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Canine Behavior/Rescued Puppt Mill 2 year old Shih Tzu


On Sept 22nd I brought home Gracie. She had been in the rescue home since Aug 22nd. She had quit feeding for 2 weeks and was spayed on Sept 17th.She smelled so bad and had feces in her matted legs. The place where I picked her up, the woman had 50+ dogs it was a dirty place too???? Gracie has started to respond to her name. She had become very well behaved on the leash and has had no accidents inside. She's very good about doing her business and enjoying a short walk but then rushes to get back home and inside running all the way up the stairs to our condo. She quickly has learned to go up and now the stairs. She eats and drinks in the night while I am sleeping. I let her sleep with us to help the bonding but she leaves and eats and then cannot get up on the bed so lays quietly in the bed I've placed on the floor. I feel she tolerates me and is fearful of my husband. I keep a lead on her in the house to allow me quick access when she tries to hide under furniture. I've taught her to stop and sit while we are out walking. I am currently trying to teach her to jump up on small objects leading to the agility to get up and down around the house.
She's a sweet little girl I haven't heard her bark only snoring and a little squeak when she yawns. She barely comes around me when I sit on the couch or she has followed me into the kitchen and she parks herself against the wall then I can pick her up and place her next to me...How do I help her thru this fear and begin to trust.... I live in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Not a big place to find folks like you. Do I take her to a training class at the local Petco? How can I teach her to fetch or interact with me in a playful trusting way? I appreciate any and all insights to help this little girl begin to be my little companion

*****Thank you for the very kind feedback. I'm so pleased that her walk near the pond was such a pleasant experience. Here's to many, many more just like that! As for toys, yes, squeaky toys may cause stress if she's displacing her maternal behavior to them. You might try balls or tug toys or non-squeaky plush toys that can be used for tug or fetch. You can always cut the seam and remove a squeaker if there's a toy you particularly like for her. And you may find that she babies any kind of plush toy. So long as she's not aggressively protecting the toy/s, it's OK to let her have her 'babies' to carry around and tend to. Just make sure she continues to allow you to touch them, pick them up, move them etc. These "tests" should be done when she's not right with the 'baby', but rather when she's in another part of the room. Just as I don't encourage people to pick up food bowls while the dog is eating (just to see if you can), I also don't encourage people to take away precious 'babies' just to see if you can. If you have to take a 'baby' from her, you can trade her for something she likes, or you can redirect her attention to something else so that you can take the 'baby', etc. But, yes, the squeaker may cause her too much stress. Again, thank you for such kind comments.*****

Thank you for your question.

This sweet little girl has only been in your home for a couple weeks and is already showing good signs of coming out of her shell. My biggest recommendation to you is HAVE PATIENCE. Give her time and space and don't pressure her to be close to you if she's not ready. Of course there are times when she has to be close, such as on walks for potty breaks. But when at home, I'd invite her to be near me with my body language (sitting at her level, or patting the couch to invite her over), but if she's more comfortable on the other side of the room for now, that's OK.

The subject of your question suggests that she was a puppy mill dog and the content of your question suggests that her foster home was close to that of a hoarder. Both of those circumstances suggest high stress with little opportunity to learn about being part of a family, enjoying the outside, etc. Puppy mill dogs generally live their entire lives in a crate and never have opportunities to go on walks. In a hoarder's home with 50 other dogs, there is also likely very little one-on-one attention or efforts to teach her that walking in the neighborhood is safe and fun.

It's great that she's not having potty accidents inside and is comfortable going outside. You are a major step ahead of the game there as many, many puppy mill dogs have learned to potty where they live since they're in their crate 24/7.

Having her on a drag line in the house can be useful. But make sure that even as you're using that, you're not forcing her to come out from a hiding spot. Right now, she's hiding because she feels safer there. So if we just drag her out when she's feeling insecure or frightened, we run the risk of bringing out defensive behaviors such as growling, barking, snapping. I know she's been silent so far, but if she's feeling threatened you may find that to change. Also, as she begins to feel safer and more comfortable in your home, you may find that she as a voice after all...

So, if this were my new dog and she were hiding, I'd be luring her out with food or favorite toys. I'd sit quietly near the bed, but facing parallel or even back to the bed so that I'm not "stalking" the entrance. I'd speak sweetly in a baby-talk kind of voice and reassure her that she's safe. I'd toss a favorite food (e.g. cheese or bits of cooked chicken breast, or any other food that she loves). First I'd toss the food all the way under the bed where she can access it without coming out of hiding. Then, as she shows she's interested, I'd slowly start tossing the treats a little closer and a little closer to the entrance of her hiding space. I might even make a trail from the entrance to another space in the room, and then I'd get right out of the way so she can come out as her courage increases. Once she's out, I'd very quietly praise her and offer her a jackpot of several more treats (10-20). I'd offer the treats one at a time - just as she finishes the one in her mouth, drop another so that she's got a seemingly never-ending supply of treats.

NOTE - these are very small, bite sized treats. We're not aiming to over feed her. And if she's getting lots of treats throughout the day, cut back on her regular food so we don't create a fat puppy. Also, if you're finding that feeding/rewarding her throughout the day is really helping her to trust you and seek out time with you, you can give her all of her food for the day in this manner. If you're feeding a kibble that she really likes, you can just keep her daily ration on you (and your husband) and every time she shows any sign of engaging with either of you from looking in your direction to moving toward you, toss a kibble to her.

When she begins to consistently look at you, start tossing the kibbles just a little closer and when she no longer hesitates to move toward you to get that kibble, then she no longer gets kibble just for looking at you. Now she earns the kibble for any move she makes to come closer to you. Build from there until you're both able to hand feed her.

