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In the last issue, we featured articles on preparing your kennel and dogs in case a disaster happens. This month, we discuss how to help your dogs cope in the event you have to relocate due to a disaster and tips for easing the transition back to life post-emergency.

Disaster often strikes when we least expect it. During an emergency evacuation, pets can experience the same fears and anxieties as humans. Here are a few ways to help your dog stay calm if you need to evacuate to a disaster shelter.

Remain Calm

Dogs quickly pick up on the feelings of their humans. Being overly anxious or worried can translate to an overly anxious and worried dog. Do your best to stay calm in an emergency, during a rescue or escape situation, or when staying in an evacuation shelter. This will not only help you think more clearly but will show your dog that they also can remain calm. Speak in soothing tones to your dog. Use firm slow strokes when petting them.

Do NOT compromise your safety when grabbing things for your dog. If you have time to safely gather items before evacuating, do so. Do not put yourself at risk however to get your dog’s favorite stuffy (or any other personal item) in an emergency.

Have a “Go Bag”

Have a small bag ready with basic items your dog will need, including:

  1. An extra leash.
  2. At least a gallon size bag of their kibble
  3. Veterinary records
  4. Favorite treats
  5. A couple of favorite toys
  6. Mat or pad that the dog can sleep/lie on

Grab A T-shirt

If you have time, grab one of your dirty t-shirts or a pillow case from your bed. If your dog must go to a different shelter than you, such as a veterinary hospital or kennel offering emergency shelter for pets, they will have something that smells like home to comfort them. Shelters that do allow pets to stay with their owners may still want them crated or tied and having a comfort item can still be helpful to them if you can’t be with them.

Play Comforting Music

If you have a smart phone, phone service and a charger, download an app that plays soothing music. Classical music or soft rock can be calming for both you and your dog when in a crowded emergency shelter. Do not compromise your phone’s battery unless you have contacted family and friends to let them know your location and safety. Humming and singing to your dog will also help comfort them.

Massage and Petting

Most pet dogs enjoy petting. If your dog is one of those, then gentle massage and petting with firm slow strokes will be soothing and enjoyable for them. Long, slow strokes are more relaxing than short, fast ones.  Gentle rubbing behind ears and in between their eyes can activate soothing acupressure points. If your dog does not typically enjoy petting, then best avoid it in a stressful situation.

Treats and Play

When the worst is over, show your dog they can relax by having a little fun. Use treats to practice their obedience behaviors and tricks. A little levity in a stressful situation will help both you and your dog relax and feel better. Try to avoid any rousing play that would cause barking or otherwise disturb people in the shelter. Be mindful of the space around you and the comfort level of other occupants. Not everyone will be comfortable with a game of tug right next to them.

Make Friends… Or Not

Community can be found everywhere. If your dog is generally friendly and well behaved with other people, let him be an ambassador of comfort to others going through the same situation as you.  Bonding over animals is a great way for you, your dog, and others to relax and find solace in a tough situation.

If your dog is generally wary of strangers, be his advocate. Do not force your dog to interact with people he is not comfortable with and ask others to be respectful of his space.

The Bare Necessities

Hydration, nutrition and evacuation (the biological kind) are the bare necessities that must be maintained. As the situation permits, be mindful of your dog’s physical needs as well as his emotional needs. Provide your dog the chance to drink clean water as often as possible, feed them to the best of your ability, and allow adequate potty breaks.

After the Storm

As life returns to normal, or semblance thereof, keep an eye on your dog’s behavior. When able, have them checked over by a veterinarian. Watch for signs that your dog is not settling back to normal from their ordeal. New or unusual behaviors after you are back home could be a sign of emotional trauma. Behaviors such as clinginess, vocalization, hiding, reactivity or aggression can be just some of the signs that you may need to get help from a certified animal behaviorist.