(Disclaimer: The following is the opinion of
the authors (Michelle Bende http://www.anewstartonlife.
and Kim Townsend http://www.nopuppymills.com/
) and is based on years of experience with
puppy mill dogs; we are not veterinarians or
professional trainers. Please note that an
adopted puppy mill rescued dog may be at
different stages of rehab so we have tried
to start this from the beginning. Permission
granted to use this article, unedited, on
your website or in print, as long as credit
is linked to this page.)
Every mill survivor is different. What works
on one or many, will completely fail on
others; the only thing that is consistent is
that they will need lots of patience,
understanding, love, and probably most
importantly, unconditional acceptance of
what they are and what their limitations may
At first glance a mill survivor may look
like many of your friends' dogs; maybe not a
perfect example of the breed, but close.
What you won't see is the condition they
were in when they came into rescue. Many
have fur so matted that it all had to be
shaved off and even the short haired breeds
suffer from thin dull coats. Many times
removing the filth and matting has revealed
open sores, usually from flea allergies or
sarcoptic mange. Their ears are often full
of filth and usually mites, and some
survivors suffer from permanent hearing loss
because of untreated ear infections. Most
survivors require the removal of rotten
teeth, even young dogs. The gums are usually
very infected and the teeth have excessive
buildup on them. Many vets who are not
familiar with puppy mill rescued dogs will
miscalculate the age of the dog if using
only the teeth as their guide. Many
survivors also suffer from swollen, splayed
and sore feet from so much time walking on
wire. While finally getting some good
nutrition and extensive medical care after
arriving in rescue, all too often there
remains the psychological damage that can't
be fixed with a bath, medicine, or surgery.
We would love to say that every puppy mill
survivor only needs love to turn it into a
wonderful family pet, but that would be a
lie. Love is definitely needed in large
amounts, but so is patience. The damage done
during the years in the mill usually can be
overcome, but it takes time and dedication.
It takes a very special adopter for one of
these dogs. Not being "up to it"
is no crime, but you need to be honest with
yourself, and us, about your expectations.
These dogs have already been through more
than their share of
heartache and if your entire family is not
willing to make the commitment, the dog is
better off staying in our care until the
perfect home for them is found.
Many mill survivors have spent their entire
life in the mill with only a elevated wire
cage to call home. Puppies who grow up in a
mill miss out on many crucial socialization
periods with humans and they never learn to
trust, to love, or to play. They have had
very minimum physical contact with people
and have virtually no concept of what to
expect (or what is expected of them) when
they are placed in a family situation. Their
life in the mill may have been what we would
consider unpleasant, but it is the only
life they have ever known. In the mill, they
were probably fed and watered using
automatic dispensers, and their feces and
urine was only cleaned after it fell through
the wire that they lived on. Actual human
contact normally came when they were being
vaccinated, dewormed, or moved to a new cage
to breed or to whelp puppies.
Many of the quirks that mill dogs might have
will be discovered while the dog is still in
our rescue, but there are things that may
develop after the dog feels a little more
comfortable in your home. Most of the dogs
we encounter have had their spirit broken
many years before and aggression is not
normally something we encounter; however,
there are memory triggers that the dog may
experience after it is settled in your home,
so we will talk briefly about these.
The physical contact that they have received
probably has not been pleasant. For one
thing, because they are not handled enough,
they are scared. Many mills handle their
"stock" by the scruff of the neck.
They have work to do, and don't really want
to stand around holding some stinky little
longer than necessary. It is not uncommon
for these survivors to be sensitive to the
backs of their necks, after all, it brings
the unexpected. Many mill dogs will try to
always face you, not trusting you enough to
give you easy access to them from behind.
NEVER startle a mill survivor from behind,
you will lose any trust that you may have
gained. Always make sure that they are
anticipating you picking them up and
consistently verbally tell them what you are
going to do with the same word, like "up".
