Preparing your dog for a disaster

Over the past few weeks we have had a number of dog owners board their dogs with us while they evacuate their homes, and we have also had a number of clients who also have had to evacuate with their dogs to stay with friends and family, at evacuation centres etc.

There are some dogs who have coped extremely well in these stressful situations and other dogs who have struggled and we wanted to write a blog post detailing what you can do to help prepare your dog for emergency situations.

Are you prepared? What can you do to make being in an emergency situation easier for your dog?

Life skills make the difference

A client of ours was evacuated with her two dogs in November due to the Mid North Coast fires and has written about her experience at the evacuation centre. 

Mid North Coast fires, picture taken by our client

“The 8th Nov on the Mid North Coast is a day most locals will never forget. The town was surrounded by bushfires. The glow of red yellow and orange blanketed the town along with fire ash it was an unbelievable sight to a town that usually has blue skies balmy nights and cool breezes during the summer. It was also a day, I feared going outside. Let alone let my dogs outside. Deciding to be safe following orders to evacuate as flames teetered on the edge of surrounding bushland, I packed some personal belongings, important documents irreplaceable photos and a small suitcase and pillow. The rest of the room in my car was taken up by dog food dog crates place beds and various other buckets and bottles of water to keep us hydrated. Being lucky enough to be able to get into town, booking a motel was not going to be easy with 2 dogs. It wasn’t to be, so with 2 dogs now, no phone service and ash falling from the sky the safest place was near water so down to the beach car park we headed. We slept in the car that night, constantly waking to check if we were ok, still seeing the town all lit up by bushfire.

From our clients back yard

The next day, I managed to get to the evacuation centre, and find a spot to rest in safety have a shower & food for myself. If you wanted to be in the hall dogs were to be put into tiny boxes all lined up together followed by cats all lined up in boxes and other various animals ferrets chooks etc. Problems I could see were dogs that had not been exposed to any type of stress or for that matter any sort of discipline really struggled some became aggressive. Some wet themselves and stood trembling, some were in fear of others dogs and still were made stay in the tiny boxes.

In large groups of people there can be breed racist people who in the face of disaster will still cause a scene about the way your dog looks and to avoid conflict and further trauma and stress on yourself, you choose to retreat to the car park to gather yourself. Having owned a staffy, who was dog aggressive and at times anxious without direction, I was not going to set her rehabilitation back by subjecting and flooding her with all of these triggers, so with the tools I had and the tools she is trained with and instantly relaxes when they are on because she knows what to do, we set off on finding a place to rest eat and wait out the fire risk.

Simply put, having a dog that can be recalled reliably walk, well on loose lead and have strong impulse control possessing life skills that are guaranteed may well just save your life and theirs.

The life skills that lacked in some dogs shone as bright as the burning fires in other dogs. In the face of disaster, a strong recall is one of the most important skills your dog can have, being place bed trained when under distraction and high stress environment and a crate being trained to use it is ideal. I witnessed dogs being put into crates and doing injury to themselves from the stress and being frightened. Sitting in the corner away from everyone, were my 2 dogs (and people upset that “they let those types of dogs in here”) calmly watching the rushing emotional mess the humans were in and the distress the animals were in. Cats, mice, chooks, birds, you name it, they were there – even goats, horses and sheep, all trying to keep safe.

I cannot help but think if my dogs weren’t equipped with the life skills they learned & now live by from K9 Pro how would I have been able to handle two strong dogs alone with no help and still remain confident in their ability and my own when directing them to a corner past many triggers to wait out the fires. Simply put, having a dog that can be recalled reliably walk, well on loose lead and have strong impulse control possessing life skills that are guaranteed may well just save your life and theirs.”

Can your dog cope with stress?

 

Is your dog fearful?

