Home > Animal Rescue, Dog Behavior, Maggie, puppy mill dogs, Puppy Mills > Fostering a puppy mill dog is not for the impatient

Fostering a puppy mill dog is not for the impatient


Maggie thinks I am too close and is making to create some distance

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.

Cheese please!

Cupcake and Maggie waiting for some cheese. She keeps her distance from me, but that distance has been decreasing lately.

  1. fredrieka
    May 22, 2014 at 7:44 AM

    she is beautiful, it reminds me of feral cats. Fred when I brought her home she would not go in the car I had to place her. Her other family took her for a ride in the car and left her in a parking lot. Now she loves rides.
    she needs constant reassurance , which is lessening .. Good for you.. thanks for the post

  2. May 22, 2014 at 7:50 AM

    Kudos to you for having the patience to nurture these beautiful animals. You are doing a sterling job. I love reading your posts and frequently forward them as a lot of what you say just makes sense!!! I am sure with your love they will keep progressing!

  3. May 22, 2014 at 8:28 AM

    I think you’re awesome for what you are doing for her. It would require a ton of patience, but at least she is responding. Hopefully eventually she will be a “normal” dog.

  4. May 22, 2014 at 8:42 AM

    Thank you for this post. It’s sad for these poor mill dogs not to have experienced the joys of being in a loving home.

  5. May 22, 2014 at 9:26 AM

    Such good work, Mel.

  6. May 22, 2014 at 9:42 AM

    I’ve noticed hesitancy at doors and exercise gates in some of our shelter dogs too — I wonder what the deal is with that.

  7. May 22, 2014 at 9:49 AM

    I came from a puppy mill and I totally understand! Wooooooowooooooooooo!

  8. May 22, 2014 at 10:55 AM

    This post is so timely for me, thanks for sharing the ordeals of fostering mill dogs. I have a foster dog now that is proving to be far more challenging than any other foster I’ve had. We don’t know her background, but her extreme fear of humans, noise and the crate are making it so difficult to work with her. It’s be a week and so much drama with so little progress. I was getting discouraged until I read your post. I feel a bit more motivated now and Patience is definitely the word of the day, week, month!

    Catherine Armato

    • May 22, 2014 at 11:29 AM

      Have you hooked up with the fearful digs blog and books? You might know those things because you have experience fostering. My vet told me to toss hot dogs and cheese. Combined with sitting in the ground, facing away, she warmed up to me fast, but almost two years in, drug combos, etc…no one else can get near her. Husband can’t put a leash on her. So yeah, it takes time!

  9. May 22, 2014 at 11:22 AM

    She is so lucky to have you!

  10. Maggie
    May 22, 2014 at 3:30 PM

    Wow. I really appreciate the behind-the-scenes look. That level of patience is Herculean. It’s certainly not for everyone, so how wonderful that she has you! I really appreciate the link you shared – I’m going to check it out in detail over the weekend.

  11. May 22, 2014 at 4:17 PM

    Loved your post! I haven’t fostered any puppy mill dogs yet, but I’m always given the hoarded and feral dogs which have very similar behaviors. They are extremely slow at giving trust, and I find myself socializing them constantly at safe dog parks where people AND dogs are within proximity. I live in a 3rd story apartment, so in constantly dealing with getting my dogs up the slatted steps and into the doorways. Thanks for sharing. All good reminders for me 🙂

  12. sheltie1
    May 22, 2014 at 8:52 PM

    Occasionally shelties have inherited shyness that requires the same special treatment even if they are raised in a loving home.

  13. May 23, 2014 at 8:03 AM

    Thank you for sharing your experience and for you dedication to helping your girl.

  14. May 26, 2014 at 6:20 AM

    Maggie is so lucky she is in your loving home and capable hands Mel. I’m sure she will reward your care and efforts in time. Sounds like you have got plenty of the required patience 🙂 My first foster Greyhound was very shy, a bit of a spook. For the first couple of weeks with me he’d think I was a different person every time I changed my clothes and stay even further away for a while, lol!

  15. Corgi Mom x2
    June 10, 2014 at 3:20 PM

    Thanks so much for this post and the link to Dr. McMillan’s study! 18 months into the journey with my mill dog and her transformation continues to amaze me (Daisy’s blog was a great resource, btw). I’m grateful every day that she can finally experience real happiness and the joys of being a dog.

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