Closeup of a person petting a cat.

National Pet Preparedness Month, Week 1: Disaster Response Training

In recognition of National Pet Preparedness Month, the Office of Resiliency is providing information and suggestions on how to prepare your pets for an emergency. Developing a training plan in advance with your pet is essential to not only your safety, but also theirs. That way, if any natural disasters were to occur, your pet will have the skillset to remain calm and focused on you so that you can put your attention on the emergency at hand instead of their behavior.

Five training tricks for pets in disasters are:

  • Friendly stranger
  • Reliable recall
  • Place training
  • Familiarity with distractions and crate
  • Beware of unknown food/water sources

Accepting a “friendly stranger”

Some pets are nervous or uncomfortable around people outside family or close friends, which can make things a bit difficult in an emergency. The concept of the “friendly stranger” can be very challenging to teach your pet but it’s a skill that’s important for most to have. Practicing this skill in advance will help make being cared for by a stranger much less stressful for your pet and that person trying to help.

Training tips for accepting a “friendly stranger”:

  • If you and your pet attend obedience classes, ask your instructor or a fellow student to watch your pet while you go to the car to get something or run an errand.
  • Practice with friends and family members at home and at pet stores. Ask these individuals to give your pet treats, or play with them as you leave.
  • When you return, stay calm and avoid making any unnecessary gestures towards your pet.

Reliable recall

Learning to come when called, or recall to you, is one of the most important skills your pet can acquire. Teaching a recall can be challenging but extremely rewarding. When we call our pets names, we are asking them to stop what they are doing and ignore other stimuli, so it’s important to teach your pet that being in our presence is the most fun and rewarding place to be.

Training tips for reliable recall:

  • Play games with your pet like “catch me,” “find me” or “hot potato”—they are effective and fun.
  • Practice patience and positivity. Make sure you are going at their pace and keeping them engaged in the exercise.
  • When training recalls, reward them with treats and interactive toys. This is vital to the learning process because they will associate coming to you with getting something great.

Place training

After an eventful day, it’s important that your pet knows when to relax and take a breather, especially as their family experiences a natural disaster. Place training your pet will allow them to settle down and trust that you can take it from here.

Training tips for place training:

  • Ask your pet to “down” (or lure them into a down position with a treat) and when they do, calmly praise and give a treat. While they are down, keep praising and giving treats.
  • When your dog gets up don’t say anything, just stop giving treats.
  • The more familiar with the skill your pet gets, you can begin to work on this skill in more distracting environments like your backyard or on your front porch, the sidewalk and build up slowly to more distracting environments like settling while you talk to someone, settling while in a park, in pet-friendly stores, etc. The more experience you can give in distracting environments, the better prepared you and your pet will be for using this skill in an emergency.

Familiarity with distractions and crate

Natural disasters are overwhelming, chaotic and stressful. To help prepare your pet for being able to follow cues from you during a stressful evacuation situation, make a regular practice of working with your pet all over. Crate training is one of many training your pet needs familiarity with during a disaster.

Training tips for familiarity with distractions and create:

  • To introduce your pet to the crate, toss some treats into the crate, and when your pet goes in to get the treat, praise. Keep the crate open and when they come out toss another treat out and repeat. We want to teach our pets that going into the crate means something good (treats) happens.
  • You can slowly build up the length of time your pet is able to be in the crate starting from just a few seconds, to then a few minutes at a time.
  • Your pet shouldn’t be left for long periods of time in a crate. Pets who are comfortable in their crates should at max be crated for four to six hours and less for puppies.

Beware of unknown food/water sources

During a natural disaster, such as a hurricane or flood, it’s important to pack a reliable food source for your pet. Flood waters or where flood water goes into local waterways may have high levels of raw sewage or other hazardous substances. Among the easiest ways to teach your pet not to eat off the ground is to practice with treats. Introducing a command like “drop it” or “leave it” is also key to teaching them this trick. The goal of teaching your dog to ignore dropped items is developing automatic behavior. In other words, rather than taking an item from the ground, your dog should leave it be without being asked.

Training tips to help pets beware of unknown food/water sources:

  • Give your pet a low-value toy or treat to play with, then give them a high-quality toy. If you chose a low enough value toy and an exciting enough treat, your pet should willingly drop the toy in exchange. As soon as your pet drops the toy, praise or use a clicker to mark the behavior, then give your pet the treat.
  • When you know your pet will drop the item as soon as you show the treat, you can add a verbal cue like “drop it,” “trade,” or “out.”
  • After several repetitions, give your cue without showing the treats. If your dog drops the item, click and praise and provide a jackpot reward (many treats in a row) to convince them how great it is to play this game.

Learn more at The Daily Wag and American Kennel Club.