We usually notice the big changes over time, but when we are too close to the person or animal or event, the subtle ones get missed.
If you have ever had a puppy you have probably experienced this very thing. Someone comes up and exclaims their disbelief at how much your puppy has grown since they last saw him/her and suddenly you see, as if for the first time, that your puppy has indeed grown several inches. How did you miss it? How did you miss seeing those subtle signs?
I would argue that we only notice the big changes because they are concrete packages of time that tell us time has passed The smaller changes are so subtle and so woven with the other moments of our days that they don’t stand out (i.e., we notice when the puppy can no longer crawl under the coffee table, but not when his back starts to touch the bottom of it).
The other night I was texting with a friend and was telling her about bringing Maggie to a friend’s house. I told her how shocked I was by how well she did.
The little dog who would run from my outstretched hand just a few months ago actually approached two people she had never met and touched them, several times. Even more shocking to me was that she chose to do so all on her own. She even stayed for quite some time so she could get some pets and butt scratches. I was seeing Maggie’s small steps of progress all in one moment and in my eyes, it was as if she took a giant leap!
My friend responded back that she had seen the subtle changes in Maggie too. I was so surprised. She told me that I should look at Maggie’s early pictures, from when she first came to stay with us, and compare them with the ones I have taken of her more recently. She said you can see the subtle differences.
And you know what? She was right! I pulled several photos of Maggie from the early days and compared them to ones I have taken in the past few months. She looks different now. Some of the changes are really subtle, but I see:
- A less worried look in her eyes
- She looks like she is less in a “high alert” state now.
- She often laid closer to Daisy than me in the early days. Now she actually chooses to be near me when she sleeps.
- Here eyes and body position seem indicating a curiosity that was not there in the early days.
What do you see?
Maggie getting some loving at my friend, Cindy’s, house.
The more you dig into puppy mills, the more you learn about the physical and physiological repercussions it has on the mother dog (and that doesn’t even take info consideration the genetic issues) and her puppies.
Last fall, when Dr. Frank McMillan spoke at an event (hosted by Animal Folks MN), he shared some data on the behavioral issues that show up in puppy mill puppies sold in pet stores. The results were quite startling:
- Out of 14 behavioral variables measured across puppies from responsible breeders and those sold in pet stores, the pet store puppies were found to have fared worse in 12.
- As they grew up, pet store puppies showed more aggression towards their owners.
- Pet store puppies also displayed more aggression towards other dogs.
- Puppies who are purchased in a pet store are more likely to escape and run away.
- Pet store puppies tend to be under-socialized because they are taken away from their mothers too early and are likely to experience trouble as they grow up.
You can read more about Dr. McMillan’s study via Penn State here: Penn Vet study finds pet store puppies come with increased risk
Puppy mill breeding dogs have their own set of behavioral issues – almost all due to a lack of socialization and fear and ongoing abuse, but now we can show that the puppies they bear have problems too. Why is this the case?
New evidence suggests that mother dogs experiencing extreme levels of stress can pass that stress on to their puppies, and that stress can impact their lives long after they have been weaned and adopted into loving family homes.
The body is designed to protect the puppies from normal amounts of stress:
“Normally, an enzyme inactivates cortisol at the placenta, protecting the fetuses from the level of cortisol that the mother is experiencing. But when the cortisol level is extremely high, some passes through the placenta to the developing puppies. They receive the extra cortisol as information: The world is scary. We should be prepared. “
You can read more on this in the Whole Dog Journal from their November 2014 issue, titled “How a Mother’s Stress Can Influence Unborn Puppies: A highly stressed mother dog may influence her unborn puppies and affect their adult behavior.”
That pet store puppies are more likely to carry this stress message in their systems should not be all that surprising. After all, past evidence has shown that the stress of the mother passes down to the baby, both in humans and rats.
Puppies born in mills experience the stress of the mother in utero and after they are born. When you add in the fact that they are then pulled away from their mothers at a very young age, shipped across country in trucks with other sick little puppies, manhandled and placed in a pet store window, where they are on display and handled over and over again until they are adopted, it’s a wonder any of them survive, much less make it into a home as a normal dog. That they fare poorly on 12 of 14 behavioral variables should not be surprising either. It makes one wonder why anyone would want a dog from a pet store at all.
