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Ask the Trainer: Helping a Puppy Mill Survivor Transition Into Life in a Home

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Dear Kevin,
My 8-year old mill dog rescue Pom, Sweetpea that we have had for 5 months, has two very challenging behaviors. #1. She barks constantly; sometimes hours on end. Particularly shrill when her “daddy” is around. #2 She will not sleep. We’ve tried crates, pens, allowing her free roam. Nothing helps unless I sleep with her on the couch. I feel as if we are fishing around and being inconsistent.

Feeling sleep deprived with shattered nerves.

Hi Marti,

It is unfortunate that Sweepea had to go through what she has. Some people only care about making money and don’t care about the welfare of the animal. Unfortunately most dogs used for breeding like this are pretty messed up mentally due to lack of experience with the world. If they ever do get the chance to live a normal life, it is very tough for them. It is such a big adjustment to go from living your entire life in a cage every day, to experiencing the everyday life of a “normal” dog.

Part of the answer is, time. It is going to take time for her to adjust to her new home. Another part of the answer is, patience. Patience is going to be very important. I would give her a good amount of exercise. I would do physical exercise, like taking her on walks. I would also do mental exercise, like teaching her new tricks, or working on basic obedience. The more tired you can get her, the harder it should be for her to stay awake. Have you tried having her in your bedroom? Also, what has her Vet said in regards to this. I am going to mention some all natural things that could help her relax but it wouldn’t be a bad idea to talk to your vet to see what s/he recommends.

Some “all-natural” options to make her more comfortable include Thundershirts, DAP (Dog Appeasing Pheromone, comes in a collar, a wall plug in, and also a spray. Using multiple forms has proven to work better for some dogs.) and different calming music. You can try to put these all together as well.

For the barking I recommend increasing exercise just like I mentioned above. That alone probably won’t fix the issue so I recommend doing some confidence building exercises as well. The link below will provide you with the answers to that. I have a feeling that the barking is a nervous response. Probably from living such a sheltered life for so long. Help build her confidence and it could start to fade away.

I hope this helps. Thanks again for saving Sweetpea.

Additional advice at this link:

Thank you for the question!
Kevin Duggan CPDT-KA

Kevin is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer through the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (  and is a Canine Good Citizen Evaluator through the American Kennel Club. He currently resides in Ohio with his dog, V, a six-year-old Shepherd/Lab mix, where he operates All Dogs Go To Kevin, LLC, specializing in helping build positive relationships between humans and their canine companions using clear communication, not pain and fear. For more training tips and tricks, and to meet his amazing dog, V,  follow him on Facebook by clicking here.

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  1. Avatar Of Legal legal says:

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  2. Avatar Of Ahmed Ahmed says:

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  3. Avatar Of Christie Christie says:

    Great article and blog! The transition of a long term shelter dog into a home is very similar, and this gave us some great insights. Thank you! We are also promoting and sharing many adoptable dogs in need of forever homes at our blog, check us out. 🙂

  4. Avatar Of Ruth Ann

    Ruth Ann


    Our Boston Terrier Flossie was rescued from a puppy mill in January 2013. We got her the following week. It was really sad. She didn’t know how to sit, stay, potty trained and was very food aggressive. She was also wanted attention from us anyway she could get it.

    We have an 10 year old Boston who we have had since he was 5 weeks old. Flossie watched him and did everything he did. 3 weeks later she knew how to sit, lay, stay and was going out to potty. Even though we did have a few accidents she was really easy to train. 19 months later it is like having a whole different dog. She no longer has any issues. Just be patience and be consistent and she will come around.

    Good Luck!

  5. Avatar Of Becky



    Wow, thanks to all of you for taking on your rescue and this challenge. I too have a neighbor who adopted a mill schnauzer and dealt with issues. You all should be commended on taking on this endeavor. I guess patience, perseverance and routine would be the best advice. Good luck and thanks for being their for these poor souls and teaching them that there is more to life than a wire cage.

  6. Avatar Of Mary Willis

    Mary Willis


    My brother and his wife rescued two Yorkies who were kept in a cage. They were never let out of the cage and were used for breeding. They had never even been outside. They hired a trainer who came to their house to work with the dogs. The trainer charged $1,200 a dog. These two little dogs have come a long way. These two dogs are sisters and should never be separated. They even run together in unison. They were lucky to have found a loving home!

  7. Avatar Of Norma Enid Hndz

    Norma Enid Hndz


    I have always been a fan of Chows Chows and have owned 6 and find they are excellent for apartments (most are 45-80lbs) low key, low energy, attitude of a cat, adorable yet intimidating looks and excellent guard dogs. I must admit, not a dog for everyone. I am a women that’s 4’11” but w/the attitude of 10′ woman… :). I am Alfa (hear me roar!) and my 2 Chows (& 4 cats) know it but they also know they are the loves of my life!

  8. Avatar Of Sissy



    We purchased a dog (papillon) from a pet store she has been challenging… She had been in a kennel for 6 months. Did not know how to drink water out of a bowl, did not want to touch grass, would not let you pick her up, would not let you love her up…..we have had her for a 1 1/2 years she is better our other papillon who we got at 2 months has taught her so much. They are 2 months apart… They love each other so much.. They play do not fight, love to rough house…. If she gets upset she will look at you and pee on the floor although that is getting much better. In the last month she will curl up next to you she lets you put her on her back so she gets her tummy rubbed so. Freckles is becoming a loving puppy like her little sister Oreo.

