I recently spoke at the annual conference of the American Animal Hospital Association where I reconnected with an old friend, Dr. Frank McMillan. We were small animal medicine residents at UC Davis together back in the day. Dr. McMillan’s professional journey has been an interesting one. Most notably, he has become a passionate, world renowned expert on the emotional well being of animals.
Dr. McMillan’s research on puppy mill breeding dogs was recently published in Journal of Applied Animal Behaviour Science. In his study called, “Mental health of dogs formerly used as ‘breeding stock’ in commercial breeding establishments” he compared the psychological and behavioral characteristics of 1,169 rescued former puppy mill dogs with those of 332 pet dogs without a mill history. The most striking difference between the two groups was in their fear level. Dogs originating from puppy mills exhibited far more fear in response to people, other dogs, stairs, and touch. For many of these dogs, an increased fear response continued even after years spent in their adoptive households. Dr. McMillan’s research also documented that the puppy mill dogs demonstrated more house-soiling and compulsive behavior as well as reduced trainability, energy, and aggression towards other animals.
Dr. McMillan and his coauthors discussed two likely causes for the behaviors demonstrated by the puppy mill dogs. The first cause, known as “stress-induced psychopathology” refers to behavioral responses to stressors such as spatial restriction (confinement to a small space), extreme temperatures, aversive interactions with humans, lack of ability to avoid or regulate exposure to aversive stimuli, and limited access to positive social interactions with humans and other dogs. Most if not all of these stressors certainly come into play in most large scale breeding operations.
Also discussed as a cause for behavioral abnormalities in puppy mill dogs was inadequate socialization during the first few months of life (the critical period for normal socialization to develop). For puppy mill breeding dogs, most of this sensitive developmental time period is spent behind bars with little to no exposure to psychologically “nutritious” environmental surroundings.
For those who work with rescued puppy mill breeding dogs, none of Dr. McMillan’s conclusions come as a surprise. It’s common knowledge that such dogs are damaged by years of emotional negligence. The true importance of this study is that it provides the very first scientifically documented proof that conditions prevailing in puppy mills are profoundly detrimental to the emotional well being of dogs imprisoned there. This research is one more arrow in our quiver as we do whatever we can to exterminate puppy mills. Kudos to you Dr. McMillan for the important work you are doing!
Nancy Kay, DVM
Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Author of Your Dog’s Best Health: A Dozen Reasonable Things to Expect From Your Vet
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
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Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health. There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health are available at www.speakingforspot.com, Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.