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Henrietta was just the cutest little pup....

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Henrietta the pet store coonhound pup was totally unsocialized and bit everyone in sight!


by Michelle Crean, Wisconsin Puppy Mill Project

       As have many other people now actively involved in fighting puppy mills and pet stores, I learned the hard way about "those cute little puppies in the window." Our lesson wasn't as hard as some -- our pet store puppy was physically healthy -- but it could have been disastrous for all concerned if we hadn't had a lot of committment and the support of our vet and a behaviorist.

       It was love at first sight when my husband and I saw the coonhound puppy in the pet store. She was just so darned...cute! But when she was taken out of her cage to meet us, she wanted nothing whatsoever to do with us. The pet store employee told us, "Oh, she's been cooped up in that cage for so long, she just wants to stretch her legs and explore!"

       We left to think it over -- we had an old hound dog at home and thought having a pup in the house would be good for him, since he loved other dogs. A new puppy that nobody had 'ruined' by abuse or teaching bad habits, a nice puppy with a health guarantee, would be wonderful. (Boy, were we WRONG thinking a pet store puppy would be any of those things!) And let's face it, this particular puppy was so cute!

       When we went back for her, we were told, "She can't come home with you yet. She has kennel cough and we were just going to quarantine her." The employee then mumbled something about taking "the little bitch" home and socializing her. (Big Red Flag that we were too blinded by "cute" to see!)

       Well. We went back for the pup after the quarantine period was up, and Henrietta, as we'd already named her, was delighted to get out of the cage. However, she didn't want to be held or petted. "She'll get over that as soon as you get her home," we were told.

       They didn't ask us if we knew anything about the breed, nor did they tell us that coonhounds make wonderful pets BUT are single-minded, stubborn, target-fixated, escape artists who will follow their noses to the ends of the earth. They didn't mention that the breed requires patient, imaginative training and lots of exercise and attention. All the pet store was interested in was our money.

       The truth of the matter was, Henrietta was a puppy mill/pet store dog, bred specifically for pack hunting, and she had never, ever had any contact with humans, other than those who tossed food at her, shoved her and her siblings into a cage on a truck, and visited her at the pet store. Not only that, but she didn't WANT any contact with humans!

Henrietta the puppymill coonhound pup had severe socialization problems to overcome.       Though she loved and respected our old hound, she just didn't seem to like people. In fact, she would trot right up to someone and, when that person reached out to pet her, would bite them--HARD. Not a little puppy play nip or a teething chew — a hard, punishing bite. But she was just so cute!

       It was obvious that this cute little puppy needed some education in the canine social graces. We were committed to keeping an animal companion for a lifetime and had fallen in love with this pup despite the fact that she was so darned obnoxious so, with a little guidance from our vet, a 'doggie shrink' from the Ohio State School of Veterinary Medicine, and a good dog behavior book, we went to work teaching Henrietta that (1) biting was never acceptable under any circumstances and (2) petting was a good thing.

       The first part entailed letting her know in no uncertain terms that, in pack heirarchy, she ranked under any human whom she met. It took a lot of reinforcement (both positive and negative) and some time, but the biting behavior finally stopped entirely.

       Karrim, our old afghan-bloodhound mix, loved nothing more than a snoogle with his People, and helped show "his" pup that an ear scratch or belly rub was a Good Thing. Within a couple of very long weeks, she transformed from having to be held down to be petted, to actively seeking affection.

       Luckily for all involved, Henrietta's root problem had been lack of education (through lack of positive human contact) and not an inherently bad temperament, so behavior modification techniques were successful. In fact, she morphed into such a friendly, sociable pet that, even just a couple months later, nobody would believe she had ever been otherwise!

       We joked that 'cute' had saved her life, never realizing at the time just how true that statement was. Our vet speculated that chances were about 90% that anyone else would have beaten her senseless, dumped her along a back country road, foisted her off on some other unsuspecting family who would have done the same, or taken her to a shelter, where she would have been euthanized as a 'vicious' dog, even though she was only three months old.

       Every day of the week, shelters kill puppy mill dogs like Henrietta just because they were never socialized properly and the new owners can't or won't cope. There were a dozen pups in her litter, in various pet stores around Dayton, Ohio. I often wonder what happened to her brothers and sisters -- but I really don't want to know.

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Article Copyright © 2003, by Michelle Crean. All Rights Reserved. Used with permission.

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