Once you can hand feed her without her stretching to reach without getting any nearer than necessary, you can start to introduce gentle touching to her. So, here you gently touch her where her bod is nearest to you - side, chest, leg, etc. and as you're touching her, feed her. When you stop feeding her, stop touching her. This allows her to create an association that your touch is a good thing.

There are a couple of books I highly recommend that can help you to build her confidence and teach her some skills, allowing you both to bond with your new furry friend.

Puppy Mill Dogs Speak: Happy Stories and Helpful Advice , by Christine Shaughness

I haven't personally read this book, but as I've read the table of contents, it seems it addresses the issues that many puppy mill dogs face when they're suddenly transitioned into a companion role. It will provide insight into how she's experiencing the world and suggestions to help her transition.

How to Behave So Your Dog Behaves , by Dr. Sophia Yin - this has a nice overview of how dogs learn and a quick guide to teaching some basic obedience skills and deal with common behavior problems that may or may not be relevant to your dog...

<101 Dog Tricks: Step by Step Activities to Engage, Challenge and Bond with Your Dog</b> by Kyra Sundance
This is a great book that has clear explanations and pictures to help you train the foundation skills of Sit, Down, Come and Stay and build those into loads of different fun tricks, which will reinforce your dog's comfort and confidence in working with you.

Both of these training books utilize positive reinforcement and avoid using aversive tools and techniques such as choke or prong collars, electronic collars, leash jerks, or any other physical corrections. These books teach you to teach your dog by setting her up for success, providing opportunities to tell her "YES!!!" rather than setting her up for failure and providing opportunities to say "no."

I would be careful about joining a group class at PetCo or PetSmart. While they claim to have a philosophy of positive reinforcement training, I've known several PetCo trainers that use prong collars on their own dogs and encourage pet parents to utilize leash pops, pokes, jerks, etc. to correct their dog, rather than teaching the pet parent how to redirect the dog to a more acceptable behavior that can then be rewarded.  If you think you might like the motivation of a group class, I encourage you to sit in and watch a few classes (without your dog present) and make sure you feel comfortable with how the trainer interacts with the dogs and the humans. If you see anything that makes you nervous such as the use of tools that cut off oxygen, even for a few seconds, or physically pushing, poking, kicking, hitting, forcing to the ground, rolling on the back, etc.  then avoid that class. On the other hand, if the trainer is using harnesses and/or face collars, avoids dragging dogs by the leash, encourages dogs through body language and/or food lures (or toys) and is generally setting up the dog to do the right thing, then that is a class to consider.

You can also do a search for trainers through the Association of Professional Dog Trainers website. I did a quick search for trainers within 25 miles of Council Bluffs, and found several in Omaha, NE (just the next town over from you). It may be worthwhile to chat with some of them, and even sit in on a class or two from those whom you get a good feel.

I hope this proves helpful. Good luck! Please feel free to followup if I can be of further assistance.

Jody, APDT
Los Angeles Behaviorist

Canine Behavior

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Jody Epstein, MS, CPDT-KA


IF YOU BELIEVE YOUR DOG IS ILL OR INJURED, PLEASE CONTACT YOUR LOCAL VETERINARIAN IMMEDIATELY. THIS IS NOT THE FORUM TO ADDRESS URGENT MEDICAL ISSUES. I AM NOT A LICENSED VET AND HAVE NO DIAGNOSTIC SKILLS. ***I have been answering questions on All Experts for over 8 years now. I enjoy being able to offer assistance in this forum. I do need to be clear, though. If you’re looking for free advice about a specific behavior question, you MUST submit your question to me via All Experts. If you bypass All Experts and write to me directly through my website, I will ask you to submit via All Experts. On the flip side, if you’re local to Los Angeles and you wish to speak to me privately about an in person consultation, please go through my website. I appreciate your assistance in keeping my volunteer work on the volunteer site.*** I can answer questions about the following canine behavior issues: obedience, timid/fearful & fear-based aggression, nuisance behaviors, families that are expanding with either new human or new animal members and many other issues. If you have potty training questions please first read my trio of blogs at If you still have questions after reading the blogs you can post your specific questions here. PLEASE be as specific as possible when asking a question. Give me a detailed example of the situation - dog's behavior, body language, circumstances surrounding the issue, what the consequences are (another dog's response, your response), etc. I can only provide insight if I can get a picture of the whole scenario. If I ask for further details, please provide them. In person I would normally observe for at least 90 minutes to assess the situation and the dynamics before offering tools and suggestions to modify it. In writing it is ever so much more difficult. Thank you for your participation in the process.


I have been a professional obedience trainer for 9 years, and specializing in behavior modification for 8 years. I have owned dogs my entire life. I own my own dog training and behavior modification business called Nutz About Mutz.

I am a Certified Profession Dog Trainer - Knowledge Assessed (CPDT-KA), #2133301 ; I am a member in good standing with the Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDT), #77763 ; I am an AKC certified Canine Good Citizen evaluator (CGC), #71253

Publications ; ; Multiple articles in the local pet magazine Pet Press (found across Southern California)

I have a masters degree (MS) in Animals and Public Policy, with a minor in Animal Behavior, from Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine. I also have 3 years of graduate education in Animal Behavior and Learning from UM-Missoula and UL-Lafayette. I continue to educate myself to canine-specific behavior through extensive reading, online interactive workshops, vidoes and attending canine behavior conferences, workshops and seminars. Beginning in March, 2017, I will be the Behavior & Training Manager at Second Chance Center for Animals in Flagstaff, AZ.

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