  9. Avatar Of Christine christine says:

    I am retired but have worked with many animals my whole life. I have now 25 remaining dogs all rescue left, none are kenneled except when I go out ,they all get along and sleep inside with me i have noticed no matter what the trauma feral, beaten, staved, handicapped, and I have seen the worst,a companion dog that has a normal behavior seems to help these guys “monkey see monkey do. some of my dogs have been the best rehabbers. i only have one puppy mill dog I acquired at 1yr a great dane, I am her 5th owner and she is mischievous. she is a barker,follows me everywhere, and is more aggressive with strangers than the others, but she has really followed the pack. structure and disciplin (keep in mind (not normal disciplin),but dogs like children need to know right from wrong.simple firm voice no and clear direction can help,confusion makes it harder and takes longer.some basic training may help but find someone with problem solving background. if you are able to get a companion dog be sure it is not a puppy but an older type dog from a loving home with basic house manners, sit, come, respect for the word no and it may work…no guarantees. there are many good dogs being surrendered because of financial reasons good luck to all the wonderful people who take these dogs on…

    • Avatar Of Dell



      After loosing our two old lab mix dogs (ages 13 & 15 yrs old) only 4 months apart last year, my husband and I adopted two rescue furbabies. Initially, I inquired about Sable, a 16 mo. old female terrier mix, and I was told that she was “somewhat a special needs” pup in that she was ‘very skiddish’ & that it could take her a while to get used to being around us. Sable & her sister, Lila, were the only two survivors of a litter of stray puppies when they were captured/rescued & had been at the rescue facility since they were 3 mo. old. During the pre-adoption ‘visits’ process, the dogs were indeed ‘skiddish’ around us..but they didn’t seem unusually so under the circumstances and seemed to warm up to us more each visit. Sable & Lila were so close & been through so much together, we adopted both because we didn’t want to separate them.

      We’ve had them almost 6 months now, and we now understand that our dogs were not merely ‘skiddish strays’..but semi-wild/feral.. and that there’s a BIG difference behaviorily between being a ‘skiddish stray’ & a feral or semi-wild dog. Even though they have grown more used to us, they still exhibit a great deal of fear of humans, especially my husband. I work from home so I’m with them a lot, and they are more comfortable around me & eventhough it’s a chore, I can at least get them to let me pet them & get kisses occasionally. They are still afraid of my husband, and eventhough he is very loving & spoils them rotten, they won’t allow him to get close to them, much less pet them. Their comfort & trust levels seems to fluctuate with the wind. Excited & happy to see you with tails wagging one minute, and then bolt off, running away like you were trying to harm them in the worst kind of way the next. Eventhough space would be tight, we’ve been thinking about getting a 3rd, more social/domesticated, dog in hopes it could ‘teach them how to be a dog’ by example & hopefully to become more trusting of us. We don’t know what else we can do to help them to adjust better.

  10. Avatar Of Sherri



    LOVE and lots of patience has worked for my bestfriend bolt he was a mill puppy (chiahuahua) when i first got him he had severe seperation issues and would chew,tear up the rug and potty everywhere whn i would leave,but i alllways loved a nd cuddled him when i got home,never yell at him and just let him know i would allways come back and i would never hurt him and after 5 yrs together he still get a little anious when i leave but he knows mommy will be back, i find them to be the best friends with time.

  11. Avatar Of Tara



    my shiba inu, after living in a cage for 6yrs, and has been with me now 2yrs, has ptsd…my diagnosis. how cannot one not be traumatized by an environment like that, and not have lasting repercussions. he has issues….big ones…but he is worth every moment of joy that he brings to my home…to his rescued sister dog, his two doggies cousins, his aunties and uncle…
    are there issues that i would “prefer” he not do (like the second i walk out the door to go somewhere, although having been outside for potty, but potties on the floor?? or yip bark when i’m showering and run around frantically when i get out cause he doesn’t know who i am any longer as my scent is different?? bark and bark and that he found his “voice” after almost a year…he practices often… but then will morph into the most beautiful sounds that only a shiba can make…and i smile…or cry)
    we all have issues….and because i knew he had been caged for that long, and never had interactions, nor walk on grass, or dirt, or met another pet up close, and and and…i knew it would be a challenge. a challenge to find that spot where he learns to trust, and know how very loved he is…he is not a sacrifice….he is a blessing from God…and He knew right where to send him!!!!
    hang in there….the joys are worth far more than the trials….who wants an “average, everyday, run of the mill, well behaved” dog??!! unique is far more interesting…

  12. Hello, I have what I believe is a mill rescue Yorkie named Lola. She did nothing but circles for months when she first arrived. She also didn’t bark for at least six months, now she is the watch dog barking at everything. I found she had no training and the only thing I have been able to teach her is up up to let her know I am picking her up. She is afraid of anything new at all times…even a box broken up slide behind the trash will freak her out and she won’t come into the kitchen. Don’t get me wrong she has come a very long way in the almost three years I’ve had her. She will not walk on a leash…she will walk next to you but as soon as I put her harness on she freezes…will not budge. I have a carrier and she goes in that when we do out of yard walks but when we stay in the yard she will walk on her own for a bit. I am trying to increase this each time we go out but winter makes it hard non of my Yorkies want anything to do with outside in the winter. I would try putting her crate or bed in your room. Lola has a stroller this was the best way for her to feel safe and for me to introduce her to lots of new things. She even sleeps in it at the end of my bed….maybe try a stroller……it may help. Just a thought wishing you the best of luck and thank you for saving her.

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