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Meeting Maggie – A Pine River puppy mill dog

January 2, 2014 104 comments
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Maggie is looking up because she is hearing strange noises that concern her.

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 hides in the garage, where she feels safest. She continuously looked at the ceiling because of the noises above her.

Maggie hides in the garage, where she feels safest. She continuously looked at the ceiling because of the noises above her.

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.

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Finally able to sleep.

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.

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Fearful dogs – Tread softly. Be gentle. Be kind.

July 30, 2013 22 comments
Daisy close up

Daisy

I’ve been thinking about this blog post, a cautionary letterever since a friend shared it with me the this past weekend.

It is a tale of a fearful dog stuck in a situation that too many fearful dogs are stuck in –  in a home where the owner chooses to go with a trainer who ends up harming the dog more than helping him.

The woman’s story brought to mind all the times I have seen a fearful dog corrected using training methods that were not only less than helpful, but often harmful to the dog.

It reminded me of a blog post comment I once received from a young woman who had taken in a very shy and fearful dog after he had been rescued from living on the streets. She had expressed hope that perhaps one day her new dog would be more like Daisy is today – less fearful and more confident around people and other dogs. She also shared how a friend had recently come over, and after seeing her dog, told her that the way to work with him was to show him she was the alpha. She should show him who was boss and then everything would be alright. (Yeah right. That’ll teach your fearful dog not to be afraid.) I sure hope she trusted her gut and went the other way.

I am truly disheartened when I see fearful dog owners buying into the belief that using an aggressive training approach will lead to better or more  immediate results than time, a gentle touch, an encouraging voice and patience. It makes me shudder to think that Daisy might have ended up in a home where that was approach used on her.

For me, the pleasure has been in seeing Daisy blossom of her own accord. Yes, I helped along the way, but mostly I let her set the tone and pace of her own progress. I didn’t rush her. I let her decide when I was worth trusting. I let her have a say in her progress. In doing so, I believe I empowered her to explore, to try new things, to meet new people and to share her happiness with me.  That’s not to say an owner can’t help a fearful dog along more quickly (without force), but for me it’s always been about the journey. Both of us together. Learning from one another.

I can’t help the woman or the dog who she wrote about in that piece (God I wish I could), but I hope sharing my journey with Daisy has helped some people to see that there is another way. A way that is both gentle and kind and better than the one that uses force.

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When a vet visit goes badly…

June 5, 2011 39 comments

Recently, my brother called me quite upset. It seems he had just taken his dog, Dozer, to the vet to get a check up. His experience had left him extremely upset, mad, and feeling quite guilty.

I was more than a bit surprised by his experience because our dogs happen to go to the very same veterinary clinic. In fact, I chose this clinic BECAUSE of how well they cared for his last dog, Remy. They were great with my last dog, Aspen, and have been absolutely phenomenal with Daisy and Jasper. Listening to my brother’s story left me sad and very disappointed.

As the owner of a fearful dog, I know how stressful a vet visit can be. Knowing that Daisy’s vet and her staff are experienced in handling fearful dogs made all the difference for me. In Dozer’s case, he saw a new vet and a new staff person. I wasn’t there so I can only relate his experience through his eyes, but from what I can gather, there was a lot of man-handling (it took several staff to hold him down to draw blood) and the use of a muzzle. While Daisy likely would have just shut down in this situation, Dozer reacted by biting – thus the muzzle.

My first response after speaking with my brother was to contact my friend, Debbie Jacobs, over at Fearfuldogs.com and share his story. I asked her to please continue to spread her knowledge of how to work with and approach fearful dogs with dog owners and trainers, but to also share it with veterinarians. I suspect that many veterinarians are taught the medicine side of vet care, but perhaps not as much the animal behavior side – something that is so badly needed.

Thankfully, Debbie responded pretty quickly. It turns out that has already begun to connect with veterinarians. She is sharing her book with them and offering to meet with them individually to help them better understand how to handle fearful dogs. Just like many vets, Debbie wants to make the visit to the vet clinic as stress-free as possible.

Debbie also shared with me that Dr. Sophia Yin, animal behaviorist and veterinarian, has some great information for owners and veterinarians on her website. As luck would have it, a dog training friend of mine shared a wonderful post on this topic just today. It is here – I highly encourage people to read it and then pass it on to their veterinarian and other dog owners.

My brother still feels guilty for letting the vet and her staff do all that they did to Dozer and is looking for a new vet. I can only hope that his and Dozer’s experience hasn’t left a lasting impression that will haunt them both on future vet visits.

Favorite Video Friday – Scared Cats and Dogs

May 12, 2011 5 comments

Did you ever notice that cats and dogs handle scary things a little differently?

