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Puppy Mill Rescues: The Reality of Training a Rescue Dog in Ohio

mom dog and puppy

Dog Training in Cleveland: An Ugly Truth

As a dog trainer in Cleveland, Ohio, there is a unique challenge to the dogs I work with and it's 100% due to my location.

No, it's not our football team.

Well, I mean in addition to Cleveland's record with sportsball?

Puppy mills.

You see, Cleveland is only about 1.5 hours north of some of the most notorious puppy mills, which are located in Amish Country, in the heart of Ohio. If you're not familiar with what a puppy mill is the has a great description:

In puppy mills, mother dogs spend their entire lives in cramped cages with little to no personal attention. When the mother and father dogs can no longer breed, they are abandoned or killed.
Due to poor sanitation, overbreeding and a lack of preventive veterinary care, the puppies frequently suffer from a variety of health issues, creating heartbreaking challenges for families who should be enjoying the delights of adopting a new family member.

Yeah, Ohio is rife with them.

A Change In Dog Training

anxious golden retriever

I first started to become aware of Ohio's puppy mill problem about 10 years ago. The types of dogs and puppies I was training started to change. Yes, I still had the typical new puppy training and everyday dog training clients I always had worked with, but now there seemed to be a lot more frightened, shut down dogs. Dogs whose eyes just looked glazed over.

I also started to get puppies to train who were way too young to be taken from their litter. These puppies would suffer from severe behavioral issues if they didn't have proper training and guidance early. It used to be unheard of to take a puppy younger than 8 weeks, but I was seeing puppies as young as 5 weeks old who were being passed off as old enough to leave their mom.

These dogs and puppies needed help and guidance beyond the typical dog training of basic commands and leash walking. They needed help learning how to dog. Having been insulated and confined their entire lives, some of them were overwhelmed simply by being outside. Others had never been properly socialized, and were balls of manic energy, leaving their owners bewildered as to their behavior.

Working with Puppy Mill Rescues: Training Dogs How to be Dogs

Fortunately, the public is a lot more aware of the cruelty behind the local mall pet stores, and where they get their puppies from. But there are still those who are fleeced by who they believed to be a good breeder, but turns out to be a puppy mill broker. There are still people out there who have never heard of a puppy mill, or believe places like Petland when they claim they are sourcing their puppies from "responsible breeders".

And what is it like to work with these puppy mill rescues, and help them learn to be dogs?

It varies. For some dogs, they adjust pretty quickly. They start off as dogs or puppies who are scared of everything, but within a few days are up for anything, and thriving in their new environment.

For others, it can be a long road, trying to learn the concept of trust, and trying to assimilate to a world outside of a cage.

Age isn't always a factor, either. From puppies who are catatonic to senior dogs who want to snuggle and play their first time out of a crate, each individual dog's journey is just that: individual. Some are slow and steady, ready and able to to learn and trust. Others ask for your greatest gift to them: time. Time to decompress. Time to learn. Time to adjust.

For those dogs, ironically enough, time is the fastest way to help them through their fearful behaviors. Working towards progress, not perfection. Learn more about some of the techniques I use in this article.

black puppy

Life with a Puppy Mill Rescue: Can They Be Trained?

The majority of puppy mill rescues I'm called in to train are just like every other dog: they need communication, not domination. They are looking for guidance, not authority. And most importantly, they are needing answers, not subjugation. In other words, they have the same needs as every other dog and puppy: love, understanding and patience.

Learn how to work with a puppy mill dog (or any anxious and overwhelmed dog) in my step-by-step guide.

Take Steps to Start Out Right with Your New Dog

man and puppy

If you decide to get a dog or puppy, take a moment to do some reference checks. Don't go to your local mall and hit up the pet shop there: they almost exclusively source from puppy mills, where they can get "merchandise" wholesale.

If you decide to go to a breeder, take some steps to ensure you're supporting an ethical breeder

- Do reference checks; ask around.

- Visit local breed clubs, or go to the local dog shows.

- The designer dogs you see are products of puppy mills. Step away from that Pom-Chi and put down that HuskyDoodle. Look elsewhere, or visit a rescue.

- don't trust a "breeder" who is willing to ship you a dog, or who doesn't ask a lot of questions. A true breeder is attempting to create a healthy, perfect vision of their chosen breed, and it is a labor of love over many years, not just getting two AKC dogs together over a plate of pasta.

Most importantly, regardless of where you get your dog from: be committed. Make that promise that this isn't a passing fad, or that this will be your "until" dog. You'll keep him "until" you get married. You'll keep him "until" you need to move. He's your forever dog. Have a plan when you choose your new family member, rather than just going to any local rescue or breeder and picking the first dog you see.

Or check out this article about what you need to know prior to picking out your dog, and set you and your dog up for success.

New puppy training

Dog Training vs. Dog Life

By focusing on dog life, rather than dog training, our goals can become so much more attainable and clear-cut. Most of us don't want an obedient dog, we just don't want a dis-obedient dog. Robot-style dogs who are afraid of stepping out of line are for certain types of people I guess.

But that's not my style. That's why I developed the Piloting method of dog training here in Cleveland over 20 years ago, a force-free method of dog training and puppy training that didn't rely on abusive shock collars or cruel prong collars, yet didn't constantly bribe with non-stop click-n-treat style dog training. I want a bond with my dog based on trust and communication.

Learn more about our Piloting method of dog and puppy training here.

Find out more about our private in home 30 Day Best Dog Ever and 30 Day Best Puppy Ever training packages here.

Have questions about our puppy training or dog training?

border collie dog staying

Kerry Stack

Darwin Dogs

Dog Training and Puppy Training

Located in Cleveland, Ohio


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