Sad puppy mill dog in a cage

Puppy Mill Rescue Dog Behaviors–How You Can Help

Last updated on February 18th, 2023 at 06:02 pm

Dogs raised in large, commercial breeding facilities known as puppy mills, have a hard life. Puppy mill owners do not provide good care and offer little to no positive human interaction. Fortunately, many of these dogs who are used for breeding purposes are rescued and placed in loving homes. But, as you can imagine, even though rescued, these unfortunate puppy mill dogs develop unusual behaviors and become psychologically scarred.

Rescued dogs often adapt similar coping strategies and behave in similar ways once adopted. Typical puppy mill rescue dog behaviors include circling as if still in a cage, peeing and pooping anywhere, trembling, becoming despondent, and being devoid of normal dog interests in people and play activities.

You can help these sad pups heal and have a new life again in several ways. You can adopt a rescued dog; foster a newly rescued dog as preparation for her forever home; donate to a rescue organization, and advocate for legislation to ban puppy mills and regulate pet sales. Find out more about how you can help.

Puppy Mill Rescue Dog Behaviors and Facts

Facts about Puppy Mills

Business owners of puppy mills run large commercial organizations that make huge profits from breeding dogs over and over again. These poor mutts are kept in small cages, which are often very unsanitary. They are not fed well and are usually denied medical support. They are forced to breed several times without much time for recovery. These dogs are rarely released from their small enclosure for exercise. Dogs are often kept in wire cages that hurt their legs and feet. Cages are stacked on top of one another with poor ventilation.

Not only do these greedy and cruel business owners mistreat these dogs physically, but they also deny them the happiness of socializing with other dogs and people. As a result, puppy mill dogs lead a very sad, lonely, and hard life.

Fortunately, many states have out-lawed puppy mills. Keep reading to learn more.

8 Common Behaviors of Dogs Rescued from Puppy Mills

“By demonstrating that dogs maintained in puppy mills were reported to have developed long-term fears and phobias, compulsive behaviors such as circling and pacing possible learning deficits, and are often unable to cope fully with normal existence, this study provides the first scientific evidence that dogs confined in puppy mills for breeding purposes demonstrate impaired mental health and, as a result, diminished welfare.”

Franklin D. McMillan, DVM, DACVIM

Loving families who have adopted or fostered rescued puppy mill dogs have observed some common behaviors about these dogs who:

  • Mostly relate better to other dogs than to people
  • Have a habit of circling a lot due to being confined in cages for so long
  • Show symptoms of depression and despondency
  • Do not know how to play
  • House soiling
  • Have higher rates of fear
  • Compulsive staring
  • Startle easily

Puppy mill dogs are rarely released from dirty, uncomfortable cages or runs. Business owners treat these dogs like animal stock for breeding purposes and deny them most of the comforts that dogs who are raised normally would receive. They are often dirty, fed moldy or bad food, become infested with parasites, and are sometimes de-barked in cruel ways. Therefore, it is no wonder that they often develop compulsive and unusual behaviors to help them cope.

2011 Study of Psychological Damage in Puppy Mill and Hoarded Dogs

Franklin D. McMillan, DVM, DACVIM who works with Best Friends Animal Society, Kanab, UT reports on a study that was done in 2011 about the psychological damage suffered by puppy mills and hoarded dogs. The study included 1169 dogs who had been rescued and lived in their adopted homes for two years. After the study, he concluded: “By demonstrating that dogs maintained in puppy mills were reported to have developed long-term fears and phobias, compulsive behaviors such as circling and pacing possible learning deficits, and are often unable to cope fully with normal existence, this study provides the first scientific evidence that dogs confined in puppy mills for breeding purposes demonstrate impaired mental health and, as a result, diminished welfare.”

However, Dr. McMillan also states that the majority of dogs rescued can be rehabilitated–some completely, and others less so but enough to have happy lives and be great pets. Therefore, he encourages people to adopt and reports that most people who adopt puppy mill rescues find the experience to be extremely rewarding.

What You Can Do to Help

Fortunately, the good news is that many more dogs are now being rescued and placed in loving homes as awareness grows and more states adopt legislation to outlaw these horrific ways of breeding dogs. We can all help even if we cannot adopt a rescued dog.


Certainly, adopting a rescued puppy mill dog is not for the faint of heart, but it is for people who have the resources and a big heart. Just know that a dog from a puppy mill will take more time, patience, love, acceptance, and forgiveness than many other dogs.

