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Rehabbing Puppy Mill Dogs

By Michele C. Hollow

We are all saddened by the cruelty of puppy mills. Yet some people are reluctant to get a dog from a shelter if they know the dog came from a puppy mill. Is that dog damaged goods?

“These dogs can be rehabilitated,” says Kristen Collins, an animal trainer at the ASPCA’s Animal Behavior Center. The Center specializes in safeguarding the behavioral health of special needs victims, such as animals seized in dog fighting busts, hoarding cases, and puppy mill raids. “Training a rescued puppy mill dog takes time and a lot of patience. Watching these dogs overcome their fears is so rewarding.”

Kristen Collins, an animal trainer at the ASPCA's Animal Behavior Center

“The dogs we rescue from puppy mills have special needs,” says Kristen. “Large scale breeders treat these dogs as objects not living beings. As a result, these dogs have a lot of issues.”

“It’s important to understand where they come from,” says Kristen. “They spend months in isolated environments sometimes outdoors or indoors their entire lives with no socialization with people. When they land in new homes, they have problems with fear and bonding.”

The dogs kept outside can be afraid to venture into a home. Dogs who have never been outdoors are scared of being outside. Often these dogs get along with other dogs because at the puppy mill they are surrounded by other dogs. Usually several are kept in small cages together.

All dogs deserve a good life.

While there are some large breeds, most puppy mill dogs are small toy breeds. They look cute and easy to handle. Several people who shop at pet stores that sell dogs have no idea that most of these dogs come from a puppy mill. They get them home and find a lot of problems. Often these dogs are brought to shelters.

The ASPCA’s SAFER (Safety Assessment For Evaluating and Re-homing) program works with puppy mill dogs to help them with bonding and fear issues. Each rescued puppy mill dog is evaluated over the course of a few days. “The evaluation tells us what each dog needs,” says Kristen.

Volunteers come into the ASPCA to help the dogs with their issues of fear and bonding. “We call it the ‘Circle of Love,'” says Kristen. “During this time, the dog is not forced to interact with people. We’re getting the dogs to associate people with good things such as food and kindness. We often have another dog at the Circle of Love, since puppy mill dogs are more comfortable around other dogs.”

Gradually, these dogs are taken outside in a stroller or a sling if they are not afraid of being close to people. In a city, the volunteers get the dogs used to city noises. At various stages of the training process, some of the dogs are adopted out. Others go to foster homes. “It takes time,” says Kristen, “and patience. We are educating the public about puppy mills and we tell adopters of puppy mill dogs that once these dogs overcome their past, they become grateful loving dogs. I hope people can overcome their worry and fear about adopting these animals. They need our help and helping them is so rewarding.”

Kristen hears from a lot of adopters. “Many of them tell me their dogs enjoy interacting with people; they like to go for walks, and that the dogs seem grateful for living with a loving family.” Kristen knows first hand. In addition to training these dogs, she adopted a puppy mill rescue.

At the ASPCA adopters of puppy mill dogs get a special counseling session, and there is always follow up at the shelter. The ASPCA also has an online tool called the virtual pet behaviorist where you can type in a question about animal behaviors and get an answer from a certified animal behaviorist.

23 comments to Rehabbing Puppy Mill Dogs


    All the dogs are waiting for is someone to show them what they would like from them…
    they are grateful and wanting to please…Never think of putting them down, because of where they were Born.

  • Please give puppy mill dogs a chance. They are full of love with a little patience and lots of love. My girlfriend has 2. It took 8 months, but what wonderful dogs they have turned out to be.

  • i have never had a mill puppy but i’ve rescued dogs that had been abused, it takes a long time to win their trust but it does happen & overcome their fear.

  • It’s wonderful that people aren’t giving up on these little victims. Bless everyone involved in animal rescue.

  • Veronica Goddard

    Wonderfully uplifting story; all these precious dogs, which have known a lifetime lacking love and affection deserve a chance in a loving home.

  • Having rescued a puppy mill dog, who lived to be 1 week shy of 15, I can honestly attest to the horrors of the puppy mills and the amazing dogs that come from them. Yes, they can be rehabbed. All they want is love, a chance, an opportunity. All relationships take time, especially from an animal who has been mistreated, ignored, abused. It can be done. I encourage anyone to consider a puppy mill dog.

  • Please get a life if that’s why a person would not adopt a dog from shelter then he shouldn’t have one at all. That’s a poor excuse for not taking a animcal from a shelter.

  • Jill Vickerman

    Wherever they come from they can have fears and issues,Im sure many of them are just only too happy to find that not all humans are terrifying…it must be a terribly lonely life being a little puppy mill dog…they just need another chance at life, like many of us do.

  • Larry D. Grazier

    I don’t like puppy mills at all. The real problem for me is what happend to all the puppy’s when you clse down a Mill? Are they Adopted? Are they put to death? Are they sent to people who do bad things to dods, sent to people in other country’s that eat dogs? That the real problem. We must try and find homes for them in advance if we can AND THEN CLOSE THE PUPPY MILL UP. We need the Congress to make laws to bar them. Congress should have very long jail time
    for the ones who brake the law! You can only do what is legal in the USA so make the law cover everything we know at this time to stop people who have no heart. They only see the $$$$$.. “Indian Boy”

  • Pami

    Fantastic work. Every dog deserves his day!

  • Wonderful story, every dog deserved a chance all they want is love and to be care for and they will give you so much more.

  • Faith

    About 6 months ago I adopted a dachshund that was a stud dog in a puppy mill.He spent his whole 3 yrs in a crate. He’s now use to walking on a leash and I’m working on the housebreaking.For me the problem was his aggression. I’ve been bitten 3 times and each time requiring stitches. It’s a long slow process and each day is a step in the right direction. If asked if I would do it again… in a heartbeat.

  • Gwen Hillman

    This sounds like ignorance on the part of the people – and ignorance is not incurable. All they need is to learn, and love, and IT will most definitely work out for them, and the dog. Our dog, Eros, came not from a puppy mill, but from a registered breeder. Because of his pedigree, he was HIGHLY valued as a breed male. He is a boerboel (which, for those that don’t know the breed, is a BIIIG dog) and when we got him, he was such a nervous and shy dog and if he decided to bite, he would have taken our hand off. But we persevered with him because we knew where he came from and what he went through, and we knew what had to be put in to him to make him the dog we knew he could be. Now, to see the change in him, was like seeing a miracle taking place before our eyes. He is like a puppy (or like he should have been allowed to be) running, and jumping, well fed, spoiled, loved and HAPPY (and, as big as he is, loves to try and climb on to our laps)!!!! He smiles (literally) all the time (except when it rains – not because he is scared, he just doesn’t like water on his fur) – but that is just one of his quirks !! We would NEVER has given up this experience for anything in the world.

  • Sanja Lalic

    Dogs are far more better than humans.

  • Lin Penrose

    If I could get a dog/puppy, I would certainly Not reject one from a puppy mill. Love & attention can overcome many awful experiences they go through.

  • […] (and hundreds of volunteers) of the Coalition to Ban Ohio Dog Auctions is working tirelessly to end puppy mills and dog auctions. Okay, you are reading the word “Ohio” and you are based in another state. […]

  • Buffy

    People who reject dogs from puppy mills are no real animal lovers, in my opinion.

  • Sue McGuey

    Whether they come from puppy mills or shelters….they are all deserving of a second round of the GOOD life….many of my pooches have come from shelters I do not know what the backgrounds were, it didn’t matter…. I just wanted to get them out & give them love & affection!~

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