We live in a relatively safe part of the country. Here in Northern New England hurricanes, tornadoes, and earthquakes are few and far between. There have been some small tornadoes and there has certainly been some catastrophic flooding in parts of our state, but it is usually only small areas that it affects. That’s not to say it couldn’t happen, but twice in my lifetime I remember preparing for big storms, and both thankfully fizzled out before they got as far as us. While flooding is more of a concern around here, we live on the top of a hill so it’s just not something I worry about much.
However, in the wake of two strong hurricanes hitting other parts of our country, how can we all not at least think about how something like this would affect us if it did happen? Right now, our hearts and prayers are with all those still recovering from Harvey, and those in the path of Irma. We have family and friends in those areas and can only imagine what they must be going through.
I can’t help but think about our reactive dog Luke, and how having to evacuate would be a huge issue for us. I worry about how that would work, and how much more complicated it might be with him. Any dog could be stressed in that situation, and I know Cricket would be too, but for a nervous dog like him it would be even worse.
When we chose the theme for this month’s Positive Pet Training hop – September is National Disaster Preparedness Month – how do you use training to prepare your dog for disasters? – I wasn’t sure what I would write about, since the plain truth is we are not prepared because it’s just not something I worry about. I’m glad it got me thinking about it though, and when I saw a story in a reactive dog Facebook group I’m in about just that – evacuating with a reactive dog – I found my inspiration.
I’m not going to get into the generalities of preparing for a disaster. There are plenty of good posts already written about that and I’ll share some of those along with a helpful infographic at the end of this.
There are some things all dogs, not just reactive ones, can benefit from learning. If your dog is trained to consistently come, stay, settle down, etc., that is going to make your life easier every day. There are three things we work on with Luke that can especially help reactive dogs: going to a crate and being comfortable in it, walking well on a leash, and wearing a muzzle. If I was suddenly in a situation where we were forced to be around a lot of strangers, Luke’s biggest fear, those are the tools I would need the most.
I would want him to walk close by my side while maneuvering by people, and I would have him wearing his muzzle in case someone got too close and scared him. I would certainly need a crate as a safe place for him to be when in the car or staying in a strange place.
I tend to slack off once I have Luke trained to something. I’ll bring the muzzle back out when we’re due to go to the vet, and I’ll get the crate out when we’re going to have company. It’s easy to do some training ahead of those planned events, but since we never know when a disaster might strike, it’s important to do this periodically anyway, and I need to do better. We do try to work on our leash skills sometimes when we’re on walks, and all the skills I learned from the Reactive Dog Management class I took online (link below) are perfect for what we’d need.
This isn’t so much to do with training, but I think of one other thing: I don’t like to turn to medications if we don’t have to. I was less than thrilled when we had to do just that for Luke’s last vet visit. However, sometimes these are tools we need, and I would certainly consider a disaster just the type of circumstance that would warrant it. If you must travel miles and miles to evacuate, giving any dog meds to relax them could be a huge help (I’m pretty sure I’d probably need meds myself at that point!). They can also be more cooperative if they can stay under their reactive threshold as much as possible.
There are also many natural calming products you could try ahead of time to see if they help your dog. We haven’t hit on anything yet that helps Luke a lot, but we had some success with calming collars and that’s just the type of thing that couldn’t hurt. It’s something I need to work on more with Luke and we will be trying something new soon (CBD oil) and let you know if it works. When Luke had a recent episode that we think was an allergic reaction, I had him taking Benadryl too. I was hoping it would have calming effects for him, but it did not. It’s one of those things that is safe to try though, and it did help him through his itchy spell. There are a lot of good products out there, and we’ve really tried very few. That’s another thing I need to work more on.
In summary, these are ways to help your reactive dog prepare for a disaster:
- Consistently train and refresh leash skills, tips here: “Tools for Walking a Reactive Dog“
- Crate training, here’s how we did it: “Making a Crate a Safe Space for an Adult Dog“
- Muzzle work (future post planned).
- Explore medications and natural calming products with your vet.
In the end, we all will hope and pray we never need to use these skills in the wake of a natural disaster, and if we don’t, they all can come in handy for everyday life regardless.
Disclaimer: I am not a trainer, and I am not a vet. I am just sharing ideas here that I’ve learned, through our own experiences and research, that may help. Please seek professional advice when needed.
If you need more information on preparing for a natural disaster or the after-effects of one, here are two posts by blog friends of mine that are very informative:
- Dolly the Doxie: Tips from the Experts on Preparing Your Pets for a Natural Disaster
- Barking from the Bayou: After the Hurricane #PetTips
What other training can you think of that could be useful in a disaster situation?
We are pleased to be co-hosting the Positive Pet Training blog hop with Tenacious Little Terrier and Travels with Barley. Pet bloggers, please join us in this hop by posting your positive pet training stories. The hop remains open through Sunday. Our theme this month is “September is National Disaster Preparedness Month – how do you use training to prepare your dog for disasters?” , however, you may share any positive pet training story, whether it’s on our theme or not!