How do you prepare your dog for natural disasters and evacuations? September is National Disaster Preparedness Month and it’s important to make sure every member of the household is prepared for natural disasters including the dog. It comes down to training, socialization and providing the best environment you can. If your dog regularly encounters various people, dogs and other animals, crowds, loud noises and crates and knows basic obedience, an evacuation setting will be a much more comfortable place for them.
How to Prepare Your Dog for Natural Disasters
First and foremost. Recall, recall, recall. You have to be able to take the dog with you wherever you’re going. And you’ll lose precious time trying to retrieve them when you have to run out the door or barricade yourself in an interior room with no windows or the basement. Obviously you won’t be able to practice with them in the face of disaster but you can drill them in other highly distracting environments such as super high value treats, in the presence of other animals or people, or with fake noises (sirens, thunder etc). I regularly practice recall with Mr. N where he has to avoid temptations like squirrels and playing with other dogs. Recall is a life skill and should be practiced throughout the dog’s life.
Thankfully, we’ve never had to evacuate so far but I have seen Mr. N’s reaction to fire. A business across the street caught on fire and I was standing outside with many of the neighbors watching the firefighters. Mr. N vehemently disapproved and demanded that we move away from the fire immediately unlike the happy Golden who wagged her tail and was perfectly content to watch the fire. I have no doubt that come emergency, he would be the first one out the door. Probably would wake me up too.
The more positive experiences your dog has with various things, places and people, the better. Evacuation means that your dog will come into close contact with large crowds of people, other dogs and animals and loud noises. They might have to ride on public transit or even on a helicopter.
I make a habit of taking Mr. N with me everywhere that I can and he’s largely immune to weird experiences. Because we do live in Portland after all. Mr. N has curled up and gone to sleep on booth tables at pet expos amidst the presence of other dogs, cats, and the odd llama. So he will probably settle down after a little while even in a crowded shelter.
If you can’t go anywhere else, you’ll be crowded into an emergency shelter with a horde of other people and animals. Many (if not most) pet-friendly shelters do not allow you to stay with your dog. Animals are housed either in a separate room or in an adjacent building. There are visitation hours and you can walk and feed your dog but for the most part they have to stay in their crate.
Your dog will be much happier if they’re used to being in their crate for long stretches of time especially in a stressful environment. Dr. Sophia Yin has a tutorial on crate training here. And having an airline-approved carrier/crate is paramount or you’ll end up like this guy unable to evacuate with his dog. The carrier should be sturdy and the dog should be able to stand, turn around and lie down comfortably. Mr. N has a soft carrier (his Sleepypod Air) that we use for short crating intervals but I’m going to look for a hard crate to add to our emergency kit. I’m concerned that shelters might not accept the carrier (some specifically request hard crates) and if he has to be in it for days, I’d rather he have more space.
However some dogs despite training will not be able to handle certain things. So the best you can do is try to manage their environment as much as possible and provide calming relief.
Remember to pack your calming aid of choice (anxiety wrap, calming treats, Rescue Remedy or sedatives from your vet). Also bring along a favorite toy or blanket that smells like home as well as some chews chews to relax them.
Shelters can turn away animals that they deem aggressive. So muzzle training is important if your dog exhibits any signs of aggression towards people or other animals. In an emergency, you can fashion one with cloth or other material on hand for short periods but acclimating your dog to one beforehand is ideal as is packing a sturdy muzzle that fits their face.
If you have to evacuate with your dog, leave early. Especially if you have a high-maintenance dog (medical needs, behavioral needs etc). Pet-friendly shelters will have limited space as well as hotels that accept pets and spaces will be in high demand. Mr. N’s crate and separation anxiety is my biggest worry as he would be miserable without me in a crate by himself. He is OK in a crate for short intervals if I’m there. My plan is to try to evacuate early to a friend’s house or hotel or find a pet-friendly shelter that lets me stay with him. Therefore the last resort is a shelter with separate crating areas. I’ll have to give him sedatives.
Have you gone through a natural disaster with your dog? How did you prepare your dog for natural disasters?
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Welcome to First Monday’s Positive Pet Training Blog Hop hosted by Tenacious Little Terrier, Travels with Barley and Wag ‘n Woof Pets. Please share your responsible pet owner positive pet training tips by linking a blog post or leaving a comment below. Our theme for this month is National Disaster Preparedness Month but any positive reinforcement training posts or comments are also always welcome. The Positive Pet Training Blog Hop goes all week long. And our next hop will begin Oct 2nd and continues for a week.