What does a former puppy mill dog need from a foster or adoptive home?
First of all, the dog needs someone who has time.That DOESN'T necessarily mean a foster or adoptive parent can't work. What it does mean is that the person has a commitment to putting in time with a foster or adoptive dog every single day. You can do that even if you work, but if you're working overtime and live alone, are volunteering outside the home and taking a class or two after work, acting as a scout leader, have a lot of family or medical demands, it makes it tough. I figure a foster dog adds at least 45 minutes to my daily routine of hands-on, direct contact though it's broken up over the course of the day with short spells of handling, grooming, training (just looking when you say their name, then coming when called, waiting, taking treats, etc) and lots of non-threatening time. Weekends involve more time and hopefully include some short rides in the car and eventually "field trips" into the vet for just a treat and then heading out or going into a pet store and almost immediately going out, etc. You want to build in as much positive as you can find for your former puppymill dog who’s counting on you to show him the world is a safe place.
A former puppy mill dog needs a person who's a little bit paranoid about escape because if these dogs DO get out of your house or yard, they'll probably panic even more than your typical dog does (and we all know that any dog can become extremely fearful and very difficult to find when they're lost.) Someone who puts on both a harness and a collar, hooks up two leashes, one on the harness and one on the collar (or uses a coupler so both are hooked up) when they take the dog out for a walk, has baby gates in front of all the outside doors, signs on the doors telling people NOT to open because they're training a fearful foster or newly adopted dog, keeps their gates padlocked, etc is important. Safety and preventing escape is HUGE with these guys.
I like having a fenced yard and doing leash work inside that yard when the dog is ready for it, but I know there are very effective foster and adoptive homes that don't have fenced yards. They do need to be vigilant and on the paranoid side about escape though, and the effective homes without fences that I know of are very watchful of their own dogs as well as their foster dogs.
Patience is a big help. Your dog may make very slow progress and a willingness to give a dog time to learn to take a risk and trust you is helpful. It's quite unlikely a former puppy mill dog is going to make a quick turnaround so willingness to be in there for the long haul is helpful. A positive attitude though, recognizing those baby steps, is important. You need to remind yourself of the changes your foster or adoptive dog is making. Slow though it might be, it’s progress and recognizing it will help keep you both motivated and patient.
Another friendly, well-socialized dog or two is typically really important in helping a former puppy mill dog learn what to do in what may be a completely new environment. You can see your former puppy mill dog watching your own crew to see what to think about the noises that come from the TV set or your phone, or how to react when someone comes to visit.
Not all dogs coming out of mills have lived there all their lives. We find a lot of dogs that really don't know how to play with toys, but there is the occasional dog that knows how to walk on a leash or adjusts very quickly and may even know how to sit or beg! Those dogs may have ended up in a mill after having lived with a family for a time. They can move along more quickly than our “typical” former puppy mill dog and seem especially grateful to be back with a family again. (Dogs can find themselves in a puppy mill situation after they’ve been advertised on Craigslist or in the paper and are sold without being altered by their first family. Rehoming a dog requires a great deal of care, which isn’t always observed by the people who are advertising their pet, hoping for a quick turnaround.))
It's hard to know what personality you'll see when you foster or adopt a dog from a puppy mill, but for most of us who've fostered and/or adopted these dogs, they end up being some of our favorites. If you're interested in dog behavior, if you're someone who enjoys watching canine interactions, you can't help but fall in love when you see these dogs, who've had such a crummy lot in life, take a chance on us, even though they may not have had reason in the past to trust people. The tentative wags when the dog sees you come home, the first lick of your hand or the first treat you can get taken from your hand, or the joy you see in the leaps and play with other dogs when he's not aware you're watching, are all more gratifying than anyone can possibly explain.