Cats tend to make themselves big, approach from the side, and do a lot of jumping backwards. Dogs tend to approach tentatively, stretch out their bodies and sniff from a distance before approaching cautiously – ready to make a quick get away if needed.

Being that today is Friday the 13th, I thought I would share two scared animal videos. The first is of a kitten approaching a tennis ball. The combination of the behavior and the music will have you giggling for sure. (My thanks to Grace for sending this one along!)

The second video is of a dog approaching a pile of (mussel?) shells. Perhaps not as funny as the kitten one, but the ending made me laugh. Somehow I think the dog was saying something here. What do you think?

Enjoy!

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Meet Debbie Jacobs! The Fearful Dogs’ Friend

January 20, 2011 13 comments

I have been wanting to interview Debbie Jacobs (from FearfulDogs.com) for some time now. Her dedication to helping fearful dogs and their owners makes her not only an interesting person but also a great one. But, I think she is a great resource for ANY dog owner. That’s why I wanted to highlight her on my blog. Read on to learn more about Debbie Jacobs and fearful dogs.

Debbie Jacobs CPDT-KA, CAP2, is the author of “A Guide To Living With & Training A Fearful Dog”, which was a finalist in the 2008 Dog Writers Association of America’s annual writing competition. This popular Ebook is now also available in hard copy.

She lives in Vermont with her husband and 4 dogs and created the fearfuldogs.com website to help owners and trainers learn about the most effective and humane ways to work with fearful dogs. She met her fearful dog Sunny, the inspiration for the fearfuldogs website at the Humane Society of Louisiana’s Camp Katrina after the hurricanes of 2005.

Debbie – Thanks so much for agreeing to this interview. To start with…

What is a fearful dog?
Good question. Plenty of dogs are afraid of some things, some of the time. Being afraid helps keep animals alive. Zebras wouldn’t last long if they weren’t afraid of being eaten by lions. I use ‘fearful dog’ to describe dogs that suffer from anxiety related disorders or phobias.

What causes a dog to be fearful?
Certain medical conditions can cause dogs to behave fearfully. It is important to rule these out. Pain or injury can cause a dog to behave in a fearful way. If your back hurts when people pick you up, you might start acting afraid when you are going to be picked up. If your hips hurt you might try to avoid going up stairs.

A genetic predisposition can cause a dog to be fearful. Anyone who has raised children can attest to the fact that personalities in children can be observed from very young ages. Some kids rush right in, while others hang back. Dogs can be the same way. Since we cannot test for this and since many of us get our dogs as adults, we will never know if this is why our dog is fearful, shy or anxious.

Trauma and abuse can cause a dog to become fearful. Most people assume that a dog that behaves in a fearful way was beaten, hurt or abused. That well may have been the case but one of the leading causes of fear based behaviors in dogs is the following- The lack of adequate and appropriate socialization when the dog was a pup. There is a window of opportunity during which puppies need to be exposed, safely, to novel objects, situations, new people, sounds and experiences. If this doesn’t happen, there is no going back and ‘fixing’ it.

Are there certain characteristics or behaviors people are more likely to see in a fearful dog?
Most people can identify when dogs are afraid if they cower, hide or run away. These are ‘big’ behaviors that are easy to notice. There are many other ‘smaller’ more subtle behaviors that dogs perform which indicate varying degrees of fear or discomfit. A dog might yawn, lick their lips, lower their head, turn their head, tuck their tail, squint or close their eyes, freeze, pant, drool, shed, sweat from their paws, pee or roll over. A dog behaving in an overt aggressive manner is often afraid. When we see aggression in dogs it can be scary to us and we are less inclined to empathize with the dog. Most dogs go through a series of attempts to make whatever scares them go away or leave them alone, When it doesn’t work they may begin to escalate toward a more aggressive response. This is not an attempt to ‘dominate’ their owner, a stranger or other dog, it’s how a dog says, “Really, I mean it, back off.”

How does a fearful dog’s behavior differ from a “normal” dog?
In some cases a fearful dog can behave like other dogs that are not fearful. If a dog is not exposed to the things that scare them, they may be happy and confident. It is only around these things that their fear based behavioral responses are seen. Dogs without problematic anxiety or fear, typically recover quickly from being scared or startled. A fearful dog may need a longer time to recover from a scary episode. Fearful dogs’ behavior will often get worse, rather than better the more they are exposed to things that scare them.

You help a lot of people with fearful dogs, what are some of the common issues you come across?
Common issues for the dogs include; fear of people, other dogs or novelty (sudden changes in their environment)
Common issues for owners include; a lack of understanding of how to handle dogs that are afraid. They usually don’t realize the time, energy and patience their dog is going to require in order to develop more confidence.

