APU Business Careers & Learning Everyday Scholar Podcast

How to Prepare Your Pets for Stressful Situations and Natural Disasters

Featuring Dr. Nicole Drumhiller, Dean, School of Security and Global Studies and
Dr. Chris Reynolds, Dean and Vice President, Academic Outreach and
Glen Gosse and Rachel Nelson, owners, Better Days Canine Solutions

When disaster strikes, no one wants to leave their beloved pets behind. To ensure pets are prepared for unpredictable situations, owners should incorporate them into their emergency plans. In addition, for dogs, owners should undergo professional training to build up their dog’s resiliency and skills so they can cope in stressful situations.

In this episode, APU’s Dr. Nicole Drumhiller talks to an emergency and disaster management (EDM) expert and two dog training experts about the steps owners should take to prepare their pets for stressful situations.

Hear Dr. Chris Reynolds’ insights from his 33 years of disaster response experience about what to expect during an emergency situation and how pet owners should modify their disaster preparedness plans to account for their pets’ well-being. Also hear from award-winning dog trainers, Glen Gosse and Rachel Nelson, about specific types of training and skills their dogs should have so they’re prepared for stressful and unexpected situations.

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Read the Transcript:

Nicole Drumhiller: All right. Hi everyone. My name is Nicole Drumhiller and I’m the Dean for the School of Security and Global Studies. And today we’re talking about pet preparedness during stressful situations or more generally in emergency and disaster situations.

And if I’m not mistaken, there’s actually a pet preparedness month, but this topic is so important that only really talking about it one month of the year, doesn’t make much sense in my mind, especially since some of these things that we’re talking about today really take time to build towards.

And so, pet preparedness is something that the Federal Emergency Management Association, also known as FEMA, and the Centers for Disease Control [and Prevention] or CDC, provide guidance on. It’s especially relevant in the wake of key disaster incidents when it comes to things like flooding, wildfires, hurricanes, tornadoes, and whatnot.

With me today is Dr. Chris Reynolds, Dean and Vice President of Academic Outreach at American Public University System. He was the previous director for the Emergency and Disaster Management program at the university. He has served as a division fire chief and emergency manager for over 33 years within a large metro county fire rescue organization.

His emergency management experience includes the Oklahoma City bombing, Hurricane Andrew, Elena, Opal, and Katrina, the Haitian earthquake, and the Deepwater Horizon Gulf oil spill.

Also with me today are Glen Gosse and Rachel Nelson, award-winning trainers at Better Days Canine Solutions, which is located in Pullman, Washington. So, to kick things off, Chris, can you tell me a little bit about how you got into the emergency and disaster management field?

Chris Reynolds: Oh, sure. Well, hi Nicole. It’s a pleasure to be here today with you on the podcast. I got involved in emergency management way back in 1976 as a, gosh, a young 18-year-old volunteering as a firefighter while I was going to college and going to school.

And that volunteer opportunity turned into a chance to be hired on as a firefighter EMT at the time. So, I went to the academy and went to EMT in paramedic school and became a firefighter paramedic. That’s actually how I got started.

And this was around the same time also when President Carter signed essentially the FEMA Act into law that created the National Emergency Training Center in Emmetsburg, Maryland. So, I was just in the right place at the right time and grew into emergency management as my career progressed.

And joined the U.S. Air Force Reserve and became an emergency preparedness liaison officer or EPLO and worked a lot of disasters. Had the opportunity to get my board certification as an emergency manager through the International Association of Emergency Management. And that’s sort of how I got to where I am today. A lot of street experience and maybe a little bit of schooling behind me, but the mission is where it happens and it’s the people on the ground that make the mission work.

Nicole Drumhiller: Wonderful. Thank you for that. That’s a great overview and really inspiring.

Glen and Rachel, same question. How did you guys first get into this canine training field and what context have you worked within?

Glen Gosse: Well, thank you for having us, Nicole. I’ll speak for just myself on this one. I got started in the canine field doing competitions with my personal dog, which kind of blossomed into more preparedness for my dog in preparation for trials and stressful situations that you have to undergo in order to receive the titles in our sports that we compete in.

And it blossomed into just kind of helping other people prepare for stressful situations that kind of come in their daily lives with their pets. So, it could be a mailman all the way to protection sports. It was kind of where I got my beginning start in.

Nicole Drumhiller: And Rachel, same question for you.

Rachel Nelson: My start was a little bit different. I started off first working with dogs professionally. I started out as a kennel technician for a local boarding facility when I was in high school. And then started working for a dog daycare, then started working for a training business when I was finishing up with college.

