Was I ready for Doobie? Not really. As we say in the business, Doobie, a 5 year old American Lab rescued from a puppy mill, was a failed foster. One look at his beaten down by life demeanor was all it took. I knew that first night his journey was over and that he had come home. The apple fell close to the tree; my life long rescuer mother would have been proud of me. Ready for what, you might ask? A dog existing all his sad life in puppy mill purgatory comes equipped with his own special needs. I really gave it no thought at all before committing to the adoption. I suppose I thought I would deal with the issues as they presented themselves. As a dog trainer working with many fearful dogs, at least I had experience on my side.
A year later, Doobie has made wonderful progress. New challenges arise and they are dealt with. Is Doobie normal? No. Will he ever be entirely well adjusted? Probably not. Was it difficult to find the time when already owned by two other young energetic labs? You betcha. However, to observe Doobie blossom, learn trust confidence and develop his own distinct personality, has been one of the greatest joys of my life. This dog has taught me about resiliency, coping, trusting and adapting. However it has not been easy, no two bones about it. These dogs really do need special care, time and commitment. I want folks going into this to have their eyes wide open. Without a doubt, any such adult puppy mill rescue will:
- have generalized fear. (lack of socialization is a given)
- not be house trained. (Doobie was not)
- be afraid to go in a crate. (they spent their life in a cage)
- have no training and no skills.
- cope poorly in a new environment (literally learning to live in an alien world)
- never have even been in a house.
- be afraid of common household noises.
- very likely will view children as aliens.
While that list is a pretty fair start, by no means is it complete. Wait, you`re saying. Do you mean we should not adopt these dogs? Not at all. What I want is for people to know what to expect, and be prepared for the remedial house training, gentle and gradual socialization required, and basic understanding of fearful dogs. Sadly, I have had overwhelmed clients. Happily, I have also had clients whose dogs were able to progress, when needed support was obtained. There is the crux of the matter: having a support system in place. You may want to consult with a licensed positive trainer and do some reading before you even bring your rescue home. Make inquiries of your rescue organization of the support system they offer. Here are a few resources, some of the best in my opinion.
Go to www.fearfuldogs.com and read read read. A book I refer clients to frequently is Help For Your Fearful Dog: Nicole Wilde, available at www.dogwise.com Certainly it cannot hurt to review house training and crate training methods, of the gentlest nature possible. A great overall reference is Positive Perspectives 2: Pat Miller, available from the same source. Expect that there will be fear to some degree, and make the environment as stress free as possible. Give these dogs time to adjust and take things very slowly. Under no circumstances should these timid souls be corrected for behaviors in which they are communicating fear. Constant reinforcement is what will turn these dogs around, as well as having basic understanding of their behavior, and being able to adjust to their needs.
I can only hope you experience the joy I have, in watching a dog learn to be a dog, in watching a dog beaten down by life learn to play and romp. Every effort I have made has been returned tenfold by a loving soul. Do some preparation, and please, call for help sooner rather than later, if needed. This will be one of the most rewarding journeys you will embark upon. Feel free to contact me and send some of your own rescue stories; I would love to hear them. Best of luck to you with your puppy mill rescue. Cheers to www.lab-rescue.com for the wonderful work they do.
Leslie Fisher PMCT CPDT-KA