How does your dog deal with stress? If you have a dog that struggles with anxiety, fear, stress, cannot cope with change to routine or new places or environments, let this motivate you to get help, now. You never know when you may be faced with a natural disaster or personal emergency that means your dog needs to be housed in an evacuation centre, kennel, friends house etc. Contact a professional to help your dog learn to cope with stress and change before you are in a position where you are forced to put your dog in a situation they can’t cope with.

Crate training

At K9 Pro we believe crate training is an integral management tool for ALL dogs, not just something that is useful in an emergency. Having a dog that can relax happily in their crate has many advantages. Don’t let the first time your dog experiences being in a crate be in a highly stressful situation like an evacuation or an unexpected vet visit.

Paddy and Drama relaxed in their crates during evacuation

Of all the feedback we have had from clients who have had to evacuate with their dogs over the last few weeks, every single one has said how thankful they are that they had already crate trained their dogs as it helped their dog cope with being in a new and stressful environment.

If you haven’t crate trained your dog or have been thinking about crate training your dog, don’t hesitate! You never know when you may be in a situation where you need to safely secure your dog. There are so many benefits to crate training, you can read Steve’s 10 Reasons to Crate Train Your Dog here for more info on why we recommend it.

Team K9 Pro member Katie had to evacuate her property recently due to the fires. Thanks to their great life skills, including crate training, her dogs Paddington and Drama were able to evacuate with her safely, and with minimal stress.

Place training

Place training like pros!

Place training is another vital life skill that will help your dog adjust to being in a new environment, and help to alleviate stress for you. Place training is a great way to teach your dog impulse control and helps your dog learn to relax when you ask them to. A dog that can lie down and relax on a bed anywhere, any time, around any distraction is much easier to take into new places than a dog that can’t settle easily when asked to.

 

Muzzle training

If your dog isn’t social with people or other dogs, considering conditioning them to wearing a muzzle so that if the need arises to have them handled by strangers or to be in close quarters with other dogs, they can do so safely and with minimal stress. Dogs are more likely to display aggression when over stimulated and stressed, using a muzzle in these scenarios is a good safety precaution.

We provide a muzzle conditioning program written by Steve with all muzzle purchases, or if you already have a muzzle and need to condition your dog to wearing it contact us and we can provide you a copy.

Kennelling dogs

We have had a number of dogs arrive in our kennels over the past few weeks whose owners were evacuating their properties. The dogs that coped the best were dogs that had been in kennel environments before. It stands to reason if your dog has never or rarely leaves your property or has never been boarded before it may find coming into a kennel environment stressful.

Some dogs need to be in specialised kennels

It is also important to have a plan in place so you know what you will do with your dogs in an emergency situation. Whether this is a personal emergency (like sudden illness etc) or a natural disaster (like fires or floods) have a plan in place so you know what you will do with your dogs. If you can’t take your dog with you in the case of an evacuation, know which kennels local to you could take your dog, as well as kennels outside of areas around you that could be affected by fires, flooding etc. We have had a few panicked dog owners calling us at the last minute because they can’t find a kennel equipped to take their dog or a kennel has called them to come and collect their dog because it is displaying behaviour the kennel is not designed to handle.

Read Steve’s article on finding a suitable boarding kennel here for more information on what to look for when you are searching for a kennel to look after your dog. 

Have an evacuation plan in place for your animals

The NSW SES has released a great website that has information on planning for your pets in an emergency including a guide on making an animal emergency plan. If you haven’t checked this website out yet, please do! www.getreadyanimals.nsw.gov.au

Of course, our thoughts are with anyone who is being affected by the bushfires. If you have any questions about how to help your dogs cope in these situations, hit the comments below and we can help!

About Rebecca Chin

Bec has been mentored by Steve Courtney since 2007 and works full time at K9 Pro as the Senior Dog Trainer. She primarily works with dog owners to help them teach their dogs good life skills and general obedience, works with our board and training dogs to rehabilitate dogs with serious behaviourial issues as well as helping new puppy owners with puppy foundation training.

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