Last month the earth was full of natural disasters of all kinds: fires, hurricanes, earthquakes, and floods. It was a devastating and stressful time for so many people. I imagine even more so for people with animals who depended on them for safety and care. Stories abound about people staying behind to face the wrath of Mother Nature because they were unwilling to leave their beloved furry or feathered family members behind. Alternately, there were other people who turned their confined animals loose in an attempt to at least give them agency in their survival. In an awful twist of confusion or incomprehension, some people tethered their pets before evacuating themselves and leaving their pets behind. Please never tether animals and leave them behind when fleeing from floodwaters, storms, or fires. This does not secure them, but rather nearly assures a horrible, inescapable demise. Worst case scenario: If you really cannot take your pets with you or provide safety for them in your home environment, at the very least make sure they have more than one form of identification on them and let them run free to flee on their own to some semblance of safely where they may be caught and rescued.
The disaster got me thinking what would I do if I ever have to evacuate? Leaving my dogs behind is simply not an option. Where would I go? How do I prepare both my emergency kit and my dogs right now for the unthinkable?
Additionally, one of my dogs, Laz, had a major injury in the form of a venomous spider bite over the summer that was horrifically hideous looking, terribly painful, and downright scandalous in its placement. For decorum’s sake, let’s just say the offending attack occurred in his most private of nether regions. The bite occurred while I was out of town and required lots of hands-on care by people less intimately acquainted with him than me and with less of a history of trust, relationship, and handling. The injury also required an additional month of cleaning, dressing, and care once I returned home for a total of six weeks of manhandling his super-sore man parts. Talk about adding insult to injury.
So my goal this month is to get you thinking about how you would handle situations with your dogs when life throws a curveball. I’ll share a few simple tips with you—things you can do now to ease stress in your pets when the chips are down.
First, make sure your dog is crate-trained. By this I mean your dog should willingly go into a crate on his own and quietly settle down without showing any signs of stress such as panting, whining, pacing/circling, or crying. If you crate-trained your dog as a pup, you may well be off to a good start. However, if you’ve not practiced in a long time because you don’t need a crate anymore, or if your dog never really was comfortable in his crate in the first place, then you’ve got some work to do. Your goal is to make sure that your dog not only accepts crate confinement but actually is relaxed in the crate, because when you add the stress of a bad situation to the
mix, your dog will have a comfortable safe zone to help keep him calm. Or at worst, if the situation is particularly unpleasant, at least your dog will only go from acceptance to tolerance under duress, rather than from tolerance to intolerance or reaction, which could take the form of fight or flight. Take the time now to play crate games with your pooch just for fun, tossing tasty food rewards into the crate for him to chase down and eat. Over time you can toss from further away and different angles to make the game more exciting and challenging. When playing this game, don’t necessarily always end it with actual confinement. Just play for fun. That said, I always give my dogs a chew toy project of some sort when we are going to need (or just practice) actual confinement. I want my dogs to love and voluntarily seek out their crate.
Another imperative preventative exercise you can play with focuses on handling and veterinary husbandry. Play doctor with your dog. At least once a month, more if not once a week, take your dog’s meal, sit down in a comfortable spot, perhaps on the floor in the living room while you Netflix and chill canine style and hand-feed the meal trading touches for treats. Be sure to hit all of the hot spots, nose to toes, head and tail, and, yes, private areas too. Your goal is once again to teach your dog to thoroughly enjoy invasive handling over time. Start slowly and gently and work your way up to something that looks like a basic veterinary exams, with restraint hold and all. If you’d like, imagine me and Laz, bonding over his testicle treatment over many a summer’s evening while you work on making your own dog as behaviorally solid as a rock fully prepared, as a team, for whatever comes your way.
Kelly Gorman Dunbar is director of the Center for Applied Animal Behavior where she recruits and trains instructors for SIRIUS Puppy & Training, the family business.
Main article photo by: humonia/iStock