So, my professional degrees, I have a bachelor’s in neuroscience and a bachelor’s in psychology from Washington State University. So more of the science-y side of things I guess you could say. And then I really started working with service dogs.

So, I raised a wonderful service dog through a national organization called Canine Companions. And she was chosen to be a breeder. She graduated top of her class, and so I am actually raising one of her puppies right now as well. And then Glen and I got started with our own business just to help people of all different backgrounds, all of that kind of stuff.

So, we talk with owners about everyday scenarios, dealing with the things that might be a little more out of the ordinary, whether that’s with a reactive dog or just a friendly pet dog. And so, we see just about anybody that you could think of in terms of humans and dogs, and it’s a really awesome experience for the both of us.

Nicole Drumhiller: That’s great. And I love the fact that you brought up the service-dog training, gives me an opportunity, and I don’t know that I’ve shared this with either of you before, but American Public University, their mascot is a service dog named Jake. So, I mean it really hits home for our students and our listeners when we’re talking about this important topic.

So really what got me interested in this was digging into my own training with my own dogs and then given the work that was going on within the School of Security and Global Studies, and specifically within the Emergency and Disaster Management program, I really started thinking more about emergency situations and how I might handle them myself, given my own little rag tag group of dogs that I have at home. So, I started doing some digging and I found some general guidance from different organizations out there and also a lot of different preparedness checklists.

And I know Chris, you always like to say have a plan. But as I started looking through this a little bit more the information is quite good, but in some areas I do think that we can come together and do better for people to be prepared for stressful situations.

So, for example, some guides talk about human responses during emergencies. They offer insight into helping people during the recovery period after the disaster. Then I also found one guide that offered guidance that pets should be familiarized with transportation itself, that people should have disaster kits ready for their pets, that they need to ensure immunizations are current and have medication lists ready.

And by ready, I mean printed out, not just in the cloud. I know during hurricane situations I’ve had colleagues where they have no access to Wi-Fi, and so having something printed is also really important there as well.

And in one of those same guides, it literally said, “Train your dog.” And so, from that standpoint, it was like, what does that even mean? I need to call Glen and Rachel and figure out like, okay, what should I be doing to train my dog?

So, this is really the purpose of the podcast today, that we need to talk more about the training needs that we have for our pets, and not just for our pets, but for owners and families so that they can be more resilient in emergency situations or periods under stress in general.

And I want to try to take a funnel-style approach to this today since these two topics, emergency and disaster planning, and then of course canine training can be talked about separately. But I’d like to get to a space where we can talk about these two in a way that makes sense for our listeners in general.

So, Chris, given your experience, can you talk about some situations that really resonate with you when it comes to just working with people that are under stress in emergency situations?

Chris Reynolds: Let me preface what I’m going to say was by saying that a majority or a lot of citizens have pets. And oftentimes when a disaster strikes or when something happens, they don’t purposely necessarily not think about their pet, but the pets comes up as sort of like, oh my gosh, what do we do about Scotty? What do we do about our cat? What do we do about X or Y?

What I’ve found out over the many years in emergency management is that when you remove the pet from the family, the family will not remove himself from the pet. There have been a lot of instances and cases, and I’ll go back to particularly Hurricane Katrina. I spent a month during Hurricane Katrina doing aeromedical evacuation with the Air Force. I was a commanding officer of an aeromedical evacuation liaison team.

And everyone combined, we evacuated well over 10,000 people in just a short few days that we set up operations. And there were a lot of pets that were included, but tragically there were a lot of pets that weren’t included.

So, you had a situation in the metro New Orleans area where you had pets with no owners. They didn’t have any idea what was going on, and then you had owners that had been evacuated worrying about their pets.

So, that was sort of the impetus Hurricane Katrina for FEMA to realize and recognize that, oh my gosh, we have to have a plan, and Nicole, as you said, I am fond of saying, “have a plan,” but we have to have a plan for our pets.

Well, in 2006, the Pet Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act, also known as a PETS Act, was adopted at the federal level. And essentially what that does is it requires jurisdictions to accommodate pets and service animals in disaster planning.

So, what happens back in the local area, because I’m also fond of saying, and it’s the truth, is that all disasters are local events. In other words, the state and the federal government is not going to come in and respond to your event as a responder. They’re going to come in and assist in a mutual-aid role.

