do get ready to take your dog outside the fence, double-check to be sure the harness is secure enough. You can use a collar and harness, then run the lead from the collar through the harness for extra safety. I have also used a coupler to clip on to the collar and harness. Many a dog has backed right out of a collar or harness! So take lots of care. If a mill dog gets loose outside a secured area, he will likely run until he drops catching him will be quite a difficult task. Prevention is by far the best policy. Even the best trained cavalier may take off after a butterfly!!

Practice really good door control to make sure they don't slip out an open door to an area that's not fenced. We have a gate we use across the opening before the front door so the dogs cannot get out when the door opens.

Potty stuff

Waste disposal:
In the beginning, after you scoop/clean the area where they potty, spray the area with some bleach mixed with water to be safe. Indoors use something like Nature's Miracle or Oxy Solution Pet Stain and Odor remover. Use normal sanitary practices to clean/wash hands and safely dispose of waste, etc.

House training
Crates and/or exercise pens indoors- we usually keep the dogs confined to a crate/x-pen indoors when we cannot watch them in the beginning and at night. You can put an old piece of linoleum or heavy drop cloth down under the x-pen to make cleanup easier. We try to not give them the opportunity to make a "potty mistake." Put them on a schedule. At first, as a minimum, take them out in the yard with the other dogs immediately when they get up in the morning, again around 11 or noon, before and after dinner and then again right before bed. They learn the routine quickly.

-Don't put soft things in the crate initially. They seem to like to pee on soft things. Once you see that they are not peeing in the crate/pen, you can then add soft things like crate pads, blankets.

-They are a lot quicker to housetrain than puppies! They will follow your other dogs and learn from them too. Have a party when they potty outside. Sing, clap and dance for them in the beginning (and yes, the neighbors will think you're nuts) and give them a high value treat. Chicken pieces, hot dogs, cheese and liverwurst and praise have trained lots of dogs here.

-Never say or do anything if they have an accident indoors. Just ignore them and clean it. But if you catch them in the act or circling to go, give a loud ACK, ACK verbal noise and scoop them up and rush them out. Then praise and party when they potty outside.

The more careful you are in the first week with not letting them have a chance to make a mistake indoors, the quicker they learn. Many have a few mistakes in the first few days and none after that. Next thing you know, they have house freedom and are sleeping in your bed. LOL. Just use the methods you would use with a young puppy.

Some of the males and even females will urine mark initially. You can use a belly band indoors with a self sticking sanitary pad inside. Marking will lessen and usually disappear. It may begin again in a new place they go to visit but is easily corrected.

Some of the mill dogs are poop eaters. Pick up the poop frequently. Prevention is the key to this. They can learn to stop over time.

Soft stools and Diarrhea:
Some may initially have soft stools or diarrhea due to the changes in food or stress. It usually clears up very quickly. You may want to have some cooked rice available to mix with food if that happens. Pls call your coordinator for some things that you can do for simple diarrhea. You can stop food for a short time to let the gut rest or feed small amounts of rice with maybe some boiled chopped meat or chicken. Make sure they get lots of fluids.

Most of the dogs are comfortable in the crates. They are used to it. I have crates in several rooms and once the dog has earned more freedom, we leave the doors on the crates open and often find a dog napping there. Some like the security of the crate and will retreat there for comfort when afraid. Some will stay in them in the beginning and have to be coaxed out to go outside. Let them feel comfortable coming out on their own. I drop a small piece of food or treat at the front of the open crate, then a small piece outside and like Hansel and Gretel and the bread crumbs, they will start to come out and follow the trail. Don't push them too fast and they'll be fine. But for those dogs who are coming along well, freedom is great for them. They have spent all their lives in cages. DO NOT LEAVE THEM IN CAGES FOR LONG PERIODS OF TIME. Just like you, they need exercise and potty breaks.

Feeding in crates or ex-pen:
I feed them in the crate initially so that they can eat in peace without my own dogs trying to steal their food. It's also easier to see who has eaten, etc. I can then keep them confined till all dogs are all finished so we can send the whole crew outside together right after the meal. Some don’t know how to eat out of a dog food bowl. Try putting the food on a flat plate to see if that works. Call your LS contact for help.

