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.
- Tip: 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 behavioural 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 socialization opportunities during the puppy 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@example.com 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!