I had the pleasure over the weekend of seeing two former puppy mill breeder dogs at a party for senior dogs at Delaware Valley Golden Retriever Rescue. They were sweet and happy but I could still sense the idiosyncrasies that many mill dogs carry with them all of their lives: A little reticent to approach people, overwhelmed with too much activity. One of these dogs now has titles in obedience. His owner put a lot of time and effort into his training. Most mill dogs have the capability to learn obedience and live a normal life. But owners and some trainers must understand that these dogs may learn at a different pace than other “normal” dogs. Proper expectations need to be established or else frustration, disappointment and even anger at the dog or trainer may result.

As anyone who has adopted or worked with mill dogs knows, the tiniest sign of progress is cause for the biggest celebration. For example, most mill dogs cannot walk up and down steps. They were never exposed to them, so steps can be quite frightening. The thought of these dogs doing steps is almost impossible to imagine. But when the dog does a single step up or down, it’s a huge accomplishment.

Consider group dog training classes. Most beginner classes will expect the dog to learn how to sit, stay, come, lie down and walk nicely on a leash. Expecting a mill dog to do all of these is entirely unrealistic. Most of them will shut down in fear when they attend classes. Unless the trainer, owner and other people in the class are aware of this issue, the dog will be criticized and the owner possibly shamed for having such a dog. A much better and more realistic expectation for mill dogs in group classes would be that the dogs learns to relax a little and even learn to accept attention from the other dogs’ owners and the instructor.  That’s it. The owner can learn how to train the dog for sit, stay, come, etc. by listening in class to the instructions and then take this knowledge and teach the dog at home where the dog is more relaxed and better able to learn. It could take a mill dog ten times longer or more to learn obedience. Or not! Every dog is different and an individual.

I wrote an article for the Association of Pet Dog Trainers’ Chronicle of the Dog which gives much more information for trainers who are working with mill dogs. If anyone wants a copy, I can email it to you.