Some millers use the food bowl to temp the dog to the front of the crate so they can grab them. So some dogs retreat to the back of the crate or pen when you put down food. Just close the gate, walk away and let them come to the food when they feel safe. I give them 15 minutes or so to eat and then remove the food. Initially they may be stressed from the travel, the new surrounding, different foods, etc. and may not eat. They may only be used to a bad diet and don’t recognize a new food. They will usually eat the next time the food is offered. None of them will commit suicide by not eating. LOL.

They will need access to fresh water. Hopefully if they are crated during the day while you are at work, someone can who can give them a potty break midday is a plus. Just make sure that person knows the safety rules so the dog doesn't get loose.

Other FEARS:

Many of the dogs are hand shy or afraid of loud noises. They may run from a hand because they were not treated kindly by hands before. Just be patient with them and let them learn that hands give lots of love and belly rubs. Build the trust slowly at the dog's pace. They will learn to trust you. And you will cry when they lick your hands for the first time. It usually doesn't take long. You can start by holding them and petting them gently for a very short time several times a day, talking quietly, then putting them carefully down. Try not to overwhelm them in the beginning and they will do fine.

Eye Contact
Some dogs will not make eye contact initially (submissive behavior). You can avert your eyes and talk quietly to them. They will learn to trust you. They don't understand English yet but they will understand your soft tone of voice.

Many have never seen stairs before and are afraid. If they are very small or afraid, Try carrying them down (and/or up) at first. It is easier for them to go up than down. I tempt them with a small treat to come up just a few steps at first. Then you can start to put them on the second step from the bottom and tempt them down. Then we gradually add a step or two at the pace they seem to be comfortable. Soon, most are running the stairs. They are really afraid of open backed stairs. If you have those small stairs for the couch indoors, they will learn those really quickly by watching or being tempted up. That helps them learn the outside steps to your fenced yard.

Most of the dogs have never walked on grass, tile, carpet, wood surfaces, etc. They may high step and be afraid at first. Most will follow your dogs or you onto the surface and soon be comfortable and explore. Nothing is better than seeing them realize they can run freely around your yard on grass and they are so HAPPY!

Toys and Play
They do not know what toys are. They don't know how to play with humans. They might not even know how to play with other dogs at first. Just take it very slow. They usually get curious to toys later when they get over their fears. Some of the females will take the stuffed toys in your house and bring them to the crate. Remember, most have their puppies taken away very early and they seem to mimic mothering with the toys. Some will not let the other dogs take their "babies." Many stop the behavior later.

Hose Water
Many of the millers leave the dog in the crate and turn on the hose to clean out the cage. Your foster may freak at a hose running water even when someone's just watering the lawn.

Other fears
Some are afraid of men, men with hats, caps and/or beards. Might very well remind them of the mean miller. My other half takes these dogs on and calmly softly talks to them, pets them for short periods, feeds them, etc. Soon they are climbing happily in his lap.

Some are afraid of children. I usually wait till the dog is more confident (and the individual dog will determine how long that will be). Then I have kids offer the dog treats and walk away. Soon they love to see kids coming. Just take it slow if the dog is shy around them.

Some are noise phobic. Try and keep the house calm in the beginning. Just go about your business doing vacuuming, playing music/TV and they will get used to it. Mirrors freak some of them out. Just handle it like you would a brand new puppy. Lots of other things will scare them because it is all NEW to them.

Just be patient and try to not force things too quickly. The dog will develop at their own pace some very, very quickly and some take longer. It's amazing to watch them grow by baby steps and leaps.


Hey, have I put you to sleep yet? LOL. Enjoy the EXPERIENCE!. It is rewarding and fun! How many times do any of us get to make such a difference in a life and get to witness the miracle of love and patience help a sweet dog blossom and have a great life! Thank you for taking a rescue into your family. It's great to see the wonderful enthusiasm you have! Please let us know if you have any questions. You have been rescued!

Where Can I Adopt a Rescue Dog?

You can find rescue organizations or shelters by conducting an online search, or try searching a dedicated pet-rehoming search engine like Whichever you choose, it's important to go to a trusted and certified organization.

Most rescue groups and shelters have websites where you can view the dogs they have before going to meet them. These websites typically allow you to you enter your criteria (size, age, breed, child-friendliness, etc.) to scan through potential matches. You may find dogs online that you fall in love with instantly, but it takes an in-person meeting to make sure you and the dog are a great match.

Watch the video: Undercover video of puppy mill in Iowa which sold dogs to Springfield-area retailer (October 2021).

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