It is not uncommon for a mill dog to drop
their bellies to the floor when they know
you are going to pick them up, some will
even roll on their backs, often urinating in
the process. This is a submissive move on
the dog's part, and while it may be
frustrating trying to pick up a dog in this
position, these dogs will seldom show
aggression in their lives. It is okay to go
ahead and pick up a dog while they are in
this position, but if time is not of the
essence, encourage the dog to come to you by
sitting a few feet away and calling him. The
most common posture we see in mill dogs is
the "freeze;" the dog will
initially try to escape you, but when they
realize there is no escape, they simply
freeze up--rigid, like a statue--and accept
their "fate." This is a good time
to really praise the dog--scratch his back
or ears and speak gently to him--it goes a
long way towards teaching him that human
contact can be a good thing.
Always be gentle and try to avoid picking
them up until you see that they are
receptive to it. It's almost a 'hostage'
type situation to these dogs. Imagine how
you would feel if taken hostage at gunpoint.
The gunman may never harm you in any way,
but you are aware of the danger the entire
time and you don't have the ability to leave
when you want. No matter how nice the gunman
is to you, you will never enjoy the
experience and will always watch for an
escape route; however, you can turn the
tables around and see a ray of hope. Imagine
the gunman has been captured and you decide
to visit him in jail. Now you are in control.
you call all the shots, you have the ability
to leave at any time. The bottom line is
that these dogs have to progress at their
own pace. Anything you force them to do will
not be pleasant to them; let them visit with
you on their terms, whenever possible..
Learning about the House:
Many times when you bring a mill survivor
into your home, it is their instinct to hide
in a quiet corner. Any new dog that you
bring into your home should be kept
separated from other family pets for 7 days.
this time it is fine to crate or confine
them to a quiet area. After that though,
they need to have exposure to the household.
If crating, the crate should be in a central
location. The ideal spot is one where there
frequent walking and activity. This allows
the dog to feel safe in the crate, yet
observe everyday activity and become
accustomed to it; they need to hear the
table being set, the dishwasher running,
phones ringing, and people talking.
Very few mill dogs know what a leash is.
After the quarantine, when the dog is out of
the crate and supervised, it is not a bad
idea to let them drag a leash around with
them. Let them get used to the feel. It is
easy to fall into the mindset that they must
be pampered and carried everywhere, but
leash training is important. It will make
your life easier to have a leash trained dog,
but it will also offer your dog confidence
in the future.
A mill dog has no reason to trust you. Your
trust needs to be earned, little by little.
Patience is a very important part of
rehabbing a mill survivor. We have seen a
lot of mill dogs that don't want to eat
people are around. It is important that your
mill dog be fed on a schedule, with you near
by. You don't have to stand and watch over
them but should be in the same room with
them. They need to know that their yummy
meal is coming from you. For the majority of
mill dogs, accepting a treat right out of
your hand is a huge show of trust. Offer
treats on a regular basis especially as a
reward. Don't concern yourself too much if
your dog does not eat for a few days.
Because most of our mill rescues have been
fed with self-feeders and confined to small
places, it is not uncommon for them to be a
little overweight. If there is no vomiting
or diarrhea and your dog is otherwise acting
healthy, a few days of nibbling at their
food while they learn to live by your
schedule is not going to hurt them. It is
important to teach them that food is fed on
a schedule and you should not be leaving
food down at all times.
While you shouldn't overly force yourself
upon your dog, it does need to get used to
you. Sit and talk quietly while gently
petting or massaging your dog. It is best to
do this an area where they, not necessarily
you, are the most comfortable. They probably
won't like it at first, but given them time
to adjust. Some dogs sadly, never will
adjust, and we'lll talk more about them
Never allow friends to force attention on a
mill survivor. Ask them not to look your dog
directly in the eyes. It is not uncommon for
mill dogs to simply never accept outsiders.
Let your dog set the pace. If the dog
approaches, ask them to talk quietly and
hold out a hand. No quick movements. Ask
that any barking be ignored. Remember that
these dogs bark to warn and scare off
intruders. If you acknowledge the barking
you may be reinforcing it with attention. If
you bring your guest outside you have just
reinforced to your dog that barking will
make the intruder go away.