Daisy’s last litter of puppies were kept by the organization that saved her life. They were going to be trained to be service dogs. I wonder how many of them failed to make the cut? I hope not many, but the more and more I learn about puppy mills and their impacts on the dogs and their offspring, the more I believe that they were doomed from the start.
Now how sad is that?
It’s been a while since I provided you with a Maggie update. So how is she doing? Take a look!
Maggie is starting to seek out my touch. She often will approach me in the morning so I can pet her (like the picture below). She also is starting to enjoy belly rubs.
She will do almost anything for cheese. Although we started working on hand targeting and “watch me” using cheese, she can now do them on cue (whether there is cheese available or not). She is also learning “sit” which is HUGE for her since she can shut down if she feels too pressured (read more on pressure sensitive dogs). She gets rewarded for sitting every time she does it and I mark it by saying “yes”.
Maggie has also learned that she gets “cheese” when she comes inside the house from her potty breaks. I am still leading her in with the long line, but she now does not resist coming in. She also knows the word “wait” (Thanks Debbie Jacobs!) and will come to a complete stop when she hears the word. It makes it easier to grab her long line and lead her inside now.
She is making eye contact more often too. In the past, she would look away, or give me a quick glance and look away, but now she will hold my gaze and seems almost interested in what I am saying to her. Maybe she is thinking I am saying “cheese”?
Maggie loves Daisy. She will sleep next to her whenever Daisy is on the couch, and when she is outside, she will run to Daisy with her tail wagging like crazy. It’s really cute.
She loves chewing on small bully sticks or pre-chewed bully sticks. She will wait until Jasper gets up from the one he was chewing and then steals it. Smart girl!
In the evenings, Maggie dozes on the couch or on a dog bed, but when it is time for bed she will put herself to bed(in her kennel). As soon as I turn out the lights, she wakes up, jumps down off the couch and goes to her kennel and opens the door and goes inside. She even waits for me to latch it shut. (I used to leave it open, but she jumps up on my bed and then back down over and over again because she is afraid of the shadows and sounds that come at night.
The one thing I have been waiting for her to do is bark. The only time I hear her bark is when I just arrive home and I am still in the garage. She always stops as soon as I open the door. But on Saturday morning, she heard me playing with Jasper and Cupcake in my bedroom and started barking! That was a first. And today, I swear I heard her bark outside. I suspect her true Sheltie personality is starting to come through. :)
Now we just need some extra evening sunlight and warm weather and we can practice walking on a leash!
It’s hard to believe, but in a few days Maggie will have been with us one whole year. Puppy mill dogs can take a long time to rehab, so I am not surprised that she is still with me, but I am more surprised at how far she has come… and how far she has to go. Seeing her progress through pictures is quite encouraging. I had forgotten how much fear was in her eyes in those early days.
Back then, Maggie spent her time hiding from shadows in the daytime (she often hid in my closet or the quietest spot in my bedroom) and sitting next to me or Daisy at night. She was afraid of every sound, every movement and every reflection that came through the bay window. Doorways were scary, The sound of cars driving past the house was unsettling. Barking from neighbor dogs was terrifying.
But over the past few months, Maggie has discovered that she likes being outside, “cheese” is good, and ice cream is even better. She loves watching my dogs do tricks for treats, and solve doggie puzzles, and she has discovered that she wants to play too. She is learning that life in a home can be good and that a being a dog is much more than just living in a box.
It’s been a lot of fun to celebrate the successes. I hope you will enjoy this short video I put together highlighting her progress.
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.
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.
Over the past week, I have inadvertently ended up in discussions with two different co-workers about puppy mill dogs. Each shared their experiences with adopting a puppy mill dog themselves. They shared what they had done/not done to work with their dogs and how the dog was doing now. The outcomes were very different and I suspect that this was directly related to their experiece with dogs and with the support structure they had around them.
One co-worker was an experienced dog owner who had trained dogs previously and had a lot of dog training knowledge, and access to a lot of other experienced dog people. The other did not seem to have a lot of experience or an extensive support network and struggled with helping her puppy mill dog along, eventually euthanizing him because of his biting behavior.
Both examples were great reminders to me about how important it is that those of us who have experience share our stories with others. Not only share our stories, but also work to build a community where puppy mill owners can share their struggles and victories, and learn how to manage their dogs in day-to-day life. From personal experience, I can tell you that a support network can really help when working with a puppy mill dog. It also makes the process a little less overwhelming.
