Here’s another reason to fight for a ban against puppy mills. Over six years ago, when I adopted my beagle, Reba, I began working on basic commands with her, along with housebreaking. I had to assume she had either lived in an outdoor pen or in a home with a barbarian. That sweet-tempered little girl didn’t know ANYTHING. I won’t give you the tedious blow-by-blow, but I’ll say that it took her three months to learn that the last little trip outside before bedtime was for the purpose of urination. For a long time, we would stand outside at about 9:00pm regarding each other in the glow of the streetlight. I would make encouraging sounds, walk her around a bit, then march her inside. Often, after several trips outside, she would finally squat on the kitchen floor and pee.
I made it all worth her while by rubbing a piece of duck jerky under her nose to show her the reward that awaited. After three months, she made the connection.
As far as the standard commands? She has never learned them. Here’s what I found out, and it’s something I did not know about before. I thank a very savvy veterinarian, Carolyn Baumann, for her powers of observation. During a regular vet exam, Dr. Baumann noticed that Reba had unusual eye and head movements. I just thought Reba was miserably shy, having survived heaven-knows-what. Dr. Baumann’s question was, “Has she been able to learn anything?” Well, no.
Dr. Baumann described a sort of pathological behavior in puppy mill dogs that comes from being born in a crowded cage. Get that? Not put into a crowded cage, but born into one. Such dogs may learn before anything else how to block all that overwhelming incoming data. What does that look like? If I say, “Reba, sit,” she runs away. She is a smart dog, or as smart as any beagle. She knows her routine, and knows how to behave around cats. She knows which treat she gets at different times of day. Any variation is unacceptable. She also expects to take her morning walk in the town square. She requires the appropriate clothing for the weather. Cool and breezy = Martha Stewart barn coat, raining= Petrageous rain slicker, snow = fancy doggie parka. Nope, not stupid, but what she knows is what she has figured out on her own, not anything that comes from instruction.
After nearly seven years, Reba and I are at peace with one another. We accept each other’s limitations, and I have become a strong advocate for closing down the puppy mills.