A child spends the first one to two years of
their life soiling their diaper and having
you remove the dirty diaper and replace it
with a clean one. A puppy mill dog spends
its entire life soiling its living area.
training a child and housebreaking a puppy
mill dog are the exact same procedures...you
are UN-teaching them something that they
have already learned to be acceptable. A
regular schedule, constant reinforcement,
praise, and commitment on your part are a
must! Would you ever scream at your child,
march them to the bathroom and make them sit
on the toilet AFTER you discovered they
soiled their diaper? A dog is no different
in this sense; scolding them after the deed
is done is of no benefit to anyone.
The two most important things you can do are
to get your new dog on a regular feeding
schedule (which will put them on a regular
potty schedule) and to observe them closely
after feeding time.
Getting them on a premium, low residue food
is very important. This will produce a stool
that normally is firm (very easy to clean up)
and only one or two bowel movements a day
are normal. Low cost, or over the counter
foods have a lot of fillers and it is very
hard to get a dog on a regular cycle using
Before you even begin to housebreak them,
you must learn their schedule. Most dogs
will need to 'go' right after eating. As
soon as they are finished eating, command
"outside". Always use the exact
same word in the exact same tone. Watch them
closely outside and observe their pattern as
they prepare to defecate. Some will turn
circles, some will scratch at the ground,
some may find a corner, some may sniff every
inch of the ground, some will get a strange
look on their face...every dog is different
and you have to learn to recognize how the
dog will behave right before he goes; this
way you will recognize it when he gets ready
to go in the house.
We could give you a million tips that our
adopters have found to work best for them,
but as we have said, every dog is different.
As long as you always keep in mind that
housebreaking and potty training are one and
the same, you should eventually see results.
Never do to a dog what you would not do to a
child. It may take a week, it may take a
month, it may take a year...and sadly, some
dogs will never learn. Never give up and
never accept 'accidents' as a way of life.
In most cases, the success of housebreaking
depends on your commitment.
While we have focused mainly on bowel
movements, urinating in the house is just as
hard to correct as defecating in the house (if
not worse). Below we will discuss "marking,"
which many people associate only with male
dogs. We will go into that in more detail,
below, but if urinating in the house remains
a problem for your dog, we highly recommend
crate training. This can be researched
online in more detail, but if crate training
is not working because your dog is soiling
in the crate, you should discontinue the
training immediately--as you are only
reinforcing that it is okay to soil their
In general, if you can understand your dog's
bowel patterns, you will usually find that
they urinate before or after a bowel
movement. Reinforce the positive and work on
the negative, as most dogs will understand
"outside" and associate it with
both urinating and defecating. Of course, in
the meantime, you will want to protect your
carpets by either removing any that can be
rolled up, or confining the dog to a tiled
floor when you aren't holding it on your lap.
This should only be done during the training
process, as socialization is just as
important as house training and often tiled
floors are in areas that we don't spend a
lot of time.
Puppy mill survivors all have one thing in
common...they were all used for breeding. A
dog that marks its territory is 'warning'
other dogs that this is its area...stay away!
However, in a puppy mill situation, the
dog's area is normally a 2X4 cage with other
dogs in and around their 'territory'. It
becomes a constant battle of establishing
territory and it is not uncommon to see male
and female survivors with marking problems.
Normally, marking is seen in dogs with a
dominant nature. This is good in the sense
that these dogs can normally withstand
verbal correction better than submissive
dogs. The word 'NO' will become your
favorite word as you try to deal with the
problem of dogs that mark. Don't be afraid
to raise your voice and let the dog know
that you are not happy. Always use the exact
same word and don't follow 'NO' with "now
what has mommy told you about that, you are
a bad dog."
Dogs that are marking do not have to
potty...taking them outside will not help.
You have to teach them that it is not
acceptable to do this in the house. The only
way to do this is to constantly show your
disappointment and stimulate their need to 'dominate'
by allowing them more time outside, and even
to areas where you know other dogs have
been...like the park, or the nearest fire
While you and your survivor learn about each
other, and your survivor develops a sense of
respect towards you, you will have to
protect your home from the damage caused by
marking. Here are a few tips that you will
1. White vinegar is your best friend. Keep a
spray bottle handy at all times. Use the
vinegar anytime you see your dog mark. The
vinegar will neutralize the smell that your
dog just left behind. Using other cleaning
products may actually cause your dog to mark
over the same area again. Most cleaning
products contain ammonia...the very scent
found in urine. Your dog will feel the need
to mark over normal cleaning products, but
normally has no interest in areas
neutralized by vinegar.
