Playing it safe

Hurricane Florence photo provided by NOAA

Wildfires, floods, and other natural disasters can strike anywhere, anytime. Even if you’re currently high, dry, and safe, it’s important to have a clear action plan to get you and your pets to safety in times of trouble.

Have a plan! This 2-page checklist from the CDC is one of the best I’ve seen; print a copy and keep it with you. For more information about pet-focused disaster planning, check out this page.

RedRover has an updated list of resources you may find helpful. They include a disaster kit checklist and a list of US-specific and international pet-friendly accommodations. You’ll also find links for detailed information about dogs, cats, horses, and birds as well as reptiles and amphibians.

The U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has information and helpful links worth reviewing. Check them out at FDA’s animal/veterinary resource page. And speaking of veterinarians, the not-for-profit  American Veterinary Medical Association has a wealth of information to help you develop a comprehensive plan to care for your pets before and after disasters. Here’s one video on their site:

Keep ID tags current. Microchips are one smart way to ID your pets. My Sasha and Buddy The Wonder Cat are both microchipped and registered with AKC Reunite. Make sure you complete your registration and keep your contact info current.

Take photos today of your pets. Photograph them standing, left and right profiles, and face-on head shots. Take additional photos showing you with your pets. If you can tag or add metadata to each photo, that’s even better. (To learn how, click here.) Save copies to Dropbox and/or email them to yourself and others. That way, if you lose your phone or computer, you can easily retrieve them.

Build your own “Go” bag.  Use a backpack or small tote to stash extra kibble, leashes, collars, and basic first-aid supplies. Collapsible bowls are a great addition and don’t take much space. Put paperwork in sealed waterproof bags, and make sure to include your name! Remember flashlights and batteries. Keep your bag handy so you can grab and go.

If you have space in your vehicle, add extra jugs of water–essential in all emergencies. Pack tarps, ropes, and bungees; if you have to evacuate on foot, roll up the tarp and fasten it to your backpack with those ropes or bungees. If you are stranded on the side of the road or have to camp outdoors, find the highest ground possible.

It seems ironic, but water is often the most difficult resource to acquire in flooded areas. The CDC offers a quick “how to” for making water safe for drinking here and here

Communicate. Let family, friends, and co-workers know your plans. Social media can be a great tool to help you stay in contact. Always have a back-up plan, to include alternate routes and destinations. And remember: cell towers and Internet providers may be impacted by disasters, so share info ahead of time and take print copies with you in waterproof bags.

Practice! If you had to leave home without advance notice, how long would it take you to grab your gear and herd people and pets into your vehicle?  Tip: keep travel crates, leashes, etc. where you can quickly grab them.  Keep your go-bag in your vehicle or at least in an easy-to-grab location. Make a habit of keeping your shoes, keys, laptop, phone, and chargers in one common location.

When you think you have everything ready, run a drill. (Remember those fire drills from your school days? Same concept.) Practice in the daytime. Practice in the dark. If your pets don’t like their crates or balk at the idea of the vehicle, turn this into a game and reward them for playing along. The more often you practice, the easier it will be when an emergency does occur.

Plan ahead. Practice. Be safe!

Let’s Go!

Sasha is no fan of hot, humid weather. That’s why we’re out for our daily walk by 6 a.m. and home again before 7:30 a.m. at the latest. Depending on our route–and how often we have to detour or backtrack to avoid off-leash dogs and other challenges–we usually enjoy 1-2 miles a day. Even at that early hour, though, we stop for shade and water breaks as needed.

Knowing when to stop is easy: Sasha heads for a shady spot, goes straight into a down-stay, and waits for her water. We stop at least once and sometimes more often; I let her choose the time and place. I carry a Gulpy Jr. water dispenser  on all our walks; it’s a BPA-free water bottle with its own tray. It’s small enough to fit comfortably in a pocket of my cargo shorts and large enough to keep her hydrated for our walks.

(Have a larger dog or going on longer hikes? Gulpy has a 20 oz. water dispenser available.)

I’ve been experimenting with different leashes and harnesses on our walks. I keep looking for a hands-free leash, but have not yet found one we’re both comfortable with. Our current favorite harness is the SENSE-ation front-clip harness, although even that has its drawbacks (namely, sagging and “gapping” as noted in this review).  I like the front-clip harness to help manage Sasha’s tendency to channel her inner sled-dog speed when trying to hurry past something that’s scary to her. In this video clip, she’s wearing her harness. You can see–and hear–that she’s anxious to get past something she doesn’t like (in this case, it’s a dog she can hear but not see behind a wooden fence):

Despite her anxiety, there are signs of progress most days. Here she’s locked on to bunny rabbits and robins in a yard. Previously, she’s been so focused that I couldn’t move her forward. I’d score this one a C+ because she did–eventually–move on:

And one last clip  in which she’s demonstrating the “Look at that” behavior (she saw the neighbor’s dog) before focusing her attention back on me. Notice the slack in the leash? I’d score this one a solid B+, maybe even an A-. What do you think?

Every day is an adventure in training!

“It’s raining cats and dogs”

 Source: Wikimedia Commons

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Strong storms rolling across the hills this morning brought to mind this 19th century image.  If you’ve never heard the expression “it’s raining cats and dogs” you might enjoy reading the possible origins noted in this Everyday Mysteries post.

Some suggest this was inspired by tales of Odin, the Norse god of storms. While no evidence exists to support such a notion, it certainly presents a compelling image.

