Wendy Wheaton Cusick
There is nothing more rewarding than watching a terrified puppymill abused Wheaten
blossom into a happy, loved pet. The first time your puppymill survivor doesn't cower when
you reach out to pet or run and hide when you enter a room, is brave enough to look you in the
eye, raises his tail and gives a wag, comes to you on their own for some love and attention,
runs around the yard with carefree abandon you will feel a sense of pride that is second to
no other. It takes a lot of work, patience and just plain determination to guide these special
animals along their paths to happy, fulfilling lives.
When these Wheatens come into rescue they are in deplorable physical condition:
parasite- ridden, underweight, bred nearly to death. Most have rarely, if ever, been out of
their small, cramped cages. They have never felt grass under their feet or even been able
to make an independent decision on what direction to move on their own. To put one of these Wheatens down on the ground for the first
time and see the look of total confusion on their faces is very sad. Most just stand there with no idea what to do. They may have eye
infections, missing orbs or vision impairment caused by ammonia from urine-soaked quarters. Some have torn, deformed ears and tongues
and missing limbs from cage aggression or from becoming frozen in the cold or sticking to metal surfaces in their unheated quarters.
Females may have hernias or prolapsed uterus's from painful, extended labor. Their toes may be splayed from walking on wire floors. Almost
all suffer from chronic, painful ear infections, some to the point of having lost their hearing. Many have tattooed ears or thighs. Some have
numbers hung around their necks on chains or ropes that have grown into their flesh. Their dental state is invariably horrible; most will have
painful, infected teeth and gums, some resulting in systemic infections. Most will lose many if not the majority of their teeth during dental
These poor Wheatens have endured years of torture to make money for uncaring humans, they are
the tortured and abused mothers and fathers to all those cute puppies that are bought every year
in petstores around the country.
At S'Wheat Rescues we believe that rescuing and rehoming these puppymill victims is our most
important mission as a Rescue. While we rescue Wheatens from many different scenarios, these
dogs are the ones that need our help most and the most rewarding to see. Providing medical
attention is just the beginning. The physical damage can be staggering. The psychological damage
is much worse.
It takes a very special adopter to accept and love a puppymill survivor. Rehabilitation of the
puppymill survivor begins with rescue, but can only be completed by a committed, loving family.
The purpose of this webpage is to help demystify some of the acquired behaviors of the puppymill
dog, and to let the adopter know what to expect and help them make an informed decision as to
whether adopting a puppymill survivor is right for them and their family.
Common Puppymill Survivor Behaviors
Terror of humans hands: The only time most mill dogs are removed from their cages, it's a
painful experience. The dog may be grabbed by the first reachable part of it's body: tail, leg,
scruff, ears. This takes lots of patience and non-threatening touches to overcome. Sudden
movements and grabbing at the dog, especially straight at their face, should be avoided.
You may have to lie on the floor face down with your eyes averted to get the dog to approach you
at all. Let him come near you and sniff. It may take an hour, or days for this to happen. You
can sometimes begin by holding the dog, petting him gently for a few seconds, speaking
softly, then place him carefully down. Let him know you do not wish to restrain him. Lengthen
the time for this ritual each day. Never raise your voice, clap your hands, or allow loud noises
in the home during this adjustment period. You must strive to create a totally non-threatening environment. Behave as submissively as
possible. Build trust slowly.
Aversion To Eye Contact: Many puppymill survivors refuse to make eye contact with humans. This indicates fearful submission which
decreases as the dog comes to realize he will not be harmed by you and begins to trust. Talking to your dog in a soft, calm voice helps
speed the process. A dog may not speak English, but the gentle tone of your voice and the fact that he is the focus of your concern will
Fear of food/toys/dishes: Anytime the cage door is opened on a mill dog, fear is the response, because an evil human is behind it. Of
course, the cage door must be opened to insert a bowl of food, which may also be used to entice the dog within reach. It's not unusual
to see your puppymill survivor run in the opposite direction when you sit dinner on the floor. Turn your back and walk away until the dog
feels "safe" enough to eat. Let him eat undisturbed.
