Start with a cooling off period in as quiet and calm setting as possible. Give lots of space without approaching or handling. Give hiding spaces for the dog to retreat and never follow the dog. Do not expect this dog to go for walks or out in the world, just adjusting to your home will be major hurdle.
Observe the dog unobtrusively and observe how the dog is adjusting. Transitions into homes can be difficult for these dogs and it can take awhile for everything to unfold. Expect to see behavior changes for some time. These dogs have experienced serious sensory and social deprivation and possibly trauma. Gather any history on the dog if possible. Anyone or anything may be terrifying for the dog because they were not allowed to develop in a normal sensory and social environment with good experiences with people. An example being these dogs are often terrified by floor surfaces like tile or wood floors and even grass. Often they are absolutely terrified of people or handling.
All of the following things can be terrifying for these dogs – person approaching, people entering room or entrance, people approaching in hallway, looking at, talking to or even just talking normally, reaching for the dog, touching collar, approaching dog in crate, petting, moving quickly, picking the dog up, standing from sitting position, leaning over or being on eye level, and many sights and sounds. Let the dog just get used to your presence without directing any attention towards dog. If dog sniffs you just avert your eyes and don’t reach for or talk to the dog. The dog should always be able to move away from you to another area and you can use boxes or crates for them to hide. Never approach them in these spaces. You can quietly dribble highly delicious food bits like bit of chicken, cheese, freeze dried liver onto the floor if the dog will eat food from you or in your presence to build a good association. In some cases the dog will be too afraid to eat. In those cases, give them time and work on this at a later point.
Note for Foster Homes- try to have other quiet people (one at a time) sit at distance from the dog and ignore as stated above so the dog doesn’t get overly attached to you since you hope to place the dog in another home eventually.
After cooling off period, try dog in quiet area that the dog is used to with one very social easy going dog and see if the dog seems more relaxed. Do this in quiet private setting. The dog should be able to rest and relax around another dog before considering putting with another dog. Having dog company may make the dog happier and more relaxed but may not make him more social with people. Bring one dog at a time to his area. Don’t risk traumatizing the dog by taking him to another area with dogs. Some puppy mill dogs may have had bad experience in tight cages with other dogs and having to struggle to get food and may not enjoy the company of other dogs.
Anything that the dog didn’t experience the first few months of life may be terrifying for the dog such as, grass, traffic, movement, sounds, cars, stairs, floor surfaces, sirens, strollers, vacuums, hair dryer, TV, big objects, and big open spaces are all common fears.
Less is always more with these dogs. Provide as quiet and calm environment as possible. Always let them approach you and don’t force handling.
I have some other videos that may be helpful for those of you that have had your dogs for awhile and they are more comfortable with you so you can work with them a little. My YouTube channel is Jeni Grant.
Seek assistance from a experienced positive dog behavior counselor or veterinary behaviorist, if needed. This person should be experienced with fear and not push the dog that could cause harm. Contact me with any questions or for referrals.
Set realistic expectations for these dogs. It is unlikely that they will ever be very social dogs you can take out in the world with you to lots of new places like a dog with a healthier previous life. Be satisfied with tiny victories like bonding with family members or playing in yard with your other dog or finding a quiet familiar trail for walking.
Rescues -Be honest about what to expect with adopters and seek out quiet homes that are willing to accommodate and make adjustments for the dog’s needs this includes choosing a foster home. These dogs thrive on familiar calm predictable routines. Although some prefer the company of other dogs so a home with other friendly dogs may be a good choice.
Get these dogs used to any changes very gradually over time.
It is wonderful you have taken the time and effort it takes to rehabilitate these dogs. My heroes are the kind adopters that work to make these dogs lives more enjoyable for the rest of the dog’s life.
Also read my blog on adopted dogs for more helpful advice http://trainyourbestfriend.com/blog/2010/04/09/how-to-care-for-an-adopted-foster-or-generally-fearful-dog-first-draft/ and see my calendar on my web site about the free phone workshops I do for the Puppy Mill Rescue Dog Support Group. Also I am available for phone consult for advice for working with your former mill dog.
Jeni Grant BA, CPDT-KA