Dr Frank McMillan of Best Friends Animal Society recently collected data from the foster parents and owners of puppy mill dogs to better understand what works or doesn’t work (Understanding and Caring for Rescued Puppy Mill Dogs).
One of his findings was how much owners can be impacted in the process. Being the owner of a puppy mill dog, when there are no other dogs in the home, can be frustrating, discouraging, and even disappointing.
In many cases, there is no connection between you and the dog (this is especially true in the early days). The normal behaviors and interactions one expects when getting a dog is not there. There is no wagging tail or happy face or cuddling on the couch. It takes time to build a relationship with a puppy mill dog, and it is even harder when they don’t have another dog to look to for guidance on how to “be” a dog. I can personally attest to this. When I lost my dog, Aspen, I felt very much alone, even though Daisy was there with me.
Even the most wonderful adoptive dog parent will get down and depressed under such circumstances. Having a community to go to during those tough times is necessary. Building a community of people who can support and encourage one another and offer ideas about what worked or didn’t work is so vital. One community worth checking out is the Fearful Dogs group on Facebook. It is a great resource for dog owners with fearful dogs. There is guidance on how to desensitize and counter condition your fearful dog, progress updates on dogs who have struggled, encouragement and advice. It is a support structure that I am sure many a puppy mill dog owner has taken advantage of, but if you have not, please do so. You will find it very valuable.
Even as we work to build that community, we know now (based on Dr. McMillan’s study) that puppy mill dogs are nor are they viewed as a burden by those who adopt them.
When asked if they would adopt another puppy mill dog (after their experience with their current puppy mill dog), adopters overwhelmingly responded Yes (95%!).
When it came to recommending the adoption of a puppy mill dog to others, 53% said Yes, 45% said Maybe and less than 5% said No. (I think this makes sense. Not everyone is suited for a puppy mill dog. Maybe they do not have the experience, time or energy to work with one or they just aren’t looking for a challenging dog.)
Even more encouraging however is how puppy mill dog adopters responded to the question around satisfaction levels. When asked their level of satisfaction for having adopted a puppy mill dog, respondents overwhelmingly said they were extremely satisfied. In fact, 91% said so (7% answered moderately satisfied, 1% slightly satisfied and 1%not satisfied). This is wonderful news. It means that even without a suypport network, puppy mill dogs and their owners are managing to have a connection that is valuable and satisfying.
I wonder how much more this would be the case if they had a support network?
Something to think about for the future. :)
Yesterday, the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC), a lobby group for pet stores, puppy millers and pet product makers, announced they had hired the former head of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), Ed Sayres to lead their group.
Shocking? Yes, but maybe not as much as we would like to think. After all, Ed left the ASPCA under less than positive circumstances. He and the board were in disagreement over several things, among them Ed’s half a million dollar salary and which legislative battles to pursue. And if one close to the situation is to be believed, there was also a battle going on over focusing more on animal welfare than fundraising. I’ll let you guess where Ed fell on this disagreement.
The decision to hire an industry insider who may have the ASPCA playbook is no accident. The puppy mill industry is running scared. They know that the tide has been turning, and not in their favor. Cities, towns and counties are taking action where national and state legislators have failed. They are banning the sale of cats and dogs and requiring pet stores to follow the rules, move or close down. If the puppy mill industry hopes to have any chance of turning things around they have to act now. Their hope is that Ed Sayres will be their savior.
The question is… can they turn back the tide? Can they stop social media from continuing to educate the average consumer about pet stores and puppy mills? Can they stop local grassroots organizations from working with their city, county and other local officials to stop the sale of puppy mill dogs in their towns and cities? Can they ever encourage the average consumer to buy a puppy mill dog once they have seen what a puppy mill parent goes through? Can they get people to un-see what they have already seen or forget what they already know?
It will be some time before we know if Ed will be the savior PIJAC hopes he will be, but my bet is on you, the average consumers and pet lover.
You and I, we care about our pets. We care where they came from and the conditions they were raised in. We want to make a difference. We believe in fighting for those who have no voice. We also believe puppy mills need to go. We may not win every legislative battle, but if we change people’s minds, and their spending habits, then we still win. Ed or no Ed.
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