2. Potty Pads....your next best friend.
These can be found in any pet store, but
most 'housebreaking pads' are treated with
ammonia to encourage a puppy to go on the
pad instead of the carpet; since we are
trying to discourage your dog from marking,
these aren't always the best choice. You
might check at a home medical supply store.
The blue and white pads used to protect beds
usually work best. Staple, tape or pin these
pads (white side facing outward) to any area
that your dog is prone to mark (walls,
furniture, etc.). Do not replace the pads
when your dog soils them...simply spray them
down with vinegar. These are not a solution
to the problem, but will help protect your
home while you deal with the problem.
3. Scotch Guard. Scotch Guard is really
nothing more than a paraffin based protector.
It puts a waxy substance down which repels
water and spills (and in our case, urine).
You can make your own product by filling a
spray bottle about 1/2 full of hot water.
Shave off slivers of paraffin wax into the
bottle (about 1/4 a bar should be fine) and
then microwave until you don't see the
slivers anymore. Shake and spray this onto
the fabric areas you want to protect, such
as the base of the sofa and the carpet below
doorways or areas your dog is apt to mark.
It may make the area stiff feeling at first
but it will normally 'blend' in with normal
household temperatures and humidity. (note:
This is also great for high traffic areas of
your home or along the carpet in front of
the couch). After the first use, you will
need to microwave the bottle or emerge
the spray mechanism in a bowl of hot water
so that any wax residue will melt.
With the use of vinegar and/or homemade
scotch guard, you should test a small area
of the fabric/fiber that you will be using
the product on and make sure it does not
discolor, stain, or bleed. I have never had
any problems, but it is always best to check
4. Belly Bands. Sometimes these can be a
mill dog owners best friend. Belly bands can
be easily made at home out of things you
probably already have. Depending on the size
of your dog you can use the elastic end of
your husbands tube socks, the sleeve of
sweatshirt, etc. Simply fit the material to
your dog and then place a female sanitary
napkin under the penis. Another easy way is
to measure your dog, cut the fabric and sew
on Velcro to hold it in place. There are
also many sites on the internet to order
these if making them yourself is just not up
your alley. Just remember to take the belly
band off every time you bring your dog out
to potty. Again, this is not a solution, but
a protective measure.
Poo-poo, shoo-shoo, ca-ca, doo-doo, #2,
feces, poop, stool...whatever 'pet' name you
give it, it's still gross! But nothing is
more gross than owning a dog who eats poop!
Coprophagia is the technical term, but for
the purpose of this article, we're just
going to call it the 'affliction'.
Dogs of all breeds, ages and sizes have the
affliction but in puppy mill rescues it is
not uncommon at all to find dogs afflicted
with this horrible habit. As in any bad
habit, the cure lies in understanding the
There are three primary reasons that a puppy
mill survivor is afflicted. We'll start with
the most common, and easiest to remedy.
1. It tastes good and they are hungry!
Rescues that have come from a mill where
dogs were not fed properly often resort to
eating their own or other dog's feces as a
source of food. These types of situations
will usually remedy themselves when the dog
realizes that he is always going to get fed.
It is also easy to discourage this behavior
by adding over-the-counter products to their
food which are manufactured for this purpose.
Ask your vet which products are available
and you will normally see results in 2-4
2. Learned behavior. This is usually the
cause of puppy mill dogs that have the
affliction. There are several reasons why a
dog learned to behave like this, but the
most common cause is being housed with
dominant dogs who fight over food. These
dominant dogs will often guard the food dish
and prevent the more submissive dogs from
eating even if the dominant dog is not
hungry. Food aggression in caged dogs is
usually fast and furious and often results
in severe injury to the submissive dogs.
Because the dominant dog is often eating
much more than is needed, the stool is
virtually undigested and contains many of
the nutrients and 'flavors' of the original
meal; therefore almost as tasty to the
submissive dog as if he'd ate the real thing.