Local emergency management has to have a system in place that provides shelter locations that are known as “pet friendly.” And that doesn’t just mean dogs, that means any pet, any animal. For example, I live in Florida and we have hurricanes here all the time, and I’ve been through this many times personally, and we have dogs. But if we ever had to evacuate, we have to make sure that the shelter we select is a pet-friendly shelter.

Because what will happen if a person evacuates to a non-pet friendly shelter, they’re likely not to let the animal in, which, of course, is the worst-case scenario on both sides. At least FEMA recognizes that pets are an integral part of the evacuation process. And if you ask somebody to evacuate their home and they say, oh, by the way, you can’t bring your pet with you, I’m in this camp, I wouldn’t go if I can’t bring my pet, I’m staying here. I’m going to ride it out. That’s how important animals are to us.

Nicole Drumhiller: Thank you. And I definitely appreciate that I’m in the same boat that if I’m asked to leave mine behind, I’m sticking with them. We’re doing it together as a team.

Glen and Rachel, same question. What are some of the things that have resonated with you when it comes to working with people trying to train their pets or I know as I’ve mentioned before, it’s trainers like yourselves are more in the business of training the owner how to train their pet versus you training the pet and watching that unfold. So, can you talk a little bit about some of the situations that you’ve just kind of seen unfold?

Glen Gosse: We spend a lot of time, especially in the last year or so, dealing with a lot of stressful moments that where handlers and owners are going through hard times with pressure from environments, pressure from natural disasters, different things like that.

We spend our time when we’re trying to do our work in helping the owner prepare the dog for situations that can cause the dog stress where you wouldn’t be there to necessarily help them work through it or like you said, ride it out with them. You can help your dog manage stress and pressure from the outside environment and still make good decisions at the same time.

And that’s just putting in some good groundwork on being comfortable in a crate, being comfortable when you’re in a car, how you travel, how other people can handle the dog, and those little things can compound.

When we were doing some stuff, there was some flooding in Florida when I was over there doing some training and we saw some flooding, but the rescue people couldn’t handle some of the dogs. They were going to the houses, they were trying to save them, and the dogs were biting rescue people and stuff like that.

And it’s just the dogs are under an immense amount of pressure in these moments of large stress, especially when owners are pulled away from their pets at crucial times. It’s our job to help owners prepare the dog for massive stress moments that’s the most important thing, is to work them through those environments and not feel like it’s the end of the world every single time.

Rachel Nelson: What we see day in and day out seven days a week with clients coming and that kind of stuff is a lot of times people have the focus of they want the flashy heel or they want their dog to do all of these different tricks because that’s what’s seen as impressive in society.

But especially what I learned with raising service dogs is working to establish a foundation for the dog to just be really resilient. So working through different environments where there might be people that, as I experienced with my last service dog, people coming up and just randomly petting the dog in the grocery store where that’s more of a minor example compared to dealing with a natural disaster or dealing with some traumatic moment where really what the owner or handler needs is for the dog to be like, “Okay, I understand that this is a really stressful scenario and I might be stressed too, but I know that if I look to you for guidance, then you’re going to steer me in the right direction.”

So, being able to build that relationship with the dog where it’s a foundation of trust. Glen and I with our dogs, there are still days where we’re like, oh my goodness, this dog is going to absolutely drive me crazy. But we know that they trust us, especially in those scenarios that we’re going to guide them in the right direction.

So that could be with different noises, that could be with being around different people, that can be any number of different things. It can be as simple as being comfortable in a crate, so if there’s a fire or something, making sure that they can be a safe and comfortable in a new location, a new scenario, all of that kind of stuff, because it’s something that they’ve experienced before.

So it might not be that the entire situation or the entire environment is familiar, but being able to tie back into those pieces of our training where the dog understands, okay, I have been asked to do this one key thing, which might be going and hanging out with a specific person or going and spending time in a crate, something like that, they understand that what we’re asking of them is for their own benefit, and we’re not going to purposefully put them in a scenario where they’re going to get hurt.

Nicole Drumhiller: Thanks for elaborating on that, Rachel. I know what I’m hearing is resiliency is key in these situations and not just for the humans or actually, it is really essential for the humans because our pets are looking to us for leadership and guidance and really having confident owners can start to lead to confident dogs and that whole trust building component is just so relevant when we’re talking about navigating stressful situations.

So, let’s start talking about the kinds of training that people should be doing to be better prepared in emergency situations with their dogs.

So having worked in a wide variety of environments, I mean, Chris, you’ve worked in a number of different emergency scenarios and Glen and Rachel, you’ve done the same. I’m sure you’ve seen a lot of skillsets or lack thereof that people have when it comes to these challenging situations when we find ourselves in stressful environments, whether it be an emergency or disaster situation.

