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Cesar is not alone when he recommends “adopt, don’t shop” when getting a new dog, but a substantial number of pets still come from puppy mills, whether direct from a pet shop or breeder, or via a rescue or shelter.

Rescuing a puppy mill dog

Puppy mill dogs require extra attention and training in order to rehabilitate them because the conditions they were brought up in are horrible. Unlike reputable breeders, who take the steps necessary for the comfort of their breeding dogs and puppies, puppy mills treat their dogs as products to be churned out as quickly as possible.

Potty training your dog

Puppy mill dogs spend almost all of their time indoors in wire cages, and aren’t even housebroken, so they become used to urinating and defecating in their den, something most dogs would normally avoid. The transition from a crowded, loud, filthy mill to a home with humans can be quite traumatic, and many puppy mill dogs become very anxious and uncertain when taken outside for a walk or even let outside to play in the yard. To them, this isn’t natural.

This is why one of the biggest issues people have with puppy mill dogs is housebreaking them. The dog is too stressed while outside to relax and take care of business, then goes the second they come back in and feel safe again.

Start with the dog walk

The first step in the process is to take the dog for a long walk. This will help teach her to trust you, as well as use up excess energy, which will reduce her anxiety. If she does eliminate, give her immediate praise or a treat, and continue to do so whenever she does her business on the walk.

Don’t worry if your dog doesn’t get it right away. If, despite a long walk, he still hasn’t gone, return home and then watch. As soon as you see signs that he may be getting ready to do his business, such as sniffing or circling, immediately take him outside, and repeat the treat/praise routine when he eliminates outside.

Crate training your dog

Another important part of rehabilitating a puppy mill dog is crate training, which will create a safe environment that she can retreat to when she’s feeling anxious. Remember: when your dog is feeling anxious or fearful, the worst thing you can do is give them affection. This is often a very difficult concept for people to grasp, because our natural reaction when another human being is feeling anxious or fearful is to comfort them.

Timing the reward

Humans work this way, but dogs don’t. When you give affection to a dog, you are reinforcing whatever state of mind they are in at that moment. Giving affection to a nervous dog just tells them, “This is how I want you to be.”

There will be plenty of time for affection once your puppy mill dog is rehabilitated, but in the meantime you need to focus on exercise and discipline, with plenty of “No touch, no talk, no eye contact.” This is a dog that was never allowed to be a dog, and that needs to learn how.

With the help of a calm environment and the creation of rules, boundaries, and limitations, it can be done. Just remember that it will take consistency and a lot of patience, but the end result will be more than worth it.

Have you had experience rehabilitating a puppy mill dog? Tell us about it in the comments!

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