If you decide to adopt, here are some helpful guidelines from

  • Be very patient and move very slowly so as not to startle her
  • Provide your dog with her own quiet, room as a safe haven
  • Bring her into the room in her crate used for transport
  • Keep the door to the crate open
  • Put pee pads over the entire floor
  • Keep everything calm and quiet
  • Avoid loud noises or quick movements
  • Let her sleep in a crate next to your bed, put down pee pads
  • After a few days, bring her crate into the family room again with the door open
  • In an another few days set up a large playpen for her to move around in and feel safe

To begin with, try to touch or handle your new rescued dog as little as possible until you think she will accept this. You will first need to gain her trust over an extended period of time and let her know you will not hurt her. To facilitate this process, you can offer her tasty treats like boiled chicken, cheese, or soft dog treats. Sometimes, just hanging out with her, but at a distance, and talking gently or reading to her will be helpful.

Foster Care

Another option you may want to try is foster care. Foster care parents are in great demand. If you become a foster parent, you will receive some training first. So, this will help a lot to prepare you. You will usually foster a dog for several weeks to help decompress and prepare him for his “forever” home. Fostering rescue dogs has been proven to help dogs become much more adaptable about 80% of the time. Therefore, you are providing a great service not only for a rescued dog but his new adoptive parents. Be sure to see my post about How to Foster A Rescue Dog.

Most rescue organizations provide basic equipment, and medical care, and will handle the adoption process. Here are some good tips from about fostering: You will probably foster a dog for two weeks to a few months. Not only are you providing a temporary home for a dog in need, but you will also help him recover and heal from his trauma and get ready to live with his new family.

Be sure to see my post about How to Comfort and Heal a Rescue Dog for a comprehensive guide.

Make a Donation to a Rescue Organization

You may not be able to adopt or foster a dog, but you can still help by making donations to a rescue organization. There are many worthy organizations that save and rescue dogs from puppy mills. You can make monetary donations or volunteer at local organizations. Here are a few nonprofits that help free dogs from puppy mills:

You can also check with your local shelter or humane society to inquire about helping rescue dogs from puppy mills.

What Can be Done to Stop Puppy Mills

Legislative Advocacy

Currently, only 6 states have statewide laws that ban puppy mills. California was the first state to pass a law in 2017 allowing dog adoption from shelters only. However, an increasing number of cities and counties in several states have local ordinances that ban puppy mills and regulate puppy adoption.

You can help by writing to your local legislative officials to encourage them to enact protective legislation. See pending legislation and petitions at take action page.

Learn to Recognize Places that Sell Puppy Mill Dogs

Most retail pet stores, newspaper ads for pets, and online retailers sell puppies from puppy mills. If you want to find a reputable breeder check with the American Kennel Club or do your own research about a local breeder. Inspect their facility and see for yourself how well they care for their dogs. Just know that most retailers get their dogs from puppy mills. The American Humane Society also has some good guidance about finding a puppy from a good breeder.

Other things to look for are sellers who offer to sell you “boutique” breeds that are different. That just means that they were not bred by a licensed breeder. They rarely have papers to certify their breed or the paperwork looks questionable. A reputable breeder will have requirements that you as an owner will need to agree to before adoption, and they may visit your home prior to selling you a new puppy. On the other hand, retailers selling puppy mill dogs don’t care.

Another red flag is a retailer that sells dogs that are too young and not fully weaned. Pups should be a minimum of 8 weeks old before being separated from their mothers. Also, all puppies should have their initial vaccinations before being put up for adoption.

Support Animal Welfare and Litigation Groups

You can also make donations, volunteer with, or subscribe to the newsletters of organizations that take legal action on behalf of animals. Here are some examples below:

Final Thoughts

As a final note, just observing some of the obsessive coping behaviors of dogs from puppy mills should make us cringe. One can only imagine what horrors they have experienced that would cause these unusual behaviors. These dogs are living, breathing, beings with feelings and personalities, who deserve to have a happy life.

So, if you have adopted a dog and observed some of these puppy mill dog behaviors, then you are doing a great thing by providing him with a home. But you don’t have to do it alone. Reach out to your local rescue organization and get support. Helping a mistreated dog recover and heal is a truly compassionate act and a rewarding experience!

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