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With puppy mill dogs, it’s the subtle things that make you smile

October 7, 2014 10 comments
This made me smile.

An earlier shot of Maggie with ears back.

I can still remember the very first time I noticed Daisy wag her tail.

It was in the garage after she had just come in from outside. I was standing by the kitchen door, about to let her inside the house, when I noticed her tail up and wagging freely. Who would have thought that something so innocuous to so many other dog owners would be so amazing to me? It was one of the most beautiful moments I can remember and one I will always cherish. It meant Daisy was happy.

image

Maggie’s ears are not really forward here, but more forward than they usually are in my photos. This was taken last night.

When caring for a puppy mill dog, you start to pay attention to every little step forward. It’s all about watching the subtle changes in behavior – the slight turning of their head to indicate they want to be petted, the tentative movement towards you when they have always run away, the increased confidence in how they carry themselves, the very slight reach out for a treat where there was none before.

Last night I realized that Maggie was spending less time with her ears at the back of her head (a sign she is nervous and stressed) and more time with her ears perked and forward (a sign that she is curious). It might seem like such a small thing, but it is a sign that she is feeling more comfortable, and perhaps even a little more confident, about her environment and living in a home with us. For me, it was one of those moments worth remembering.

Plus, she’s awfully darn cute when she pricks her ears.  🙂
Waiting for a piece of chicken. #maggie

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Fostering a puppy mill dog is not for the impatient

May 22, 2014 16 comments
#Camera360分享#

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.

They

  • 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.

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