Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Training Your Pets for Natural Disasters

As many of our friends are hunkered down in Florida and Georgia riding out Hurricane Irma and others are cleaning up from Hurricane Harvey, we've been spending a lot of time thinking about how to prepare for a natural disaster. While we don't live in a place where hurricanes, tornadoes, or earthquakes are likely, we do face risks like blizzards and may one day live in a place with other dangers. Since September is National Preparedness Month, it's the perfect time to focus on positive training to help your pets get through a national disaster for the Positive Pet Training Blog Hop.

Crate Training
We've written before on how much we love our crate and on the types of mischief that can be prevented by a crate. In my opinion, this is probably the most important training if you have to leave your house suddenly with your pet. Many training articles mention how dogs are not great at generalization and with crate training, I can say we've definitely seen the truth in that. Barley has stayed in a crate when I've left the house since Day 1. Rye has, too. Barley has never put up a fuss in her crate at home. Rye whimpered a little on the first few days, but quickly adjusted to being crated.

Outside of the house, though, crates are a different story. Every place we've ever rented in our travels to Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Vermont have required that pets be crated when left unattended in the rental property. While the girls willingly go into their crates, they usually bark as soon as the door shuts and it takes them longer to settle down. Since we've been in detached cottages for the most part, a little barking hasn't been a problem, but if walls are being shared, it can create problems. When we first started agility, other dogs would stay crated between their turns, but Barley would bark, snarl, and slam against the crate. For years, she has just stayed at my side at a safe distance from her classmates. The first time I tried to put Rye in a crate at our training center, she bolted out of the crate before I could get the door shut and refused to even walk by the crate room for weeks.

At that point, if we'd had to evacuate, we would have had a lot of difficulties. Even if we were staying in a hotel and not an evacuation shelter, you can't have a dog barking uncontrollably in a crate every time you have to leave the room. We've been working on crate training in new locations so that I can take the girls to agility class on the same night without them disturbing the rest of our class, so I feel more confident that the girls would handle that situation much better now.

Brain Games
Our most likely natural disaster situation would be a blizzard and we've had plenty of practice on staying inside for days on end during extreme cold, and that could be taken to the extreme with any natural disaster. Having an arsenal of brain games can make lengthy indoor stays easier on everyone.

The best part about brain games is that you don't need a lot of room to play them. We play so many different variations of the "It's Your Choice" game: sit at the door without being told and not getting up until you're released even if the door's wide open, treats in the hand that you only get if you don't nudge my hand and you make eye contact, treats on the floor or on the paws that you get when you hold eye contact, the options are unlimited. We can do a lot of our brain games right in the crate if I sit on the floor in front of it to block their escape, so they're easy to do if you're trapped in a hotel room or another type of shelter. Even if you don't evacuate, you can play games like this when you're trapped in your own house due to bad weather to keep everyone from getting cabin fever.

Mat Work
I've waxed poetic about our mat on more than one occasion (like here and here), so I'll refrain from doing that again today--but mat work is also something that only requires enough space for your mat--and can be done on a towel, a blanket, even a sweatshirt that you toss on the floor, so it's easy to adapt for any location you find yourself in. It's also a good way to get your dog to relax in an unfamiliar environment.

Training dogs to wear a harness never hurts, either.

For me, the most important thing (besides safety, of course) is making sure that my pets don't infringe on other people's comfort in a stressful situation like a natural disaster. A crate, brain games, and mat work are the best tools I have for keeping my dogs calm, quiet, and connected to me if we ever find ourselves away from home in any situation.

To our friends in Texas and Florida, we hope you're safe and that the clean up process goes smoothly, quickly, and safely. To our friends in the Pacific Northwest, we're so sorry about the fires consuming your beloved forests and we're thinking of you, too.

Be sure to visit our co-hosts, Wag 'n Woof Pets and Tenacious Little Terrier as well as the other great blogs linking up with us for this month's Positive Pet Training Blog hop where we welcome any positive training posts!


  1. Such a great reminder that there's a big difference between a crate in your home and a crate in a new setting. Glad to hear you're working on it.

    Some people I know put a blanket over their dog's crate when waiting for their turn in Nose Work classes. It can tamp down that vigilance that happens in new places to some dogs.

    We had to get rid of Honey's crate when we moved onto the boat. But all these posts are getting me thinking I should buy a soft-sided crate that I can tuck flat under the mattress in case of emergency.

  2. Not being good with crates is my big worry for Mr. N and evacuation. He's happy to ride around in a carrier on me though so that might have to suffice. And yes, mat work is great for settling purposes!

  3. Hopefully we won't ever need to deal with this, but we are crate trained and are good to be in the car for long periods of time.

  4. You made some great points here that I hadn't even thought of. The generalization is important, and having the games to keep the dogs occupied certainly is as well. Good job!
    Jan, Wag 'n Woof Pets