Wednesday, March 9, 2016

7 Storm Preparedness Tips for Dog Owners

My family lives in the Midwest, so we’re no strangers to furious thunderstorms, insane winter weather, and sudden tornado alerts. Remember, folks, this is the land of Dorothy, and we all know how she made it to Oz.

But Mother Nature seems to hold some wickedly stressful surprises up her sleeve for all of us. No matter where you reside, you’ve probably experienced your own regional selection of storms and scares: wildfires, hurricanes, damaging hail, and more.

All of this is upsetting enough for us humans, so try explaining it to your faithful canine friend. Thanks to extra-sensitive hearing, dogs are much more alert to environmental cues than we may realize. I’ve learned that my Shih-Tzu mix, Grant, for example, begins anxiously reacting to thunder about 40 minutes before it even hits our human radar.

Making matters exponentially worse, pups cue off owner emotions. So when we seem uncertain, confused, or frazzled, they can get pretty freaked out.


Like humans, dogs can become unnerved by severe stormy weather. Unlike humans, they don’t always understand what’s happening or how to stay safe. (Hiding dog by Shutterstock)

Ever tried coaxing a petrified pooch out from underneath the armoire? Then perhaps you can understand the importance of advanced storm preparedness. Don’t wait until every second counts. Planning for pet safety and comfort before there’s a problem can keep panic to more controlled levels when things become increasingly tumultuous. At the very least, it helps precondition our pets to understand what’s expected in specific, storm-fueled circumstances.

Consider the checklist below, so that you and your canine companions can weather a looming storm or unforeseen environmental upheaval as smoothly and safely as possible.

1. Identify your safe space

In the event that you’re advised to remain indoors via a potential disaster warning, select your space well in advance. If you have a basement or storm cellar, that’s often the natural choice. If you don’t, choose an interior room on the first floor with a minimum of breakable windows.

Make sure, above all, that there’s enough physical capacity for both your human and canine family members. Don’t sacrifice safety for comfort — a first-floor bathroom is, in many cases, safer than your family room — but simply consider whether everyone could fit in that space if you needed to spend more than a couple minutes hunkered down together.

(Dog in sink by Shutterstock)

Choose a room with enough space for everyone to wait safely. (Dog in sink by Shutterstock)

2. Practice, practice, practice

Let’s say the safest area in your home is a first-floor laundry room, and you have one child plus two dogs. Realize up front that the lack of space would likely necessitate your child and/or dogs sitting on mom’s or dad’s lap for an extended span of time.

Then contemplate the complexities of herding a harried preschooler, a skittish Schnauzer, and a testy Pekingese into a single confined location while the clock is ticking. See why practice drills are important? Take some time to sit in that chosen room with your canines. Use lots of treats and positive praise to make sure they come to associate the area with safety and reassurance.

Also, realize that the smoke detector — as well as other various warning alarms — may go off in an emergency situation. Do these sounds panic your pup? Then start desensitizing now. Try using an audio recording that lets you control volume. Play it on low to simulate the alarm going off, then guide your nervous pooch to a predesignated room or exit. Secure him on-leash, if necessary. Bring along an ample supply of his all-time favorite treats and reward/praise him lavishly for following you — even if he appears unsettled. Practice this “alarm drill” behavior periodically, at different times of day, by progressively turning up the sound. Keep praising and rewarding until gradually, your dog looks to you for direction.


Even if your pup appears extremely anxious, always reward him profusely for following you to a designated safety room or exit. Advance practice is key. (Dog in a doorway photo by Shutterstock)

3. Know your evacuation destination

Remember, public storm shelters don’t normally permit pets on leashes or even in carriers, unless those pets are designated service animals. So determine your plan now, while you have sufficient time to strategize. Check with regional hotels that accept pets and confirm their policies beforehand. If you’d likely stay with friends or relatives, make sure those people are able and willing to have your pets in their home. Also, remember to factor distance into the equation. If you’re experiencing a storm or natural disaster, nearby relatives and acquaintances will likely feel the impact as well.

4. Make absentee arrangements

In an emergency situation, your pets depend on you as their advocate. So apply stickers to your front and back doors that alert first responders to canines in the house. Make sure neighbors know that you have one or more dogs, and ask for their help in the event you’re not home when an unexpected storm or natural disaster strikes.

5. Create a pet-friendly emergency kit

Having a grab-and-go pet disaster kit prepared in advance can save precious time. Select a roomy bag, then stock it with necessary medications, a supply of canned food, bottles of water, health records, copies of tags or vaccination certificates, a favorite toy, a towel or shirt with your scent, and a list of emergency contact numbers. Also include a calming aid like Bach Rescue Remedy, Ark Naturals Happy Traveler Chews, or a soothing Thundershirt. Add some small paper plates, plastic spoons, a pill cutter, and a manual can opener.


Taking advance precautions can reduce the chances that your pup becomes separated from you — or winds up out alone on the road — in the event of a storm. (Dog in stormy weather photo by Shutterstock)

6. Make pets easy to identify

In the unthinkable event that you get separated from your beloved pup, enable easy identification. Check now — while you’re thinking about it — to make sure your pet’s microchip and tags are updated with all your current contact information. Also verify that your canine is up-to-date on necessary vaccinations.

7. Sensible after-storm suggestions

Once the storm has passed, be extremely cautious when you’re out walking your pup — look for downed wires, large unsecured objects, and the like. Whatever you do, never let your dog roam loose. Heavy rain and high winds can significantly alter familiar scents and landmarks. Your dog relies heavily on sense of smell and may easily become disoriented without your reassuring presence to guide him safely home.

Read about being prepared: 

About the author: Marybeth Bittel is a freelance writer who lives in the Midwest with her wonderful husband, her crazy rescue dog Grant, and her level-headed rescue dog Maizy – all of them Heinz 57 mixed breed types. Marybeth identifies as mostly Italian, so she enjoys feeding family, friends and furkids almost as much as Grant and Maizy enjoy eating. She’s also a marketing communications consultant and former marketing/PR exec. Connect with her on LinkedIn or — to see her latest pet pics (and be careful what you wish for here) — check out her family Instagram feed.

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