Terror of human hands

The only time most mill dogs are removed from their cages, it's a painful experience. The dog may be grabbed by the first reachable part of its body; tail, legs, scruff, ears. This takes lots of patience and non-threatening touches to overcome. You may have to lie down on the floor face down with your eyes averted to get the dog to approach you at all. Let him come near you and sniff. It may take an hour or days for this to happen. You can sometime begin with holding the dog, petting him gently for a few seconds, speaking softly, then place him carefully down. Let him know you are not looking to restrain him. Lengthen the time for this ritual each day. Never raise your voice, clap your hands, or allow loud noises in the home during this adjustment period.


Many puppy mill survivors refuse to make any eye contact with humans. This indicates fearful submission which decreases as the dog comes to realize he will not be harmed by you.


Anytime the cage door is opened on a mill dog, fear is the response because an evil human is behind it. Of course, the cage door must be opened to insert a bowl of food which may also be used to entice the dog within reach. It's not unusual to see the survivor run in the opposite direction when you sit dinner on the floor. Turn your back and walk away until the dog feels "safe" enough to eat. Let him eat undisturbed.

House training

No mill dog comes house trained. Most males will mark, as do females. Belly bands (a cloth band which wraps around male dogs covering the urethra) will help prevent marking. Nicely fitted doggie diapers are available at Fosters and Smiths. Baby diapers can be used as well, just cut a hole for the tail. Put your dog on a schedule. Take him outside first thing in the morning, after lunch, after dinner and whenever else is possible throughout the day. If you see him lift his leg in the house, get a shaker can filled with small pebbles to distract him until you get him outside. Never raise your voice. Never hit the dog. Take him outside and reinforce by saying, "Potty outside," or something similar. Use positive reinforcement when the dog does his business outside: "Good boy, Potty outside, Good Boy." Lots of petting must follow.

Flight Risk

All mill dogs are high flight risks. Never take your dog outside a securely fenced yard until you are thoroughly bonded. Then if you take your dog outside your fence, make sure his harness is secure and on tight. If a mill dog escapes, he will run until he collapses; catching him will be impossible. Prevention is the best policy.


Stool-eating is common in puppy mill survivors. Pick up the yard frequently.

Fear of Water

Water hoses frighten many mill dogs. The reason for this is because most millers will not remove the dogs from the cages before they hose down all the cages.

Fear Biting

Fear biting is more common in abuse cases than in puppy mill survivors, but we do see it occasionally. 90% of all dogs who bite do so out of fear. Puppy mill survivors, like feral dogs, usually cower in the presence of humans. Fear biting can frequently be overcome with proper training and commitment, but it generally requires a professional animal behaviorist, not to mention a strong commitment from the adoptive family. Sadly, because of both the enormity of the canine overpopulation problem and the abundance of more easily salvageable dogs, most fear biters are euthanized.

These are a few of the most common puppy mill survivor behaviors and suggestions for working with them. Working with a mill dog is not an easy undertaking. But for those who have witnessed the miracle of these frightened beings growing to love and trust, to play with toys for the first time, to learn to take soft beds and good food for granted, it is one of the most joyful and rewarding experiences of our lives. The puppy mill survivor who ventures to trust a human being despite a history of abuse and neglect is a triumph of the spirit from which we can all learn. (Source: