There has been a lot of discussion recently about placement of rescues from puppy mills and whether those dogs can be placed without extensive rehab as well as training of the adopting family.
It would be so nice if there were easy answers for this.
While evaluation of the dogs by experienced foster homes or rescuers is crucial, there is also a lot of benefit to getting a dog into a new permanent home as soon as possible. If a rescued dog bonds too closely to the foster, it can be harder for the dog to adjust to the permanent home. But we also want to be sure that both the dog and the new home are ready for each other and that there aren’t any issues that will pop up as soon as the dog develops some level of comfort.
I have had dogs that have been with me only a short time become so dependent on me for direction that it was tough for them to learn to look to anyone else for that direction. Yet those dogs are easier to work with than the dogs who refuse to bond at all — you always wonder whether any but the most experienced homes will be able to cut through the layers of defense in order to make that dog a part of the family.
Everything about mill rescues should be expected to come in small steps – house training, trust, obedience, leash comfort, car travel. Some mill dogs take weeks or months before they are comfortable going through doors. Some hate to be groomed, either because of painful associations with bathing and grooming, others because it is too close an invasion of their space, others because the interaction between them and the individual person is just too intense. It can take time to desensitize the dog to specific activities and actions.
The worst thing an evaluator, foster, or permanent home can do is baby the dog. You don’t want to reinforce their fear response. It is important to be as positive and matter-of-fact as possible, to show the dog that some things are just plain normal, that some things are expected, that some things are simply part of their new life and it’s all going to be just fine. If the person working with the dog is confident, that helps the dog build confidence as well.
Some dogs are so fearful that they will snap or growl at anything new or different. They present another series of challenges, but still should not be coddled NOR rewarded for their behavior. You do need to be certain though, NOT to train them not to growl – a growl is an early warning system, the dog is telling you they are worried and feel threatened and are prepared to escalate. Redirect their attention and energy but, again, don’t baby them and don’t teach them not to growl, or you may find yourself with a dog who goes straight from mild discomfort into snapping or biting, and that’s not a good thing for either you or the dog.
Working with mill dogs takes patience, confidence, and a lot of optimism. There are very few dogs that cannot be rehabbed, but each will adjust in their own time and their own way. Some may always show some signs of damage, and may always be fearful in some situations. It is up to the fosters and the new homes to identify those situations and find ways to constructively desenstize the dog. Sometimes making something into a game or into a job for the dog will encourage the dog to be more confident in the face of other fears, too.
The most important thing is to love the dogs AS THEY ARE AT THAT MOMENT. Dogs have no concept of future or what might be possible sometime down the road if…. They need companionship and direction and care *now* and they only know whether they trust you *now.* There will be plenty of time later to love the dog they might become, but it is important to value the dog that’s right in front of you right now. This is the moment they live in, this is the moment and the relationship to cherish and to build upon.
Enjoy the dog you have. Even if they are a challenge. Maybe even more so because they are.