Since December, I have been sharing updates on Maggie and how she is progressing after being rescued from a puppy mill in Pine River, Minnesota.
Most of my updates have been about the things I am doing to help Maggie adjust to life in a home – hand-targeting, showing her how to tell me when she wants to be touched, chewing on bones, adjusting to all the new sights and sounds she has never experienced. What I probably haven’t shared enough is all that goes on behind the scenes.
Let me just say, fostering and rehabing a puppy mill dog is not for the impatient.
While Maggie is making great progress, there are still things that she does that remind me every day that she is still dealing with the remnants of her former life:
- Unusual or loud sounds and sights during the daytime will send her scurrying for her two favorite hiding spots – the kitchen and bathroom. She prefers her kennel during the day because it is dark and quiet and safe from the reflections of light in the house. Seeing a car driving by the front window is frightening to her. She has no context for such a thing in her previous life.
- She still drags a leash behind her because she is still a huge flight risk. If feeling cornered or faced with something scary (and let’s face it, everything is scary to her right now), she will run. Fast and far.
- Doorways are still scary – she needs a lot of space to go through them on her own. In the past, I could catch the end of her long line and lead her inside (always keeping my back to her, because facing her while leading is still very scary for her), but now that she has progressed to a shorter leash, it is about pretending I don’t see her. In the winter, I would bundle up in coat and boots and go outside and slowly usher her in by corralling her towards the door until she would go inside. Now that it is warmer, I go outside in pajamas and slippers and play ball with Jasper, because that allows her to head towards to door on her own and cautiously make her way inside. If I turn and look at her while she is doing this, she will freeze and/or run away from the door. If that happens, we have to begin the process again. On days where the doorway is really scary and she won’t go inside on her own, I will coral her from a distance in the yard. This is always done from a distance because I don’t want her to feel as if she has to run from me (and all humans). I think the longest time it took to get her inside was 30 minutes, but on a typical day it can be anywhere from 5- 10 minutes.
- Touch is not alway a welcome thing. Maggie is definitely not keen on being held. Many times, she prefers not to be touched at all, especially when highly agitated or fearful. (This is when we focus on hand-targeting and using cheese to change how she feels about whatever is making her fearful at that moment.) She is learning however, that touch can be good and will seek it out from time to time (like right now, as I am writing this post).
Daisy was like this in the early days too. She has made amazing progress in the 6 years I have had her, but it did not happen overnight. I already know that.like Daisy, some of Maggie’s unusual behaviors will fade with time while others will remain her entire life (even now, Daisy still has problems with doorways from time to time). What I do know is that Maggie’s quality of life is better than what it used to be. She is learning how to be a real dog, not just a miserable being just trying to survive in a puppy mill.
Franklin D. McMillan DVM, of the well-known Best Friends Animal Society, recently released a study on puppy mills that was quite enlightening (Understanding and Caring for Rescued Puppy Mill Dogs). It’s probably the most comprehensive study I have seen on mill dogs since I first adopted Daisy. It reaffirms most of what I know and have experienced with mill dogs myself.
Behaviorally, puppy mill dogs are very different from normal, well-socialized dogs.
- Have many more fears and phobias – strange people, sights, sounds, movements and objects
- Soil in the house more frequently (this has not been the case with Daisy or Maggie)
- Have compulsive and repetitive behaviors
- Are less likely to have aggression
- May be less trainable because of their fear (anti-anxiety drugs can often help them get beyond the fear so they can progress)
- Have less excitability and low energy levels
- Are less likely to chase small animals
- Have less desire to be touched or picked up
- Often have a vacant or blank stare (this faded over time with Daisy)
- Do better in homes where there is another dog or dogs
This does not mean that puppy mill dogs cannot make progress or should not be saved (in fact, McMillan’s study suggests the opposite), but rather that they need time, patience and a safe place to land, so they can adjust to life outside the mill.
If you are looking to foster or adopt a mill dog your first skill you need to practice is PATIENCE.
Maggie has made some great progress over the past few weeks and month. She might not be ready for a new home yet, but she is definitely heading in that direction. She eats and drinks comfortably in and outside of her kennel. She no longer needs to be led inside and outside the house most days. She now follows the herd, and sometimes, she even beats them to it and gets to the door first!
One of the things she does well inside the house, but not outside, is coming to me for treats. She will hop up on the couch next to me when called and she will engage in hand-targeting easily, but outside she keeps her distance from me.
Like many shy dogs, Maggie is afraid of someone approaching her while they are facing her. It is scary to have someone looming over you when you are a shy dog (actually many dogs hate looming, not just mill dogs). To have someone come towards you and loom? Terrifying. Maggie will run to the opposite side of the yard to maintain a comfortable distance from me at all times. She trusts me, but only so far. There is safety in distance.
To help Maggie with this I have been slowly working her up to being more comfortable with looming. This is something I have been looking forward to trying now that we all can be outside without freezing our patooties off. Debbie Jacobs of Fearfuldog’s Blog, first shared this idea with me soon after I started fostering Maggie. She did the same thing with her dog, Nibbles. (Thank goodness for her Nibbles videos!)
I started by tossing cheese to Maggie and my dogs while sitting in a chair on the patio (Maggie loves cheese and the word “cheese”). Then I started asking my dogs for tricks for cheese while Maggie watched and got tossed a few pieces here and there. This drew her nearer to me as she wanted very much to have more cheese (“More cheese, please!”). Over the past few days, she has been steadily getting closer and closer to me in anticipation of getting more cheese.
Yesterday, I decided to switch it up a bit and stand in the yard and toss cheese to all four dogs. Of course, my dogs were ALL over that. Maggie kept her distance, but she would run in to nab a piece the other dogs missed. After doing this intermittently throughout the day, last night I decided to try to see if she would participate in a game of hand-targeting with me looming over her. She watched for a while as the other dogs all touched my had and got a piece of cheese., then started moving closer and closer. From time to time, I would offer her a chance to touch my hand, but always she would back off. Then, just as I was starting to run out of cheese, she did it! She targeted my hand twice while I was standing and looming over her! Yay Maggie!
I think we’ll keep working on this one for a while, until she feels much more comfortable with looming, but I am hoping we’ll be working up to walking on a leash in the yard soon. Cross your fingers!
Curious about looming and what Debbie Jacobs did to help her dog, Nibbles, become comfortable with it? I’ve attached the video here, but to read the whole story on Nibbles and looming, go to her post titled, “Learning to like looming.”
That is the question I posted on my Facebook page last night. I asked the question after seeing a posting for a missing dog that listed the breed of dog as Teddy Bear. Ummmm… What?
Two thoughts immediately ran through my mind when I read that posting:
- What the heck is a Teddy Bear?
- Who the heck is going to know what a Teddy Bear is so they know what to look for?
I can reassure you that the dog has since been found (thank goodness), but it led me to ask the question of my friends “What kind of breed is a Teddy Bear dog?”
Here are some of the answers I received:
- A pom mix?
- Never heard of it.
- Shichon or cross between a shih tzu and bichon.
- Also called a Zuchon.
- Bichon and Pom and Shitzu (I think).
- It can be any mix usually toy anything that will sell.
I Googled it and came up with this:
Teddy bears are “designer dogs,” hybrids of two or more breeds. Most commonly, their parents are Shih Tzus and bichon frises or bichon-poodle mixes, although breeders continue to experiment with adding other dogs, such as schnauzers, to the gene pool. Because of their small size and sweet nature, teddy bears can be perfect pets whether you live in an apartment or a large house.
Apparently, according to this page, they are also great therapy dogs, perfect for people with allergies (yeah, right), and smart and easy to train.
The most likely reality is they are also mutts (yes mutts) with a cute name and numerous health issues that cost thousands of dollars and were raised by puppy millers looking for another quick buck. I can’t wait for the new waves of puppy mill breeding dogs soon to be headed to your local shelter (after a raid of a breeding facility).