And after seeing some of these animal preparedness lists, the one thing that jumped out at me right away was that there really isn’t much guidance provided on what kind of training or skills specifically an owner or dog handler should have when it comes to readiness in these types of emergency scenarios.

I mean, it’s one thing for me to get my dogs to come when there’s a squirrel in play, let alone something much scarier like a flood.  We talk about the importance of having a plan, but, unfortunately, many people really don’t. And so perhaps it might be better to couch this in just stressful environments in general.

So, Chris, let’s start with you on this. When we think about human readiness or resilience in stressful situations, what are some areas that come to mind?

Chris Reynolds: Actually, it’s critical. I mean, we teach families family preparedness, and particularly in states that are prone to hurricanes or disasters. And you can look at the state of California, which is a disaster state, and they’ve got earthquakes, wildfires, and pretty much everything else there.

Florida and the Southeast that’s surrounded by the Gulf in the Atlantic have the hurricane season every year from May to the end of November. But we teach our families to have a flyaway or a go bag ready.

And essentially what that is it’s a kit or a bag that has three days worth of your medications, it has blankets and has your important papers that are enclosed in plastic. And that doesn’t mean you’re bringing a file cabinet, but certainly things that are important you want to put in there so you get them away from the fire or the hurricane.

But a part of the preparation of that go bag is to include pet materials. By materials, I mean to make sure that you’ve got some dog food, something that’s readily accessible in a tear bag, say for example.

And most important for your pet is to bring the pet’s favorite blanket or chew toy or whatever it is that they find comfort in. That is really important because the pet is a part of the family.

And I want to go back to something you talked about, too, about the resilience of animals. I mean, you look at service animals in the military, you look at service animals in law enforcement. There’s so many roles these animals play, and they’re not necessarily all dogs. They could be anything really, but their care is critical.

And again, the legislation that was passed, the PETS Act, also emergency support function 11, and there are 15 emergency support functions that support the national response framework that essentially details the duties and tasks for all agencies that respond to disasters, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture has been designated as a lead agent for ESF 11, and their primary mission is animal health and care in the emergency support.

So, they now have a federal role to make sure that state and local operations follow whatever the procedures are with the USDA to assure that they follow those mandates to be sure that pets are cared for and that they’re taken care of.

And I’ll close with the most important thing that a family member can do with a pet because human contact’s important to those animals, it’s important for the individual that owns the animal as well as the animal itself, is to make sure that you have the basic necessities to take care of that pet for at least three days. Because we teach 72 hours of sustenance to maintain your own wellbeing in a disaster and by that time things will have calmed out and federal forces will be here to help.

Nicole Drumhiller: Thank you, Chris. That’s some really great information. And so, Glen and Rachel, same question. So, when we think about pet readiness and resilience and stressful situations, in general, what are some things that come to mind?

I typically think of the dogs that are afraid of thunder and lightning and that freak out when they hear loud noises, maybe sirens or maybe even the lawnmower. Some dogs are even just afraid of vacuum cleaners, in general. Let’s start there and then we can start to get more towards the emergency side of the house.

Glen Gosse: I would just say when you’re preparing your dog for those stressful times throughout the day, it always comes back to one thing in our sport work that we talk about and service is trust your training. If you are not willing to step out of your comfort zone as the handler/owner and prepare the dog for what stress is, you’re going to see in those moments of vacuum cleaners, car backfires, all of those kind of random moments in time that you have no control over, you’re going to see your dog experience an increase in stress.

And when you are owning a pet, especially a dog, we’ll use a dog in this scenario, you take it on as a responsibility that you need to prepare them for moments that you are not in complete control over.

And that’s the main thing when we talk about operate conditioning and classical conditioning when we’re doing our training is, are you teaching your dog when all the chips are down, are they still engaging with you and still trusting you?

Or do they kick in their fight and flight response and decide that their decision-making skills are going to better suit them in that moment? And that’s where a lot of people nowadays fall short is they think that their dog has to have six beds, the dog has to have a yard, they have to be outside all day. And what that really does is it really devalues the relationship and the fact that the dog doesn’t really need their owner at that certain time. We need the dog, but does the dog really need us if the environment is enriching their lives to the degree that we will never be able to?

And I had a conversation with someone yesterday about it because their dogs finds the environment more exciting than it finds their owner, which then is leading to aggressive moments because the dog is experiencing frustration or arousal.