What are some common mistakes people make when working with their fearful dog (i.e., one they adopted)?
In general most owners put too much pressure on their dogs without understanding how counter conditioning and desensitization are used. They try to change their dog’s behavior rather than try to change their dog’s emotional response. Change the emotion and the behavior usually changes along with it. People often want and need their dog to behave a certain way and use force or coercion to get these behaviors from their dog. Dogs are punished, corrected, yelled at and generally scared, in the name of ‘training’.

So what are some basic things an owner can do to help/work with a fearful dog?
Understanding triggers, thresholds, counter conditioning and desensitization provides the foundation for the work with do with our fearful dogs. To begin with, stop putting your dog in situations in which the dog is afraid. A dog will not learn to feel good about something or someone until they stop being scared by it. Each fearful response just makes it more likely that that response will be repeated in the future. Our fearful dogs’ brains have become very good at being scared and easily startled. We need to stop having them practice that. Keep your dog in situations in which the dog feels safe and never feels the need to run or resort to aggressive behavior to protect themselves. Only when you understand how rewards are used to change how our dogs feel should you begin to expose your dogs to its triggers. Figure out what rocks your dog’s world. What do they love to do, what makes them feel great? Give them as many opportunities during the day to experience these activities. Building a positive, trusting relationship with your dog is also key. Few of us would want to hang out with someone who always made us do things that scared us. Why would our dogs?

What videos/blog posts/etc (from your website) would you recommend a new fearful dog owner check out?
Owners should visit fearfuldogs.com and click through the site. There’s lots of information and resources. The first step to changing our fearful dogs’ brains usually includes changing ours.

My many thanks to Debbie Jacobs for this interview!

As an added note, I would also recommend you check out Debbie’s blog. She not only shares some great food for thought (applicable to all dog owners), but also some additional info for owners with fearful dogs. It’s also a great place to meet other people with fearful dogs. We’ve created a nice little community of support there which has been greatly helpful to so many people, including ,myself.

Wednesday Winner: Fearfuldogs.com

March 31, 2010 Leave a comment

My Labrador Retriever, Daisy, is a “fearful dog”. Having spent the first 4 years of her life in a puppy mill (as a breeding dog) Daisy had had little exposure to people, cats, houses, cars, wood floors… or kindness. As you can imagine, it was very challenging for me to help her to become comfortable in her new surroundings, and with people.

But not all fearful dogs come from a situations like Daisy’s. Some are born that way. Some were abused in their former homes. Some were neglected and never had the opportunity to be socialized with other people or dogs. And, some just developed fears over time.

So, where does one go for help when they have a fearful dogs? To a wonderful little site called Fearfuldogs.com. Deb is the owner of a fearful dog herself (Sunny) and has lots of knowledge and experience working with dogs like Daisy. Her website and blog are great resources for people with fearful dogs. She also has some really great videos of how to work with a fearful dog.

If you have a dog that is fearful, I recommend that you check it out. You won’t be sorry! And, if you don’t have a fearful dog I would check it out anyways. There’s lots of great information on the website that can help everyone work better with their dog.

Today’s Wednesday Winner is:
Fearfuldogs.com

Wednesday Winner: Fearful Dogs

May 20, 2009 1 comment

Back in November of 2007, I was walking dogs at the Minnesota Valley Humane Society, as I have for the past 7 years. It was there that I first saw a dog, a yellow lab, that was so afraid of humans that she would cower in fear, avoid eye contact, and when walked, she would slink low to the ground, almost like she was crawling. It turns out she was a rescue from a puppy mill, where she had been a breeder dog. My heart broke for this poor baby who had just had her last litter (only one of the many she’s had in her short life).

I offered to foster her in the hopes that I could rehabilitate her so she could be adopted out to a nice family. In the next few months, I would discover that working with a fearful dog is not the same as training a puppy or working with a dog who lacked “manners”. If only I had known of a place where I could get information on how to work with this fearful dog. I could have avoided some of the mistakes I made early on and perhaps, helped Daisy (that’s her name by the way) to make progress sooner than she did.

Well now I do know about a great site that has tons of helpful information about working with fearful dogs! The site is called exactly that – Fearful Dogs! It has a wonderful list of topics and tons of helpful advice for those who are working with or own a fearful dog. There’s also a blog that contains more helpful information.

By the way, Daisy was adopted at long last…by me! Since then, she has made the most amazing progress and continues to inspire and amaze me every day. You can read about her here.

In dedication to Daisy and all dogs like her, today’s Wednesday Winner is www.fearfuldogs.com. Check it out!

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