To steal a phrase from a friend (Thanks Marie!): “Good Grief. People will do anything to say they have a “rare or special” dog breed won’t they?”
Yes. And, people will pay anything for a dog with a cute name.
I’ve been wanting to give a shout out to my dog’s veterinarian for some time now. She is truly one of the best, especially if you have a shy or fearful dog. My visit with her yesterday just reminded me why I love her so much.
I first discovered Dr. DeWoskin back when I first adopted Daisy (almost 7 years ago). In those days, Daisy was a very scared puppy mill girl. She was fearful of people and new places, and cowered at the slightest sound. Dr. DeWoskin and the staff went out of their way to make Daisy feel more comfortable. They gave her space, shared treats to help make things a little less scary and used slow movements to check her out. Because of their efforts and kindness, Daisy now looks forward to going to the vet. She is only too happy to see Dr. DeWoskin or the staff because she knows yummy treats and gentle hands will be the experience of the day.
Yesterday was Maggie’s first visit with Dr. DeWoskin, and once again she reaffirmed to me why I continue to bring all my dogs to her. Here is how Maggie’s first encounter went with Dr. DeWoskin:
- She came into the exam room and instead of coming right over to Maggie, she sat down on the floor opposite from her.
- She talked with me and watched Maggie as she opened a package of string cheese.
- As we talked about Maggie and how she was doing and where she came from, Dr. DeWoskin tossed her pieces of the cheese.
- Maggie might have been unsure about the room and the sounds in the clinic, but she was more than happy to eat the cheese. (Serious progress for a puppy mill girl!).
- Dr. DeWoskin didn’t stand for some time, but when she did she moved slowly and watched Maggie’s body language the whole time (Oh yeah. Did I mention that both she and the staff make an effort to understand dog body language? That is such a huge a win for the dogs!)
- She then laid a mat out on the exam table, so Maggie wouldn’t slip and slide, and examined her slowly while sharing cheese bits with her throughout the exam.
- When she was done, she gave Maggie her space and let her settle in.
As a result of her efforts, Maggie left her office much calmer and comfortable than she had been when we first got there.
I could be totally generalizing here, but I think it is pretty rare to find a vet who understands shy and fearful dogs. Dr. DeWoskin just “gets” it. I never feel like I am putting my dogs in a situation where I end up feeling guilty for subjecting them to their care.
I love that she watches a dog’s body language before making a move towards them. I love that the staff are as gentle as she is in caring for my pets. How often do you hear about veterinarians and their staff studying dog body language as a part of their day-to-day work?
So a big shout out to Dr. Melissa DeWoskin! This is why I continue to drive across town to see you. You totally rock!
I should also mention that Dr. Lillie and Dr. Mead are great too!
Maggie is a puppy mill breeding dog rescued from a puppy mill in Pine River last summer. She was not yet ready to be adopted into a home, so I am fostering to help her adjust to life in her new world.
Maggie has made some great progress since coming to stay with me just after Christmas. Here are some of the areas in which she has made progress:
- Going outside – She now follows my dogs outside like she’s one of the group. For those times she doest, I am able to lead her out easily on her leash.
- Coming inside – This was a problem for her before (doorways are often a problem for mill dogs). I would often have to let her drag a long line behind her so I could easily catch her and lead her inside, but this became an issue because she would often get it tangled on the bushes and trees in my yard. Now she drags a short leash and chooses to go inside on her own, often with my other dogs. She won’t do it if I am standing in the doorway, but if I go outside and walk away from the doorway, she runs right in. This is huge progress!
- Interacting with me and my dogs – When Maggie first came, she was frightened of me, but not as much by my dogs. (This is common for mill dogs, who are often more comfortable around other dogs than humans.) She wouldn’t engage with my dogs, but she would often follow them around. Now she has started to engage them, coming into contact with them, sniffing them, and even making an attempt to play with them. She will also take treats from me and interact with the dog puzzles I use with my own dogs. We are now working on her making eye contact with me. I am very impressed with how much more confident she is around me.
