Anxious behavior in dogs that have been rescued from puppy mills are common and owners should expect to see some of these.
Spinning: When dogs are confined in a small area such as a crate for extended periods of time, exercise and entertainment are limited. They often start to spin, serving a temporary purpose in that it allows them to release energy within the small space.
To remedy this behavior, it is necessary to stop the spinning immediately. Redirect with something positive and fun to do such as teaching him to fetch or tug. This provides activity and much-needed release of energy in a positive way, along with daily exercise. Do not pick up the dog, as this only makes him more anxious by rewarding bad behavior and teaching him that spinning gets good results.
If you are outside on a leash walk and he starts to spin when something frightens him, have him Sit-Stay. Reward that good behavior with a treat, calm voice, praise and petting.
Do not say “It’s okay” to a dog that is acting in an anxious manner, as this only promotes a continuation of the behavior. The more a dog spins, the more anxious he gets.
Licking is an anxious behavior whereby the dog attempts to self-calm. The more anxious, the more she licks … her paws, random items and eventually the air or people.
This might result in a lick granuloma (chronic sore), most commonly on either the paws or hind quarters, or hair loss. You might have to medically treat the area with bitter spray and something to heal the sores.
A veterinarian might suggest anti-anxiety medication, or a holistic remedy. Redirecting requires the need to satisfy the licking process by giving her something appropriate to lick, like a Kong toy stuffed with peanut butter, cheese or cream cheese.
Turning the licking process into a positive behavior comforts the dog. Don’t allow the dog to lick you, since the anxiety only ratchets up to higher levels. The key here is to catch it quickly and to end all negative licking.
Other behaviors you might expect with a puppy mill rescue include: unsocial behavior with people or dogs; fear of people, noises and objects inside and out; pacing; lack of toy play; distrust of men; fear of touch; separation anxiety and more. Working with these dogs requires patience and love without giving in to the “poor baby” syndrome. Making them happier, self-confident, playful and trusting takes time and commitment, not sorrow.
Do they get better? You bet! They will rarely achieve the personality of a dog reared with loving human hands and attention, but these dogs do bond. Some might never play with toys but often love other dogs.
More importantly, even if they don’t seem as animated as a puppy, they will bond with you in a way that will make you smile every day.
Abby Bird is owner of Alpha Dog Obedience Training. firstname.lastname@example.org