Home > Animal Rescue, Dog Behavior, Maggie, Pine River puppy mill, puppy mill dogs, Shelties > Foster Maggie Update – Filling in the holes of the sponge

Foster Maggie Update – Filling in the holes of the sponge


Could they be any cuter? Maggie and Jake #shelties #shetlandsheepdog

Maggie and Jake

One of the things I love most about rehabbing puppy mill dogs is watching them bloom and start to become real dogs. They might never become the dogs they were meant to become, but they get close as time goes on. The difference between puppy mill dogs and other dogs is that they spend a lot of time watching and absorbing everything around them before actually trying it themselves.

They act like little sponges, filling in all the holes left behind by their lack of socialization on early life, and then suddenly, a switch turns on and they start to put all the pieces together and act out the behaviors they have seen in other dogs.

Daisy was like this when I first brought her home. When we would go to the dog park, she wouldn’t interact with the other dogs (and most definitely not with people), but would sit and watch and observe them. She would take in their behaviors and the repercussions. She would watch how they played and drank and interacted with each other. From these observations, she slowly started to fill in the gaping holes in her knowledge of how to be a dog.

I still remember how she would watch her friends, Prince and Princess, drink from a water jug at the park. She watched them for weeks, and then one day, she tried doing it herself. It was clumsy and messy, but she tried. She pulled on her past observations of their movements and mimicked them as she attempted to drink water out of the water jug.

Cupcake has always been an observer too. She’s never had an issue with “speaking dog”, but interacting with humans was something she has always been fearful of, until recently. All those years of watching other dogs approach strangers for treats and a butt scratch has paid off. She is starting to mimic their behaviors. If you had asked me if Cupcake would let strangers pet her two years ago, I would have said NO WAY. But now? She does it more than I ever expected. And, with strangers too! She’ll follow behind them and wait for them to offer her a piece.

This is Maggie on most evenings. She will often sit on the floor beside me and then gently touch her nose to my leg so I will pet her. Although it was unintentional, I have reinforced this by petting her when she does it. I love that she seeks it out. #ma

Maggie’s nose nudges for attention

Maggie is no different. For the past year and a half she has been absorbing tons of information about her environment, dog behavior, and me. It started slowly with just learning the routines and knowing what to do when.

She learned how to put herself to bed at night by opening the kennel door herself. She learned that she gets fed in her kennel and being in it brings good things. She also learned that scritches feel good and now seeks out my touch daily. (I love her little nose nudges for attention.)

But even more recently, Maggie seems to have flipped a switch and decided that she wants to be like the other dogs.

Last Saturday, I updated the Sheltie volunteers (at our Sheltie Meet and Greet) on where Maggie was at in her rehab. I told them that Maggie had “watch me” and “touch” down, she had yet to learn “sit.”  I also told them that she still needed a long line on when she went outside because that was the easiest and quickest way to get her inside.

I guess Maggie felt she had something to prove, because Saturday night I held out a treat and asked for a “sit”  and she sat, several times! In the past , I had worked on sit without the cue word by holding a treat over her nose (like you do in puppy class) but each time it was met with nervous lip-licking and look-aways. It was too much pressure for her. She would back away or shut down. This time she not only sat, but she did it when I said the word! She had put the two things together on her own.

Then, on Sunday and Monday, I thought I would see if she knew the word “down” and asked for a down while also holding a treat near the floor. She did a down too! Not just once, but several times!

Maggie waits for cheese.#fosterdog #puppymilldog

Maggie and her long line

Then yesterday, Maggie’s long line broke in half while I was bring her inside. I groaned because I knew that I might be late for work since I would need to herd her inside. (This has taken me anywhere from 30-45 minutes in the past.) But apparently, Maggie had something else she wanted to show me. She took her usual route around the lilac bush and behind the chairs on the patio, but she went inside all on her own! I was shocked. She has never done that without me herding her in. Holy cow Maggie!

Last night I thought I would see if it was a fluke and let her out into the yard without a long line. Not a fluke. She did the same thing! She went right inside. On her own. And, this morning? She did it again. Could it be we are permanently done with long line? I hope so!

Jasper and his mini-me, Maggie. Waiting for cheese.