- Eating – Maggie seems to have no trouble eating as long as she feels safe. Like Daisy, I often feed her in her kennel because that is where she feels safest. It also allows her to eat without my dogs trying to swipe a kibble or two from her. She is great about going in her kennel and loves the Kong I leave her before I leave for work each morning.
Despite all the progress Maggie has made, she still has some things that frighten her and cause her to run and hide. Most of them seem to occur in daylight:
- cars going by the window
- reflections from the sun on the window and on my walls
- birds at the window bird feeder
- reflections of the TV on my walls
- Strange sounds
- Loud sounds
All of these things frighten her and many will lead to her looking around frantically and running to my bedroom to hide (see the video below). Darkened rooms are much more comfortable for her than rooms doused in sunlight. (I imagine if we had grown up in a dark room and had little exposure to daylight, we might also be afraid of these strange shadows and reflections too.)
I am working with Maggie to help her change how she sees these scary things, but it will take time. We use treats and her Thundershirt to help her.
Here’s just a few of the more recent pictures I have taken of Maggie and the video I made to show you how she reacts to shadows and reflections she sees during the day.
Notice in the video that Maggie is panting and constantly looking around. Her ears are pulled way back on her head and at times she will pull her lips back in a tight, close-mouthed display. She also paces, coming back to me for comfort, but then moving away again when something she sees really scares her. These are all signs of stress. As I mentioned, I am working on this with Maggie but I wanted you to see a little bit of the stress and fear a puppy mill dog experiences when rescued from a mill.
Being rescued is not the end of the story for dogs like Maggie. It takes a lot of time, patience and dedicated work to help them deal with life. For some, life is just too stressful for them and they live in constant fear, unable to move forward. In those cases, euthanasia is almost a blessing, but for those who are able to adjust and cope, those who can be rehabilitated, life can be better. It just takes time. Maggie is a work in progress.
Please don’t shop, adopt. When you buy a puppy from a pet store, you support puppy mills and ensure that dogs like Maggie stay in them.
If you read my post from last Thursday, then you know about Maggie, our new foster dog.
That post provided you with some general information on Maggie’s background and her fears and shared some videos of her outside.
If you don’t know, Maggie came from a puppy mill and has been staying with us just a little over a week. Dogs like Maggie, are often damaged – emotionally and physically. Building trust with them is difficult. It takes time, patience and dedication. Oh yes, did I mention time?
My Lab Daisy took almost three years to come out of her shell. People who meet her now would never guess how emotionally damaged and scarred she was when she came to me just over 6 years ago. I still see it sometimes, it never goes completely away, but she is miles from where she started. For that, I am grateful.
When Daisy first came to live with me, I made sure to give her a lot of time and space – time to get used to me, Aspen (my dog) and our routine and space to decompress and adjust to this new life she had. I wanted her to have a say in what she felt comfortable doing and I wanted it to be on her timeline. Building trust with her was my goal, but that could’t be done completely on my terms. That had to be done on her terms. If I forced her to do something just because I wanted her to do it, I would have risked her shutting down or regressing, and I most certainly would have destroyed any trust she had with me. So instead we worked together, in tandem, with Daisy telling me when something was too much for her and when she felt she could trust me enough to push past her discomfort. it required me to listen to her and to watch her body language in order to know I needed to stop or move forward.
What I did with Daisy is similar to the approach I am using with Maggie. The only difference between then and now is that I have a little more wisdom and experience this time around, and I have a few more resources at my disposal.
In Maggie’s first few days with us, I tried to give her some space, some time to adjust – to me, to my dogs and to our routine. Now I am focused on building her trust. There are two things I am doing to help build that trust (with more to follow as she progresses). The first is modeled after a video I shared on my blog a year ago showing how you can determine if your own dog likes to be petted by you. I recommend watching it, if you haven’t already, and trying it with your own dog.
Briefly, what I have been doing is petting Maggie for a short period of time and then letting her tell me if she wants me to continue or stop. It’s taken some time for her to figure out that she has a say but she has started to realize that if I pet her and stop, she can tell me if she wants me to continue by simply nudging her nose at my hand or by touching my hand or making a movement with her nose towards my hand.If she does not want to be touched she stops nudging me and I stop petting her.
