Thursday, March 31, 2016

Tips for Helping Rescued Cairns Adjust

Contributed by a CP Volunteer

Calm structure, understanding, love, and patience is key to success with all Rescued Cairns, no matter what their background might have been.

Every Rescued Cairn is not a Puppy Mill dog, but whatever the back story, every Rescued Cairn has been stressed by changing humans and environments, thus their sense of security has been rocked to one degree or another.  The following advice and protocols for working with Puppy Mill dogs has great relevance to the state of mind of all Rescued Cairns and is well worth reviewing, even if there is only one thing you can take away that will help you with your Rescued Cairn.

Even young Cairns rescued from puppy mills need extra understanding

Rehabilitation of a Puppy Mill Dog

Every mill survivor is different.  What works on one or many, will completely fail on another.  The only thing that is consistent is that they will need lots of patience, understanding and love.  And probably, most importantly, acceptance:   Unconditional acceptance of what they are capable of giving - and taking. 

At first glance, a mill survivor may look like many of your friends' dogs.  Maybe not a perfect example of the breed, but close.  What you won't see is the condition that they came into rescue in.  Hair so matted that it all had to be shaved off.  Even the short haired breeds suffer from thin dull coats when they come to us.  Many times removing the filth and matting have only revealed open sores, usually from flea allergies or sarcoptic mange.  Ears are full of filth and usually mites.  Some survivors suffer from permanent hearing loss because of untreated ear infections.  Most survivors require the removal of rotten teeth, even young dogs.  The gums are usually very infected and the teeth have excessive buildup on them.  Many vets who are not familiar with puppy mill rescued dogs will misdiagnose age if going by the teeth.  Many survivors also suffer from swollen, splayed and sore feet from so much time walking on wire.  So, while finally getting some good nutrition and extensive medical care can go a long way on the outside, the real damage has been done to the inside. 

I'd love to say that every puppy mill survivor only needs love to turn it into a wonderful family pet, but that would be a lie.  Love is definitely needed, in large amounts, but so is patience.  The damage done during the years in the mill usually can be overcome, but it takes time and dedication.  It takes a very special adopter for one of these dogs.  Not being "up to it" is no crime, but you need to be honest with yourself, and us, about your expectations.  These dogs have been through more than they ever should have already.  If the entire family is not willing to make the commitment, the dog is better off staying in our care until the perfect home for them is found. 

This puppy was in terrible condition...
...but see what Love, patience, and training have done!


Many mill survivors have spent their entire life in the mill.  No romping around a living room playing with friends of the family for them - Only a cold wire cage and one person "tending" to them.  Puppies who grow up in a mill miss out on many crucial socialization periods with humans.  They don't learn to trust, to love, to play.  They have had very minimum physical contact with people.  No cuddling and kissing for them. 

The physical contact that they have received probably has not been pleasant.  For one thing, because they are not handled enough, they are scared.  Many mills handle their "stock" by the scruff of the neck.  They have work to do, and don't really want to stand around holding some stinky little dog any longer than necessary.  So it is not uncommon for these survivors to be sensitive to the backs of their necks, after all, it brings the unexpected.  Many mill dogs will try to always face you, not trusting you enough to give you easy access to them from behind.  NEVER startle a mill survivor from behind, you will lose any trust that you may have gained.  Always make sure that they are anticipating you picking them up and consistently verbally tell them what you are going to do with the same word, like "up". It is not uncommon for a mill dog to drop their bellies to the floor when they know you are going to pick them up.  Some will even roll onto their backs in submission.

Always be gentle and try to avoid picking them up until you see that they are receptive to it.  It's almost a “hostage” type situation to these dogs.   Imagine how you would feel if taken hostage at gunpoint.  The gunman may never harm you in any way, but you are aware of the danger the entire time and you don't have the ability to leave when you want.  No matter how nice the gunman is to you, you will never enjoy the experience and will always watch for an escape route.  However, you can turn the tables around and see a ray of hope.  Imagine the gunman has been captured and you decide to visit him in jail.  Now you are in control.  You call all the shots, you have the ability to leave at any time.  The bottom line is that these dogs have to progress at their own pace.  Anything you force them to do will not be pleasant to them. 