Jasper’s mini-me, Maggie

I am so proud of her. Maggie is pulling on all that information she has been collecting for the past year and a half and using it. Her sponge might not be completely full yet, but she definitely has filled a lot of holes. This is the very best part of working with a puppy mill dog. It makes it all worth it. Go Maggie Go!

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  1. August 20, 2015 at 7:30 AM

    Oh, Mel, how exciting! I so wish my doggie could be with other dogs, i’m sure she would have learned a lot! Briefly, I walked Stoli with a neighbor’s P Water dog, her only friend, and when she started her reactive routine with the mailman, Midnight ran to him for a treat and Stoli stopped dead in her tracks. But she can’t visit M because they don’t clean the yard and she eats his poops and the compost stuff, and he’s in day care. This is motivating me to get her in the car willingly and find a way to observe dogs.

    Your patience has been fantastic! What huge leaps Maggie has made! You must have had a little tear or two watching her go in on her own. Bravo, brave Maggie!

  2. August 20, 2015 at 8:18 AM

    It is amazing to watch this past year and a half how you have helped Maggie. I am in awe of you and what you have done for her.

  3. August 20, 2015 at 8:24 AM

    So true. Harley amazed me from the very minute we met, and he still does. Nicely written post.

  4. August 20, 2015 at 8:40 AM

    Wonderful news – so happy for you and Maggie!

  5. Deb
    August 20, 2015 at 8:51 AM

    Great job!

  6. August 20, 2015 at 9:12 AM

    Great Post. If only more people realized the absolute joy of seeing the changes in a dog that had been traumatized by living conditions, physical and/or emotional abuse, or simple neglect. Statistics would infer that there would be no market for Pet Store puppies if everyone adopted a rescue. I believe 4 million (that is no error) dogs are euthanized in the US each year as a result of a national inability to take care of all the “rescues” that are around. That is a horrible statistic and I do not expect any other country to be much different. Don’t buy off the internet. Don’t buy from Pet Stores.

  7. August 20, 2015 at 9:44 AM

    That all must make you feel so good to see her progress. We know all about that capturing to come inside thing. Katie used to play try to get me for over half an hour if she didn’t feel like coming in and Mom was often late because of it! Keep up the good work Maggie!

  8. Golden Daily Scoop
    August 20, 2015 at 9:54 AM

    That is great news! What an amazing job you are doing, you should be very proud!

  9. August 20, 2015 at 10:03 AM

    Sponges indeed. Good analogy! Great work with Maggie; she looks happy and contented as a full blown dog, not some pitiful creature in a puppy mill. Well done! ,#

  10. Sandy D'Amico
    August 20, 2015 at 11:28 AM

    Congratulations to Maggie. I’m sure it has taken a great deal of trust in you for her to overcome the fear and unsure feelings that she obviously felt from her previous life. So happy for her and you , Mel. The power of love! Are you going to adopt her? She is soooo sweet.

  11. August 20, 2015 at 12:29 PM

    Oh, this just melted my heart! They’re doing so wonderfully, it’s incredible. Thanks to you, and all the time, efforts, and patience you’ve invested in them. And YAY, Maggie!!

  12. August 20, 2015 at 1:22 PM

    I’m so happy for you and Maggie! This is just so wonderful! My PM collie Kira does the same – she observes everything. I notice it especially when what she copies from the other dogs is odd behavior. My other dog Obi is afraid of storms (Kira is not at all) and when rain is coming he paces around the house with a stuffed duck in his mouth. Kira happily follows him on his pacing circuit. One day I saw Obi go past, followed by Kira, and then Kira apparently noticed that Obi was carrying his duck and she had no duck, because the next time they went past, Kira was carrying her toy duck too. It just melts my heart how hard she tries to learn. She also seems delighted when she gets it “right” and learns new things. Kira has been with me a year and so far reacts fearfully to any luring for sits or downs – reading this I am wondering if she will learn this too, in her own time (and if not, its ok). I know so well that feeling when the pieces finally come together and I am so happy you!

  13. August 20, 2015 at 1:37 PM

    Wow! That is awesome. I love your description “filling in the holes of the sponge.”

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