Marking/Housetraining: No puppymill survivor comes housetrained. Some never grasp the finer
points but most do. Most males will mark in the beginning, and many females, too. Crates are useful
in housetraining. Belly bands (a cloth band which wraps around male dogs covering the ureter) will
help prevent marking. Nicely fitted doggie diapers are available. Human "pullups" can also be used
- just cut a hole for the tail. Put your dog on a schedule. Take him outside first thing in the morning,
at lunch whenever possible, after dinner, before bedtime. If you see him lift his leg in the house,
a shaker can (jar filled with small pebbles) or clicker can distract him long enough for you to get him
outside. Never raise your voice. Never hit the dog. Take him outside and reinforce by saying, "Potty
outside", or something similar. Use positive reinforcement when the dog does his business
outside..."Good boy! Potty outside! Good, good boy!" Lots of petting and treats must follow.
Flight Risk: All puppymill survivors are high flight risks. This is why you will see restrictions on these dogs' webpages requiring fenced yards.
Never take your dog outside a securely fenced yard until you are thoroughly bonded, this will take months, not days or weeks. Like all
Wheatens, but even more so for the mill survivors, these dogs can NEVER, NEVER, NEVER be trusted off leash. If you must go outside a
securely fenced area, using a collar and harness together is the safest way. Attach separate
leashes to both. We recommend securing one leash to a belt loop or around your waist. It is
imperative that you keep a tight grip on the lead at all times and pay careful attention to your
surroundings. A horn blaring, a door slamming, a car backfiring, a child screaming, any loud
unexpected noise or movement can lead to your puppymill survivor bolting and running. If a mill
dog gets loose outside a secured area, he will likely run until he drops; catching him will be quite
a feat. A moments inattention can cost your Wheaten his life. Prevention is by far the best policy.
Fear of Hoses: Many puppymill survivors are frightened of water hoses. Puppymillers generally don't bother removing the dogs before
hosing down their cages. Puppymill survivors who have become well-acclimated to homes, families and leashed walks have bolted when they
chanced by a neighbor watering his lawn.
Hiding Out: Many puppymill survivors will attempt to hide and stay away from their new families out of fear. While some downtime and
recuperating are needed you should not allow your Wheaten to spend all of his time hidden away. Keep the Wheatens crate in an area where
he can hear and see the family going about their normal activities. Speak quietly to the dog frequently and offer little treats so they begin to
realize humans coming to their crate is not a bad thing. After the dog has had a few days to acclimate we recommend a technique called
tethering. This will help with both your Wheatens' socialization and integration in your home and
with housebreaking and training. Basically anytime your Wheaten is outside his crate the dog
should be tethered to a person old enough and responsible enough to pay attention to the dog.
They can watch for signs the dog needs to go outside, stop the dog from chewing or marking or
other undesirable things. When the dog is tethered to you they are 'forced' to follow you around
and get used to the normal sounds and movements associated in living in a home.
Parasites: Wheatens coming out of puppymills almost always are plagued by parasite and worms.
The common ones are giardia, coccidia, hookworms and many others. The symptoms of these sort
of infestations are diarrhea and failure to gain weight. It generally takes many treatments to
completely rid the mill dog of these parasites. Testing every six to eight weeks for the first six months
is recommend as you can treat them and have a clear test only to have them flare back up a few weeks later.
Fear Biting: Fear biting is more common in abuse cases than in puppymill survivors, but we do see it occasionally. 90% of all dogs who bite do
so out of fear. Puppymill survivors, like feral dogs, usually cower in the presence of humans. We do not place dogs that we know have a bite
history, however fear biting can frequently be overcome with proper training and commitment, but it generally requires a professional animal
behaviorist, not to mention a strong commitment from the adoptive family. Sadly, because of both the enormity of the canine overpopulation
problem and the abundance of more easily salvageable dogs, most fear biters are euthanized.
These are a few of the most common puppymill survivor behaviors and suggestions for
working with them. Working with a puppymill survivor is not an easy undertaking. But for those
of us who have witnessed the miracle of these frightened beings growing to love and trust, to
play with to for the first time, to learn to take soft beds and good food for granted, it is one of
the most joyful and rewarding experiences of our lives.
The puppymill survivor who ventures to trust a human being despite a history of cruelty
and neglect is a triumph of the spirit from which we can all learn.
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