Puppies that were raised with a dominant
mother or dominant litter mates also pick up
this habit very early--in this case, it is a
little harder to treat, but it can usually
This eating pattern is usually maintained
throughout the dog's life, so the age of
your dog will play a big role in how hard it
is to correct the behavior. It's become
habit...and as the saying goes, "Old
habits are hard to break".
Dogs with the affliction will actually go
hunting for a fresh stool when you take them
outside. The key is to give your dog
something better to hunt for. Pop some
unbuttered/unsalted microwave popcorn and
sprinkle it on the lawn before taking your
dog out in the morning. You may find
something that he likes better and is as
readily available and affordable. The good
thing about popcorn is what your dog doesn't
eat, the birds will. We can almost guarantee
that once your dog has learned to search out
the popcorn, he'll pass those fresh turds
right up, LOL! It may take weeks or months
before your dog 'unlearns' to seek out
stools but most dogs are receptive to this
training. You may have to sprinkle the lawn
with popcorn the rest of your dog's
life...but the trouble is well worth just
one 'popcorn kiss' as opposed to a lick on
the face right after he eats a tasty turd.
3. As mentioned above, Coprophagia means
'eating poop'. Coprophagia is a form of a much more
serious problem called Pica. Pica is the
unnatural 'need' to eat foreign objects.
Dogs suffering from Pica will eat not only
stools, but rocks, dirt, sticks, etc.
Remember the kid in school who ate paste and
chalk and 'other unspeakables'? Pica is a
psychological disorder which is much more in
depth and serious than anything we can
discuss in this guide.
A good rescuer will observe dogs prior to
placement and will recognize the seriousness
of this problem. A dog suffering from Pica
should never be placed in an inexperienced
home or any home that is not aware of the
problem and the dangers. Dogs suffering from
Pica will often end up having
surgery--.often several times--for objects
they have eaten that can not be digested. If
you are the owner of a dog which you believe
suffers from Pica, I suggest you consult
your vet; these dogs often require
medication for their disorder and only your
vet can guide you on the best way to proceed.
Before we close this section on Pica, we
want to say that true Pica is rare. Most
dogs will chew on sticks or rocks--or sofas
and table legs. However a dog suffering from
Pica will not just chew on these items...
they will eat these items any chance they
get. Just because your dog is eating his own
stool...and also the bar stool at the
kitchen counter...does not mean that he is
suffering from Pica. If in doubt, consult
The "special" ones:
Occasionally, we see the survivor who has
survived the mill, but at such a great cost
that they can never be "brought around".
These are the dogs that have endured so much
suffering that they remind us of children
who are abused, and survive by separating
their mind from the body. These damaged dogs
will never fully trust anyone. So where does
that leave these poor souls? Most are still
capable of living out a wonderful life. They
need a scheduled environment but most
importantly, a home where they are accepted
for who and what they are. They may never
jump up on a couch and cuddle with you, or
bring you a ball to play catch, but you will
see the joy that they take in living each
day knowing that they will have clean
bedding, fresh food and water, and
unconditional love. To them, those small
comforts alone are pure bliss.
These "broken ones" are the ones
that normally never leave their foster homes.
Ironically, these types of dogs normally do
very well in a group-dog setting. They seem
to have shunned the world, and most
certainly mankind, and have created their
own little world without humans. Whenever we
that a mill rescue may be "too far gone"
for a fast paced family, we try to place
them in experienced homes; quiet homes; or
homes with other dogs. These are by far the
hardest ones for our hearts to accept, but
they are also a constant reminder of why we
do what we do.
Finding forever homes for mill rescues is
not all we do; we are constantly reminded of
the horrors of puppy mills and the
commercialization/farming of dogs when we
see the neglect and abuse these dogs have
suffered. We work not only to adopt dogs,
but to educate their new owners about the
truth behind that puppy in the pet store
window. We hope that you will keep a journal
or blog on the reform of your puppy mill dog,
and we hope that you will join us in our
campaign to educate the public--through the
eyes of the
survivors--by always taking the opportunity
to further educate others. Together we have
made a difference in the life of just one
dog, but together we can also make a
difference in the lives of hundreds of
thousands of dogs still caged in puppy mills.
It is only when the public realizes the
connection between pet stores and puppy
mills that we will end the demand; end the
supply; and end the abuse!