The Behavioral Effects of Puppy Mills
Recently, while perusing Facebook, I happened to notice one of the ads in the sidebar, this one for Once Upon a TeaPup. On a lark, I opened the link. This prompted one of those, "I think I just threw up in my mouth a little bit" responses, followed by an "offensive" flagging of the Facebook ad in question. Why? Because this place is a broker for foreign puppy mills.
Lots of bells and whistles here - no titles on the breeding stock, no health testing, importing dogs from unnamed breeders, use of the word "teacup" (NO responsible breeder of toy breed dogs calls their dogs "teacups" - it's an advertising gimmick for shoddy breeders), multiple breeds, etc. You can purchase a poorly socialized, tiny puppy of unknown parentage and medical status for a mere $3,000 - $5,000+ dollars! What a steal, and that doesn't even include the thousands of dollars you may need to spend to try to keep this dog healthy, as you'll see in the video below. (WARNING! The material in this video is graphic and SHOULD be disturbing to MOST viewers - viewer discretion is advised)
Some people purchase a puppy mill dog because they think they're more affordable than a well-bred dog. Every puppy sold in a pet store is the product of a back yard breeder or puppy mill, and those puppies are not cheap! Our local pet store charges more for their puppies, without conformation or working titles in the dogs' histories, without health testing, without any socialization, etc., than I paid for my show quality, well-bred, health tested Saint Bernard puppy whose parents and grandparents have conformation titles, working titles (weight pull, carting, rally, obedience, etc.), and are socialized well from birth and raised in someone's home.
Puppy mill dogs are frequently medically unsound, but what are some of the behavioral ramifications of purchasing a puppy mill dog?
FEAR, REACTIVITY, AND AGGRESSION
Puppies should be raised in a home, with a family. One of my friends and colleagues, a lady named Hannah Brannigan is a fellow Karen Pryor Academy graduate and owner of Wonderpups Dog Training in North Carolina. Hannah's also a fantastic breeder of Belgian Tervurens. Before Hannah's puppies are sent home, they are already introduced to basic agility equipment, learning some basic behaviors, know what the clicker means, have begun potty and crate training, etc. Puppy mill dogs don't get these things - they spend their earliest stages of development in huge kennels, surrounded by barking, the sounds and smells of stress, and their own feces.
Because these dogs do not grow up in home like environments, exposed to the sounds of a family - the television, a hair dryer, a vacuum, etc., they are socially impoverished from the start. Also, because millers are in it for the cash, they are not concerned about temperament in their breeding stock. This means we may have dogs for which fear, reactivity, and aggression may have both learned and genetic components.
POTTY TRAINING WOES
Naturally, dogs prefer to be rather clean animals. Not clean in the sense that there are many very "normal" dogs who enjoy a roll in the mud or the nearest dead thing, but clean in the sense that it is a natural instinct to not soil the area in which you sleep and/or eat. Puppy mills are not natural, and the dogs that they create are similarly void of "natural doggy tendencies" like "don't poop in your crate." Many of the puppy mill dogs I've met, since they were raised from birth in environments where they are veritably swimming in their own feces, have no problems whatsoever soiling in their crates. This generally eliminates the crate as a tool for potty training and presents unique challenges to the puppy mill pup "parent" who is trying to potty train their dogs. In general, mill dogs take much longer to potty train than dogs from good breeders - many good breeders have the dogs nearly potty trained before they even leave the litter!
LACK OF BITE INHIBITION
One of the most important lessons puppies learn from their mother and littermates is bite inhibition - when the puppy or dog uses his teeth, how much pressure or force does he apply behind that bite? Responsible breeders often have wait lists for puppies and usually have the adopters for all puppies lined up well before the puppies are ready to leave the litter. Puppy millers, however, know that small, young puppies fetch better prices than older puppies still awaiting homes. Despite the fact that this jeopardizes the physical and emotional well-being of the puppies, millers tend to remove puppies from their litters too early, sometimes as young as five or six weeks. This means that these puppies miss out on perhaps one of the most important early lessons - when you bite, don't bite too hard!
People who purchase puppy mill dogs may find that the puppy bites often and hard. If this is your puppy, you MUST get into a well-taught puppy class ASAP to see what sort of damage control can be implemented - the sooner, the better.
DON'T TOUCH ME!
Puppies that are raised in homes where they receive regular contact with people get used to all sorts of handling - being held, pet, smooched, picked up, having eye boogers wiped off, baths, nail trims, etc. These puppies are touched every day, from birth until they are released to their "forever home." Not so for puppy mill dogs - they don't get touched, massaged, picked up, cuddled, regular nail trims, etc. They just get to sit in their own feces and listen to the sounds of trauma surrounding them. Puppy mill puppies often only get to interact with their caretakers - people who look at the puppy's face and see not an innocent creature in need of love and attention but who see dollar signs instead. For a lot of these dogs, their earliest experiences with humans were terribly unpleasant. Many puppy mill puppies do not accept, readily tolerate, or seek tactile contact from humans, which can be frustrating and discouraging for their human owners.
Compounding this difficulty is the fact that a pet store isn't exactly the best place for a puppy to spend his earliest weeks either - no rest, nobody supervising to say, "this puppy's had enough and needs a break from the groping and grabbing." All of these things together can teach a puppy, from a very young age, aversion to human contact. And, since the client is "always right," likely nobody's telling the four year old to stop banging on the cage or pen, even though the puppies are obviously terrified by it - lots of pet store puppies enter my classes already terrified of small children for this reason.
These are but a few of the behavioral repercussions of the milling industry. Certainly, some mill puppies seem to be much more resilient than others, and not all mill puppies will display all of these behavioral side effects. I'm excited to hear that early research is underway to determine the short and long-term psychological effects of puppy milling, the more we understand the risks, the better equipped we will hopefully be when the country is ready to put a foot down and say, "milling is no longer acceptable." Until then, use your dollars wisely - puppy mills, like anything, are a supply-and-demand industry, and can't stay in business forever if they can't move their unfortunate "product."