Training Considerations for Rescued Dogs

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Almost 60,000 beagles nationally are bred each year for experimentation and testing (see article page 32).

On July 21, 2022, nearly 4,000 beagles were rescued from a breeding facility, Envigo RMS LLC, in Cumberland, Virginia. This removal of the beagles comes as a result of a lawsuit filed by the Department of Justice in May that described shocking violations of the Animal Welfare Act at the breeding facility. Government inspectors found that beagles there were being killed instead of receiving veterinary care for easily treated conditions; nursing mother beagles were denied food; the food that they did receive was contaminated and unsafe; and over an 8-week period, 25 beagle puppies died from cold exposure. Other dogs suffered from injuries when they were attacked by other dogs in overcrowded conditions.

The rescued beagles are a fraction of the dogs being tortured at this very moment. We all see the physical damage to these dogs. What we can’t see is the mental damage they suffer, just as all dogs do who are being mass-produced, either for testing/experimentation or for retail sales—i.e., in puppy mills.

A puppy’s crucial socialization period is from 6 to 16 weeks of age. When dogs are isolated during this period and beyond, they become fearful. Dogs are social creatures like us. Isolating them causes mental health issues that will take a committed new family or owner to help them work through. After all, what do we use as the harshest punishment for detained prisoners? Solitary confinement. The fear alone of this consequence keeps most of the inmates in line without challenging the hierarchy. It works the same for dogs. The difference is the murderer of a child can earn a way to get out of solitary confinement and back into general population. Dogs have no choices and no one to speak up for them, and they are considered property by most states and the federal government. That means if your dog is running loose and someone purposely hits your dog with their car, they can sue you because your property was breaking the law.

The new family may also spot undiagnosed health issues, not disclosed by these corporations with no proper breeding programs in place. Many practice inbreeding, which can lead to major health issues. There are reasons we have laws in place that prohibit people from marrying a relative. If humans breed with siblings or first cousins, the inbreeding can cause physical or mental defects in the child. It’s the same for dogs. Unfortunately, some mass breeders don’t care. They operate their business in the most cost-effective way, with no concern for the well-being of the dogs.

If you adopt a traumatized dog who has experienced this kind of abuse, you will probably want to bring in an experienced trainer to evaluate the dog. Look for a trainer who has success with dogs that have grown up in isolation. The behaviors a dog will display depend on the dog’s age and how many years they have endured abuse. Older dogs may want to hide in the corners of their kennels, because the only safe place they had was their kennel. When they were taken out of their kennel, they were subjected to experimental tests, which were obviously scary and painful. They may not want to come to you, because humans represent pain to them. Aggression may show up as well. If you inadvertently scare them, they may respond with a growl, bared teeth, or snapping—this usually causes people to back off, and the dog may use these tactics if it wants to be left alone.

Often, if a pet starts showing increased aggression, owners may decide the safest course of action is to subject the dog to an isolated life inside the house. If this behavior shows up, definitely reach out to a professional with experience. Very young dogs may show a little fear but they often express curiosity at the same time, which is a good sign. With more outgoing dogs, it’s really important for the human to let go of the dog’s past. If you continue to think of them as a poor victim, they will stay that way. If you move on, they will move on as well. Dogs live in the present, not in the past or future. Still, a dog who has suffered abuse can still be triggered by something that reminds them of their past abusive life, and it’s up to us to help the dog with those triggers when they occur.

In my 36 years as a professional dog trainer, I have seen aggression problems triple. Why? Because of puppy mills and puppy brokers. If you are unsure if a person is on the up and up, remember that good breeders want to know where their puppies are going, so they have you come out to them for a meet and greet. You may hear a company say all the puppies come from private families. In reality, besides the breeders wanting to meet potential buyers, there is no way a breeder will give someone like a broker a piece of the pie when they do all the work and accrue all the vet costs. The only way to stop this cruel business is to stop buying puppies from third-party sellers. Write to your legislators and request that they help make tests, experiments, and puppy mills illegal. Lastly, if someone believes they are rescuing a dog by buying a puppy mill pup, you are not rescuing—you are participating in this cruel business.

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Valerie Masi
Valerie Masi, owner of Best Paw Forward, can be reached at (760) 885-9450 or visit bestpawforwarddogtraining.com.

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