Learning about the House:

Many times when you bring a mill survivor into your home, it is their instinct to hide in a quiet corner.  Any new dog that you bring into your home should be kept separated from other family pets for 7 days.  During this time it is fine to crate or confine them to a quiet area.  After that though, they need to have exposure to the household.  If crating, the crate should be in a central location.  The ideal spot is one where there is frequent walking and activity.  This allows the dog to feel safe in the crate, yet observe everyday activity and become used to it.  They need to hear the table being set, the dishwasher running, phones ringing, and people talking. 

Very few mill dogs know what a leash is.  During this time, when the dog is out of the crate and supervised, it is not a bad idea to let them drag a leash around with them.  Let them get used to the feel.  It is easy to fall into the mindset that they must be pampered and carried everywhere, but leash training is important.  It will make your life easier to have a leash trained dog, but also will offer your dog confidence in the future.

Gaining Trust:

A mill dog has no reason to trust you.  Your trust needs to be earned, little by little.  Patience is a very important part.  I have seen a lot of mill dogs not want to eat whenever people are around.  It is important that your mill dog be fed on a schedule, with you near by.  You don't have to stand and watch over them, but should be in the same room with them.  They need to know that their yummy meal is coming from you.  For the majority of mill dogs, accepting a treat right out of your hand is a huge show of trust.  Offer treats on a regular basis especially as a reward. 

While you shouldn't overly force yourself upon your dog, it does need to get used to you.  Sit and talk quietly while gently petting or massaging your dog.  It is best to do this an area where they, not necessarily you, are the most comfortable.   They probably won't like it at first, but will get used to it.  Some dogs sadly, never do though, and I'll talk more about them later. 

Never allow friends to force attention on a mill survivor.  Ask them not to look your dog directly in the eyes.  It is not uncommon for mill dogs to simply never accept outsiders.  Let your dog set the pace.  If the dog approaches, ask them to talk quietly and hold out a hand.  No quick movements.  Ask that any barking be ignored.  Remember that dogs bark to warn and scare off intruders.  If you acknowledge the barking you may be reinforcing it with attention.  If you bring your guest outside you have just reinforced to your dog that barking will make the intruder go away. 


A child spends the first 12-18 months of their life soiling their diaper and having you remove the dirty diaper and replace it with a clean one.  A puppy mill dog spends its entire life soiling its living area.  Potty training a child and housebreaking a puppy mill dog are the exact same procedures: you are UN-teaching them something that they have already learned to be acceptable.  A regular schedule, constant reinforcement, praise, and commitment on your part are a must!  Would you ever scream at your child, march them to the bathroom and make them sit on the toilet AFTER you discovered they soiled their diaper?  A dog is no different in this sense.  Scolding them after the deed is done is of no benefit to anyone.

The two most important things you can do are to get your new dog on a regular feeding pattern (which will put them on a regular potty pattern) and observe them closely after feeding time. 

Getting them on a premium, low residue food is very important.  This will produce a stool which normally is firm (very easy to clean up) and only one or two bowel movements a day are normal.  Low cost or over the counter foods have a lot of fillers and it is very hard to get a dog on a regular cycle using these foods. 

Before you even begin to housebreak them, you must learn their schedule.  Most dogs will need to “go” right after eating.  As soon as they are finished eating, command "Outside".  Always use the exact same word in the exact same tone.  Watch them closely outside and observe their pattern as they prepare to defecate.  Some will turn circles, some will scratch at the ground, some may find a corner, some may sniff every inch of the ground, some will get a strange look on their face - every dog is different and you have to learn to recognize how the dog will behave right before he goes.  This way you will recognize it when he gets ready to go in the house. 

We could give you a million tips that our adopters have found to work best for them, but as I said, every dog is different.  As long as you always keep in mind that housebreaking and potty training are one in the same.  Never do to a dog what you would not do to a child.  It may take a week, it may take a month, it may take a year - and sadly, some dogs will never learn.  Never give up and never accept “accidents” as a way of life.  In most cases, the success of housebreaking depends on your commitment.

More Great Training Tips for your Rescued Cairns:


Janet said...

Good article, even after having my girl 5 years out of the mill she continues to show improvement. It is a long slow process, but very rewarding to see her become a real dog. Now if she played that would be perfect.

turquoisemoon said...

Great article. I've had my Maggie (CP's Arigato) since Dec 12th, 2015. She's 8 yrs old and was a puppy mill mommy. Love, love, love her.... She is so sweet and precious. I've seen great improvements already...but am really looking forward to her just playing.