It starts at eight weeks old or the moment you pick the dog up from the shelter is doing right by the dog and training what they need trained, not what everyone in society thinks needs trained.

So, my dogs can do fancy heeling and protection work and all that stuff, but that’s a small glimpse of their life. I prepare them more for dealing with someone breaking and entering or a fire. I taught my German Shepherd how to evacuate the building if he hears a fire alarm and simple things like that.

So, teaching your dog how to handle pressure and work through it without using aggression or flight is super, super important.

Nicole Drumhiller: I can imagine that there could be some interesting moments teaching a dog to escape the house when a certain alarm goes off.

Glen Gosse: Oh yes. Joining me in middle of training sessions. He did it two days ago actually. He wanted to come and have fun with us outside. So, luckily, he’s a good dog.

Nicole Drumhiller: Of course. Rachel, what are your thoughts on that?

Rachel Nelson: I think the only other thing that I would add to that is that, well, a lot of people think in those emergency scenarios that having solid commands where it’s going to be that perfect sit where they get it 10 out of 10 times or the perfect down 10 out of 10 times.

We had a conversation last night in the advanced two class where it was talking about generalizing what a dog knows to different scenarios. This specific scenario was asking for a position out of motion. So, what that just means is recalling the dog from across the room, there were a whole bunch of different distractions in the way. So, a hot dog on a plate and toys and all of that kind of stuff. And so, getting the dog to recall through those objects and through those distractions, but also asking for a down in the middle of it.

And so, talking with the handlers that were in the group, because there was one where the dog just perfect recall, great speed, great intent, all of that kind of stuff, but the handler was a little frustrated that the dog didn’t give the down like she was wanting. But in that scenario, taking a step back and realizing that you can do millions and millions of position changes, so getting your dog to sit, getting your dog to lay down, all of that kind of stuff.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s been generalized to all different environments, all different scenarios, all of that kind of stuff.

So, a dog that will perform perfectly and do everything that you’re asking for when the environment is very controlled and the dog is very in control of their emotions and their movements could be very, very different when everything is just a mess.

So, that could be in the incidents of a car accident or a house fire or some traumatic event that may not even impact the dog directly, but they are feeding off of our emotions, our voice, the tone of voice and so understanding that no matter how much you work on those things and different environments giving your dog a little bit of grace in those scenarios, that the engagement and just the willingness to trust and listen is going to be so much more important and valuable for both the handler and the dog, versus having those commands just nailed down in those scenarios.

Nicole Drumhiller: Thank you for that. I want to start moving in the direction of providing people with some tangible things that they can work towards so that they can feel more confident when they are in stressful situations. So, perhaps if we can start talking about some foundational skills for dog handlers or more generally owners and their dogs.

So, Chris, can you break down for us the average emergency scene or the average stressful scene that you have experienced a lot in your line of work? Describe the environment and then perhaps Glen and Rachel can come in and talk about some specific skills, whether it be sound resiliency, dealing with sirens or loud noises, stranger handling. For me, what was eye opening in my own training was getting muzzle trained. I know that’s something that people don’t often think about. Key commands, reactivity during injuries, things like that. So, Chris, I’m going to go ahead and turn that over to you and then Glen and Rachel, you can kind of add on from there.

Chris Reynolds: Well, sure. Nicole, thank you. I think it’s important first of all to sort of set the stage in crisis management and emergency management, particularly as both a veteran of the military and emergency services for 33 years, we all have post-traumatic stress, not disorder necessarily, but we handle stress.

When we do a diffusing or debriefing on a critical incident is we say that that individual is having a normal reaction to an abnormal set of circumstances. And it’s the same with pets, same with animals. I mean, a dog can’t tell you that he’s stressed or she’s stressed, but we have to remember that in a disaster or in a fire or any type of something that’s abnormal, that dog is just like the person is having a normal reaction to an abnormal set of circumstances.

And this is where the owners are important because the dog or the animal is going to look to the owner for help. It’s important that person’s there to do that.

With respect to setting the stage and things that I’ve seen, again, I’ve seen dogs perish in fires. I’ve seen dogs that are running around because they’re in a stressful situation. I’ve seen dogs ejected from vehicles and cars and traffic accidents that are injured and wounded.

And what a lot of people don’t know is that paramedics take care of human beings, but we also take care of animals. We’re not veterinarians, but we have an animal services department that will respond if necessary if we have an animal that’s severely injured or wounded or hurt. That’s an emerging area.

