Here are some of the typical challenges our adopters have experienced with newly adopted puppy mill and breeder dogs, along with suggested recommendations for addressing each one.
The Dog Will Not Eat
If your dog doesn’t eat for the first two to three days after you’ve brought them home, do not become too alarmed (as long as they are in good physical health). It is common for fearful dogs not to eat during this transitional period. Give them time to de-stress and do not overwhelm them with too much activity. At the same time, you can try the following tips to help make the transition easier as well as making it more comfortable for the dog to eat.
1. Put their food bowl in a quiet, private area such as a spare bedroom or their safe spot. You may need to keep other dogs separated, so they do not steal your new dog’s food. However, some fearful dogs feel more comfortable eating in the presence of other dogs, so perhaps try feeding your new dog in a crate or behind a baby gate where they are still able to see their furry companions. Just be cautious as some dogs have a tendency to guard food from other dogs.
2. On that note, allow your dog to eat with no humans around. Many shy dogs will not eat while people are watching.
3. Change the type of bowl you are using. Some dogs do not like metal bowls – it could be that the shiny reflection scares them or their dog tags hit the bowl and make a scary sound. Try a plastic bowl or a flat plate.
4. Add wet food or some other irresistible food such as chicken or ground beef.
5. Some people suggest putting the food down for only 15 to 20 minutes. If the dog hasn’t eaten, try again for the same amount of time midday and dinner time. This will create a routine and help them know when it’s time to eat. Others suggest leaving the food out all day and overnight since some dogs will eat when it’s dark and quiet.
The Dog Will Not Walk Outside to the Yard
While it’s normal when first adapting to a new home for a breeder dog to find and stay primarily in an indoor “safe spot,” they will need to go outside at least for potty breaks. If your dog resists going outside, try the following:
1. First, try to have the dog follow your other dog outside. Many times, the adopted dog will take a cue from the mentor dog and simply follow what they do.
2. Try putting a leash on the dog, then walking toward the door. Some dogs are more willing to follow you once you put a leash on them. However, some are not. (Please refer to the “Walking on Leash” section that follows for additional tips.)
3. Face the direction of the door while encouraging the dog to walk there (i.e., lead the dog with your body). If you face the dog instead, it may confuse them as to where you want them to go. You could also prop the door open, stand outside (but do not block the doorway), and call your dog – to a fenced area, of course!
4. Reward the dog with high-value treats for each step they take toward the door.
5. If your dog is food motivated, toss treats in the direction of the door. Start by tossing them on the floor close to your dog, then toss incrementally closer to the doorway. Work until you can toss the treats outside and the dog will eat them there.
6. Once you are successful at getting the dog outside, make sure you stay outside with them. Periodically praise with gentle words and treats. Your goal is to make being outside a very positive experience. (But be aware that some dogs do not like to be watched when they pee and poop, but more on housetraining later.)
7. If your dog resists being outdoors for very long, work on increasing their comfort level slowly but steadily. For example, you can start by going outside, rewarding them with treats, then going back inside after two minutes (or whatever length of time you determine your dog can comfortably handle to start.) Each day, increase the length of time outside by a few minutes, as long as the duration is not crossing the threshold of stress for your dog.
Overall, be patient with your dog for the first few months but establish a routine for going out and do not vary it for that period of time.
The Dog Will Not Come Inside from the Yard
Unlike the previous scenario, some fearful dogs prefer to spend a majority of their time outside. Being indoors can feel confining and even frightening to a dog that has lived outside their entire life.
1. Most importantly, work on making the indoors comfortable for the dog. The more a dog feels at ease in an indoor environment, the more they will want to be there.
2. Praise and reward the dog every time you are successful in getting them to come inside. Help them see that the act of coming inside predicts good things.
3. Keep the dog on a long leash (at least 10 feet or more) while outside, so you can easily leash walk them inside. The long leash gives them the freedom to wander around the yard and have privacy for doing their business, which many dogs prefer. When it is time to go in, you can pick up the leash and gently “reel them in” to go back inside. This prevents situations in which the dog finds a corner of the yard or some inaccessible spot and refuses to budge.
Walking In and Out through Doorways
Fear of passing through a doorway is an extremely common characteristic of puppy mill breeder dogs and other fearful dogs. Some dogs fear what is on the other side of a doorway and are afraid to venture through. Or, they may be nervous about walking through a narrow space of any kind. There are some games we play to get the dog accustomed to this.
Place the hula hoop flat on the ground in front of you. Ask the dog to come to you and see if they will stand in the hoop. You can also use treats or a toy to encourage them into the hoop. After the dog has easily accomplished this and does not show fear of the hoop, slowly lift up the hoop so that it is vertical. Encourage the dog to walk through it by using treats or tossing a toy through.
Some extremely fearful dogs will need to begin with much more space replicating the “doorway”:
1. Set up two chairs about ten feet apart. If your dog walks okay on leash, put them on leash and walk in between the two chairs with them next to you. Praise and reward when you reach the other side! If they succeed…
2. Move the chairs slightly closer together. Walk through again and remember to praise and reward. If the dog shows resistance, go back to the ten-foot spacing and stick with that until they get more comfortable.
3. If the dog does not walk well on the leash, you’ll need to start with a different strategy. Try guiding them through by tossing high-value treats and walking through with them. Or, toss a favorite toy to the other side and encourage them to get it. You could also have someone they like and trust sit at the other side of the chairs, so they could run to that person. The dog may “cheat” and run around the outside of the chairs. Be patient and start over until they get it right.
4. Gradually move the chairs closer and closer together until they are about three feet apart (the approximate size of a doorway). Once your dog is successful at that, try our hula hoop game (above)!
5. When your dog is comfortable and reliably walking through a three-foot space, vary the game by moving the chairs to different locations in the room. Eventually, you can put them by the entrance of the doorway. Prop the door open and walk back and forth through the chairs (and thus through the doorway) with your dog until they are comfortable going into the room.
6. You may find it helpful to put something with which your dog is familiar in the room where you want them to go, such as their dog bed, favorite toy, or another family member. You can also try placing a trail of treats into the room or toss them near and through the doorway.
7. As a final step, remove the chairs and continue the walking through activity as long as needed until your dog is no longer afraid of doorways.
You can, of course, do without the chairs and start immediately with the doorway – rewarding with any step toward the opening.
Remember to go slowly and realize this process could take days or weeks. Patience is key!