Here is a video demonstrating that behavior. As you can see, there is one point at which she becomes distracted by a noise and looks around. I let her and wait to see if she chooses to come back to me for more petting. I don’t try to get her attention back, I just wait and let her decide, which she does. This is Maggie choosing on her own what she wants from me. Pretty cool huh?
The second thing I am doing is similar to the first, except I am asking her to do something in return for some cheese. It’s called hand targeting. I don’t have a video of this with Maggie yet, but Debbie Jacobs from FearfulDogs.com was kind enough to direct me to some of her videos on hand targeting that she did with her dog Nibbles, who came from a hoarding situation. I have included one video below, but I would really recommend going to her post titles “Nibbles” so you can see a few of the videos of her work with Nibbles and hand targeting.
If you are working with a dog like Maggie or Nibbles, you should absolutely check out the rest of Debbie’s videos and blog posts about Nibbles. He has made such amazing progress in her expert care. To me, Nibbles is proof that sometimes you can rehabilitate dogs like he and Maggie and give them a good quality life.
I will continue to work with Maggie to help her along her journey, but I know it will be a slow process that will have its ups and downs. It just takes time and patience.
Note: Maggie is one of the lucky ones, she got out of her puppy mill, but there are many more still living a life of hell. Please continue to spread the word about puppy mills and the damage they do to dogs like Maggie. Not every dog can be saved, but every dog should have a chance.
If you follow my Facebook page, you may have seen me post a picture of a new dog that is staying with us right now. Her name is Maggie. She is a foster dog and will be staying with us for a while.
Maggie had the unfortunate luck to be born in a puppy mill in Pine River, Minnesota. (I wrote about the Pine River puppy mill in a previous post - How many Pine River Puppy Mill Raids will it take to change laws? That’s up to you. and shared a video of the dogs that came from there.)
Unlike most of the dogs rescued from Pine River, Maggie was too frightened to be adopted out right away, so she came to Minnesota Sheltie Rescue for additional time and attention. She is very afraid of people and strange sounds (and sudden movements by me), but like many puppy mill dogs she is not afraid of other dogs, including mine.
A lack of early socialization with people and new environments, and mostly negative experiences with people (her puppy millers), has made her afraid of most everything she sees or hears. Her first reaction to something that scares her is to run. For that reason, she is a flight risk. I
n the week that she has been with us, Maggie has worn (and will continue to wear) a harness with a leash attached and a martingale collar that can be attached to a long line. It is for her protection that she wears these items. If she were to get loose, she would run and there would be no chance of catching her. Absolutely none.
For most Americans (at least those who know what a puppy mill is) a puppy mill is a terrible place where dogs are bred to be sold online or in pet stores. Most of what you and I know about puppy mill dogs comes from images we have seen of a puppy mill raid. Usually these include images of the squalid and dirty conditions in which these dogs are kept and pictures of their rescuers carrying them out of a facility like Pine River. But what we don’t often get to see is what happens to these dogs once they leave the facility. Nor do we see the emotional damage that remains with a dog that comes from these places. I wanted to share Maggie’s story with all of you because I think it is important to show you the emotional state of a puppy mill dog after it has been rescued.
Maggie has been with us just under a week now and continues to be afraid of most things. Here is a list of the things she fears:
- Hands reaching out for her
- The sound of the furnace turning on and off
- Cars going by the house
- Planes flying overhead
- Me pulling up the blinds in the morning
- Me cleaning out the hall closet
- Sudden movements by people
- The house settling
- Birds eating from the bird feeder outside
- Shadows or reflected light on the walls
- Having the long line attached to her martingale collar
- Coming into the house from the garage (she makes it in the door and readily follows the other dogs, but needs me to back away from the doorway so she has time to run to the living room or her safe spot in the kitchen
Maggie’s response to these fearful things is to do one of the following:
- Run away from the source of the fear.
- Run to her safe spot in the kitchen (next to the refrigerator).
- Run to her safe spot on the couch.
- Run to her safe spot in my bedroom, my closet.
- Cower and freeze.
- Look at the ceiling or in the direction of the sound.
Sense a theme here? Yes. When faced with something fearful, running is her first choice. Her only concern is getting away from that which scares her.
Can you imagine living in a heightened state of fear almost every hour of the day? This is the life of a puppy mill dog.
Imagine constantly having adrenaline running through your body because the terror you feel is in reaction to everything in your environment or not being able to sleep deeply because you are constantly on high alert in case you need to run and hide from something or someone.
I don’t think many of us would want to live like this. Would you? That is why in some cases euthanization is the kindest thing you can do for a puppy mill dog. I am hopeful that Maggie won’t be one of these dogs, but it is unfortunately an option that we have to look at when dealing with many puppy mill dogs.
Maggie gives me hope because even though she is afraid of many things, she is not always in a state of fear. She sleeps deeply enough to snore when she sleeps next to me on the couch. She is not afraid of my touch and even seeks it out when I sit on the couch with her. She is smart and a quick learner which should help her in the days ahead. She has already discovered that when all three of my dogs come into the kitchen it is because I am handing out treats. She is not afraid to venture out of her safe spot to grab a piece of cheese. She is fine with doorways and has no problem going through them. (Side note: Daisy was afraid of most all of these things when I first adopted her.) Maggie is also curious about new things in her environment and not afraid to investigate them (Side note: Jasper is very much afraid of new things in his environment and likely to run away in fear and bark than to investigate them.)
Over the coming days, I hope to share more about Maggie and her progress, but for now I wanted to introduce you to Maggie and to share with you what happens to a dog after it has been rescued from a puppy mill. I hope that you will share her story and help educate people on the emotional damage a dog suffers when it lives in a puppy mill. We need to change the laws in this country, but we cannot do so until people understand why we need to change them. By the way, Maggie’s puppy miller is still in business and breeding dogs so there are many more dogs like Maggie who will likely be faced with a similar situation some day.
Here is Maggie on her 2nd day with us.
Here is Maggie on her 7th day with us.
On July 16th of this year, a Minnesota puppy mill was raided and 130 dogs were rescued from horrific conditions. For months, these dogs and their puppies (many born after they were rescued) were kept in limbo as the court case against the puppy mill owner wound its way through the Minnesota court system.
Deborah Beatrice Rowell, was charged with seven misdemeanors and two petty misdemeanors for animal cruelty (misdemeanor charges carry a 90 days in jail and or a $1,000 fine). In the end, she got a plea deal and pled guilty to one count of failure to provide dogs with adequate shade. She was ordered to pay a $135 fine and is now back in business. Unbelievable isn’t it?
Meanwhile the Animal Humane Society (AHS) spent $200,000 caring for the animals and giving them long overdue vet care and vaccinations. A grant from the ASPCA made the raid possible and helped to give these dogs a chance at a new home and a new life. The puppy mill owner responsible for the conditions of these dogs? $135 fine.
If you find yourself saying any of the following right now…
“She should be in jail!”
“How can they let her off with $135 fine? That’s horrible!”
“The laws have got to change. She shouldn’t be able to get away with this.”
“How can they let her be back in business? That’s not right!”
She should be in jail.
She shouldn’t have been let off with $135 fine and allowed to be back in business again.
The laws have got to change.
And you know how that happens?
It takes you to…
- Get involved and call a legislator when the puppy mill bill comes up again.
- Write a quick note to committee members and ask them to support the bill.
- Share the information with your friends and family and ask them to take action.
- Join the rally at the capital.
- Speak up.
- GET INVOLVED.
Laws don’t change unless someone cares enough to speak up. Elected officials are swayed by their constituents, but only if they speak up.
Words left unspoken fall on deaf ears.
Need motivation? Watch the video AHS put together of the Pine River raid and the dogs they helped.
If care about dogs like Blue #9, then take action. Help us change the laws so this doesn’t have to happen again.
We don’t need another puppy miller getting off with just a $135 fine.