Overseas, when I was in Afghanistan, we had service animals over there who were doing bomb detection, that were doing just general force protection for our service members. When service animals are around, people will touch them and pet them, and that’s not necessarily a good thing.

And a lot of times you’ll see a placard on the animal that says, “Do not pet.” And that’s there for a reason, but yet it’s also hard to stop human nature from wanting to reach out to the animal. So, in terms of preparedness, like I said earlier, it’s important families locate shelters where they’re pet friendly, make sure they have enough sustenance for the animal for at least three days, medications and food.

And, more than anything else is, just like the person who’s traumatized or who’s hurt, who needs care or love, so too does that animal. And I can tell you that my eight-pound mini-Dachshunds, Allie, who we love as child in my family, there isn’t anything in the world we won’t do for her. So, believe me, I know what it’s like to want to care for your pets and make sure that they’re always safe.

Nicole Drumhiller: Thank you, Chris. That’s great. So Glen and Rachel, thinking about some of those things, what are some foundational skills that you can at least start working in a positive direction so people can feel a little bit more confident when they are under stressful situations.

Glen Gosse: I mean, I would just get your dog more prepared in early stages of training, it’s like important to muzzle train. It’s important to teach the dog how to wear equipment. So, slip leads, collars, harnesses. If they’re in a moment of stress, you need to be able to feel comfortable with people being able to put equipment on them, not feeling like it’s an aggressive response that’s needed during those moments.

Like muzzles are one of the best tools when we fly with our protection dogs and police dogs and military dogs, we muzzle them as we’re flying. It’s for their safety because people come up and randomly try to pet them, try to do different things, try to give them food. It’s how to not take food from strangers, not take food from the floor, not really feel like the environment is a reward.

And that’s something that most people allow their dog to experience is the environment as a reward, which is one of the main reasons why they end up having a lot of frustration later on in life is make a reward sequence, an event that your dog has value in that you can control, expose them to moments that in the future could be stressful and worry about the obedience and all that kind of stuff as they mature and age. But you have small windows to work that stress at the beginning of their training.

Nicole Drumhiller: Glen, I really appreciate your comments on muzzle training. And one of the things that I’ve seen and kind of paid attention to lately is that not enough people think to do that. And even though that’s going to be a basic skill that you’re going to need when you go to the vet, just in that everyday environment is so important.

And sometimes these muzzles come with a bad stigma, especially if you have a dog that happens to have pointy ears, that means that a muzzle equates to aggression. It’s a tool to help the dog be a little bit more confident in their environment, protects them, protects other people.

And I know I made sure that when I was basket-muzzle training my husky because he looks scary to begin with, I made sure I got him some flamboyant colors just to kind of liven it up so people didn’t think that he was a Hannibal Lecter or anything like that. So, there are tools that we can use that can make people a little bit more comfortable, like you said, pushing people out of their comfort zones in their training because these things can be applicable in everyday situations and not just in emergencies. Correct?

Glen Gosse: Yeah, for sure. And the last thing I would just add to it, is the continuation of training is so important. It’s invaluable. We see so many people nowadays that get a standard golden retriever, they do two puppy classes or two obedience classes, and they’re like, my dog is prepared for life. And it’s like, it’s not.

So you have to go back and think about are you preparing your dog for life and the stress that it’s going to bring on them, or are you just waiting for the moment to hit you in the face? People should be training their dogs their whole life. They have a short life. The dogs enjoy training. Don’t be lazy and not prepare your dog for that kind of stuff.

For what like Chris was saying with all the people that with the to-go bags and stuff like that, if we went around, how many people actually are ready to grab a bag and go? Not very many people, even though they live in an area that’s prone to natural disasters. How many people do we go and find dogs that only train when they have a problem? And that’s more the overlying issue with today’s society with their animals.

Nicole Drumhiller: No, I really love that. And you can think about it similar to how people do continuing education across their lives, learn new skill sets all the time, we need to start doing the same thing with our dogs. So I really liked that you brought that up. Rachel?

Rachel Nelson: The only thing that I had to add to that was I wanted to kind of give a parallel scenario for people so that when they’re thinking about doing these training scenarios where it seems a little bit more manageable. And the one thing that I was thinking of as we were having this discussion is there’s one common thing that is very normal in pet care and owning a pet that seems to be a lot of the time inherently stressful for the dog, and that is going to the vet.

That can be for simple checkups, that can be for vaccinations, that can be in times of emergency, whether it’s some injury or anything like that. And so, preparing our dog to go to the vet can be very beneficial in getting them prepared for the what if.