More plausible is the theory offered by The Phrase Finder: “The well-known antipathy between cats and dogs and their consequential fights has been suggested as a metaphor for stormy weather.”

It’s fair to say neither Buddy the Wonder Cat nor Sasha would venture out in stormy weather, although the cat did make it as far as a chair on the covered patio. Despite being sheltered on a chair well back from the patio’s edge, he was soon soaked, which led to time-out in the laundry room with Sasha for company, who wanted no part of the rain. This strikes me as funny given Sasha’s recent adventures with the lawn sprinklers–which results in me using every spare towel to dry her thick coat. She’s not picky about the towels I use, but Buddy The Wonder Cat won’t sit still if I use anything except his personal favorites.

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A fan recently emailed to ask for news about the next book in the Waterside Kennels series. He added “My wife and I really enjoyed Deadly Ties and are glad to have it in our library.” I’m happy to report that Dangerous Deeds is still on track for publication this year. I’ve committed most of this summer to editing for continuity (important in any book and essential when writing a series). Balancing pace and plot lines often leads to more revising and rewriting than I’d anticipated. Some writers claim to manage this easily; alas, I am not among them, but I am persistent, and eager to share this story with you.

Today’s work focuses on the scene in which Sweet Pea finds an injured kitten. Maggie Porter—kennel owner, dog trainer, and sometime-sleuth—uses “leave it” and “drop it” to manage the situation. If you’re not familiar with these “must know” commands, these may help:

Prefer text? Check out these helpful links:

Teaching your dog a super-strength leave-it command

Teach Your Dog to Leave It: It Could Save His Life

Teaching Your Dog to Let Go Of Things

Sasha mastered both “leave it” and “drop it” early on in our time together. She was slower to embrace “take it” but we’ve made progress with that using her Puppy squeeze toy as part of indoor “fetch” and “bring it” time. I highly recommend these commands to all dog owners!

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Whistling Past The Graveyard

“Look at that!”

In the many months I’ve been working to help Sasha overcome anxiety after having been attacked by off-leash dogs, we’ve tried just about every strategy and training technique that’s been published on the subject. Like most things in life, some days we make more progress than others. Sasha is doing her best to be brave in scary situations, and I make sure  she knows she’s loved and safe with me.

If we’re in a trigger-stacked environment, Sasha defaults to what I consider her “stress bark.” She’ll lock eyes on the target, lunge, and generally appear to warn off the other dog with fierce “Don’t come over here!” barking. This happens most often when unleashed dogs approach. If I spot the danger before she panics–and before the dog gets too close–I can persuade her to turn away and move on with me. I’m glad to report we’ve had fewer interactions with unleashed dogs recently, and the dogs we see on our walkabouts have been far enough away that we’ve avoided major distress.

I looked back through the training log this morning and noticed a definite pattern of improvement emerging. While experts might shake their heads over our methods, I’ve seen the best results when I let Sasha choose how to react. Sometimes she’ll park herself next to me when we see someone on the opposite side of the street walking our way with a leashed dog. She won’t make much eye contact with me, preferring instead to focus on the treats in my hand. In between nibbles she’ll toss occasional glances at the dog and a short bark or two.

We’ve made progress when passing dogs behind fences, too. Wherever possible I will cross the street to put more distance between Sasha and the other dogs, but until recently that didn’t reduce the stress reaction. Lately, though, I’ve seen different behavior. I can tell from her tone, and the brevity of her response, that it’s a “Hello there!” sort of bark. Initial greetings completed, Sasha then hurries along, muttering softly while looking anywhere but back at the dogs. The mutters stop when we get past the yard, and her pace slows as well. It’s almost as though she’s determined to ignore the distraction and convince herself all is well. The online dictionary Wiktionary describes this sort of behavior as “whistling past the graveyard” in an attempt to seem calm in the face of something frightening.

Every day I see her inching past her fear as she explores the world around us. Yesterday we saw two dogs–a Dachshund/Chihuahua mix (her owner says she’s a “chiweenie”) and a 12-year-old Cocker Spaniel. I confess to an “oh no” moment when I saw them, as the chiweenie has charged off-leash in our direction once before. This time, the dogs were leashed and moving away from where we stood diagonally across the intersection. Sasha saw them, barked once and then just stood there, watching them. (Cue the trumpets!) We followed a block back and Sasha was calm and interested the whole time. She barked just twice, and was rewarded for stopping and looking. From there, it was an easy step to “Let’s Go!”

Of all the strategies we’ve tried, the “Look At That” counter-conditioning approach yields the most consistent results. Here’s a video explaining the LAT approach:

For those of you who prefer in-depth articles instead of videos, check out the excellent article Using Control Unleashed for Dog-Dog Aggression: Look At That authored by Marisa Scully, CBDT-KA. And for a shorter take on the same subject, you might enjoy “LOOK AT THAT!”  by Lilian Akin, CPDT, which was adapted from Leslie’s McDevitt’s “Control Unleashed.” And here’s one more short LAT dog training plan you might find useful.

And for a great round-up of ideas, be sure to check out Nancy Freedman-Smith’s article “10 Tips To Teach Your Reactive Dog To Stay Calm.

My goal is to help Sasha become more confident wherever we go. The “Look at that!” counter-conditioning approach has helped us both enjoy our daily walks. If you have a reactive dog, you might give LAT a try.

    Ready for a great adventure? “Let’s Go!”