And so, being able to have a dog that can be comfortable with the vet handling them and being in an environment that has kind of a funky smell or just the ambiance of the area is a little off. And so being able to work in that environment and have a dog that can be at least somewhat comfortable can be a good parallel to some of those larger natural disasters or just disasters in general.

And just typical handling where it could be getting them used to bath time so that if there’s time that they need to be around water, it’s not quite so scary. Or if there’s an injury and they need to be used to the vet or a technician or just somebody that’s able to help with handling the paws or handling the ears or looking in the mouth or something like that.

And a lot of dogs struggle with these things. We see it all the time and we have people reaching out saying, “How do we fix this? How do we work on that?” And the big takeaway, at least for us, is we just want to be a little bit better every day. And that can be 1% because over time, that compounds. Being able to break it down into more tangible components where it’s, “Okay, my dog is getting more and more comfortable at the vet, they can be handled by other people. We’re working through some things, so it’s not perfect, but it’s a work in progress.”

But being able to give your dog or pet of any kind, those kinds of foundational building blocks that they can look back on and say, okay, I can trust this person, or I’ve been handled by a different person before, or I’ve had somebody else holding the leash. So being able to look at those small components and just being a little bit better every day.

Nicole Drumhiller: I really appreciate that, Rachel. And one thing that I’ve learned is that it doesn’t have to be work, and Chris, you could probably speak to this as well, but there are ways to make this preparedness fun, and when people are having fun, I find that they’re more willing to practice some of these things. It’s going to resonate with them.

I remember playing games where I got to escape the house just to be ready in case there was an emergency at home, and I know these things are appreciated. I know in my local area, I’ve gotten praise for practicing getting on the scale and doing these things at the vet office. For listeners out there, if you go talk to your vet and say, “Hey, is there a slow time when I can come in and practice some of these skills?” I’d be shocked if veterinarians actually said no because they get bit so many times that they actually appreciate their clients that are really working with their animals.

Chris, what can you tell us about making some of this stuff fun and getting the family involved also, because it’s not just the owner. Sometimes it’s going to have to be a child that needs to help out?

Chris Reynolds: Wow, that’s very well said. Making it fun, I think that including your pet and all your activities, and Nicole knows me, and I’m the father of three grown daughters and I’ve got four grandsons and my kids were all raised with dogs and cats, and we would include the dog in our activities.

Obviously you can’t take them out to dinner with you, but when you’re going for a Sunday ride in a car or you’re just running errands, bring the dog with you, make it fun. I was brought up in Indiana. In Indiana, hunting season’s a big thing, I can remember growing up as a little boy, our German short-haired pointers that we had were all bird dogs. And they were included in everything we did, literally from getting them used to the sound of a shotgun going off to training them, but I can remember when I was in Florida, our shorthair pointer used to love to ride in the Jeep and I’d just say the word Jeep, and he’d go crazy to go ride in the Jeep. So, include that pet with you, take the pet where you go.

Again, here in Florida, we have dog beaches and all three of my girls have dogs, and they all take their dogs to the dog beach to socialize with other dogs. I think any chance you have to get your dog used to other dogs, it’s not a bad thing to do. Makes the world a better place. And that’s the last thing I’ll say. Pets make our world a better place, and it’s our responsibility to make sure that they’re taken care of and in a disaster, they’re not forgotten.

Nicole Drumhiller: No, I absolutely love that, Chris. I’ve seen places where dogs can go and you can go study and have a coffee or there’s even some outdoor areas. It might be your favorite winery or a brewery that allows pets to go there.

There’s even some hardware stores that allow dogs to go in there and practice being around different people and surroundings. Glen and Rachel, what are your thoughts on keeping the training fun and light and getting the whole family involved?

Glen Gosse: I mean, we deal with families all the time. I definitely would encourage people to properly socialize and take their dogs and do things. Just we have to preach and make sure we’re advocating for training versus socialization because they are different concepts that most people blend together.

So, going to the brewery and stuff like that, if you’re not going there with a purpose and working on things, but then plan on correcting your dog and holding them accountable for jumping on the table, it’s a lot of times you have to reevaluate your perspective from a human being, not the dog’s perspective.

They’re going there to do dog things. If you don’t train them and work them through it, they don’t know. So that would be my only thing on that is I take my dogs everywhere and I do everything with them. They travel with me. They’re like my shadows. But the ultimate goal of when I go to new places and stuff like that is if I’m going to go and take the dog, I assume the level of responsibility that I have with my dog being there. And it doesn’t matter the breed, it is every dog, every age, every size, they’re an extension of you. If you’re not preparing them for that scenario, you are failing them.

And then the other thing is that so many people correct the dog or get after them about doing something they’re not supposed to do, but we never have taught them the way to work through problems previously. It’s like your husky, he gets upset when people touch his feet and he uses his mouth to try to solve his problem. Well, you can’t correct him for that because he doesn’t know what we’re trying to do. So that would be the only thing I would add on the subject is if you’re going to take your dog places, prepare them for the places, don’t take them and work them in the moment. Make sure the skills already have been built before you enter those areas.

Nicole Drumhiller: No, absolutely, Glen, and you make a great point because the last thing I would want for any of our listeners is to get 86’ed from their favorite establishments. Ask permission before you do things, be deliberate, be smart. And when somebody says, no, don’t take offense. Sometimes people just don’t want you to train their dog at their business, and that’s completely okay.

There are pet-friendly places. Find them out in your local area and always ask permission and have an agenda. Don’t just, like Glen said, put your dog in an environment that they’re not prepared for. Rachel, what are your thoughts?

Rachel Nelson: I think that was covered very well, and just as an extension for us, we see a lot of reactivity cases and so you can find ways of including your dog in those outside aspects of your life without putting them in a situation that could be detrimental to them.

So, the big thing that we talk about with training and with a lot of our clients, especially those that are combating those reactive tendencies is that really it can only take one bad scenario to set back months and months and months of training.

Being able to work with your dog in those new scenarios and expose them to what we might call the finer aspects of life and be able to have more fun you can still do that without putting your dog in a scenario where they might have to make a difficult choice.

And so going back to what was mentioned earlier about establishing that foundation of trust it will look very different for every single person and every single dog. For example, we have five dogs and it looks very different for all five of them with the two of us. So one of our dogs might react very differently in a scenario with one of us versus the other.

And so being able to advocate for your dog in those scenarios and understand this might not have been the best situation, or this might be something that my dog isn’t ready for. And if your dog is ready to go to those places and you’re ready to have fun with them. Go for 10 minutes, and be able to have it as this very positive, very enriching environment that you can leave and say, wow, we had a great time.

It’s little baby steps of being able to do the things that you want to, but making it manageable and fun and enriching all at the same time.

That doesn’t mean you can’t build up to those longer outings, but just being reasonable in our expectations for our dog where we go in and we say, this might not be perfect, but I want to kind of see how it goes. I’m going to set up my dog for success, and we’ll kind of reconvene afterwards, and if there are changes that we need to make or different things that we need to work on, then that’s what we’re going to do.

It’s not going to be this, oh my gosh, my dog just absolutely failed. So just even taking two minutes, if you have a dog that you would like to take into Petco and you know that your dog is going to be well engaged, start in the parking lot. Have a good routine where you get your dog all set up and ready to go, and you get them engaged before you even walk in the door.

It’s not this, we’re just going to hop out of the car and just go in and just kind of hope for the best. But having a routine where your dog understands, okay, we get to go and do something fun, but I know that I need to be focused, I need to be attentive, and then we get to go and do those fun things together.

Nicole Drumhiller: I love it, Rachel, and that’s a great segue for us. I know I want to be respectful of everybody’s time, but in terms of some key takeaways, owner stress has an impact on our pets. So, the more we start practicing these things, these skills, the better off we’re going to feel, the more confident we’re going to feel in stressful situations ourselves, the more confident we’re going to be working with our dogs in stressful situations.

People need to start small, make positive progress in baby steps, build skills, keep at them over time and always, always have a plan.

Thank you, guys so much for joining me today. You’ve given me a lot to think about. I think we’ve done the subject justice in starting to talk about some of these key skillsets that families need to have when it comes to working with their dogs and pets in general.

If you would like to follow Glen and Rachel and the work that their team is doing, you can check them out at Better Days Canine Solutions, and for more information on emergency and disaster management at American Public University, you can definitely check out our website there and the work of the AMU Disaster Crew. I would be remiss if I did not mention that great group on Twitter. So, thank you guys so much. It has been a pleasure talking to you.

Dr. Nicole Drumhiller

Dr. Nicole Drumhiller, Ph.D., CTM, is a Certified Threat Manager and is the Dean of the School of Security and Global Studies at American Military University. Nicole teaches courses in analysis, leadership profiling, deception and propaganda. Her research interests include threat management, group and leadership psychology, and extremist studies.

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