June 28, 2023
So you’ve prepared for your worst-case scenario and tried to think of everything. You have a plan and your wife and kids know what to do. You have food and water stockpiled along with a generator and fuel. Plus you have spent hours on the range training with your rifle and handgun. You’ve given consideration to almost everything, but what about your four-legged companion? Have you given any thought to him? Do you have a realistic plan for bugging out with your dog? A well trained and conditioned dog could be a valuable asset in an emergency. But are you and your dog really ready for the stresses of an actual emergency situation?
The sad truth is that an estimated 600,000 pets were killed or left without shelter as a result of Hurricane Katrina. Most helicopter pilots and rescue boat captains refused to load pets in order to hold more people. While some field hospitals allowed pets to enter with their patients, those who were evacuated from the Superdome were not allowed to take their pets with them. Many animals were locked in homes they couldn’t escape and died due to flooding. Others perished from starvation and dehydration. Any large-scale disaster is always hard on both people and animals. There are many things to consider as a pet owner, including what to do if you need to bug out with your four-legged friend.
When preparing to bug-out with your dog, make sure you have his identification and health records. Keeping his shots up to date is good, having the paperwork to prove it is even better. Plus you may want to have a photo of your dog in case you are separated. Along with these basic items there are a few things I like to have on hand at all times when traveling with my dog. In no particular order: 15-foot leash, 6-foot leash, a collar that a dog can’t back out of, feeding bowl, water, entertainment and a crate. It should go without saying that you’re going to need something to keep your dog tethered to you. Even if your dog is trained with off-leash obedience, the possibility still stands for the dog to become spooked by something he’s never seen before and dart off out of your sight.
With a 6-foot leash, you can walk your dog as you need to. With a 15-foot leash you’ll be able to let that fur ball have plenty of freedom to do No. 2 if he needs space to do so. When you’re in areas unknown or unfamiliar to the dog, expect the unexpected. Even if you let your dog go outside off leash at your house to do his business, don’t expect him to act the same in a new or unknown environment, especially when you’re out of your element. Leash him up for safety and avoid having to look for him in no-man’s land. With 15-foot and 6-foot leashes, you can also rig up a makeshift zip line or a stake out line for the dog to have some freedom. Wrapping the end of a leash around the base of a tree can give you peace of mind that he won’t run off while you set up camp or tend to something where your attention is needed.
I also keep handy a crate that can be thrown in the truck. If I need to go out of the dog’s sight, he goes in the crate. I won’t leave him tied to a stake or tether line while I’m not around. There are too many stories of dogs biting through their leashes and running off, or choking themselves by getting tied up in the tether line. If you stick your dog in a crate, you’re good to go for a short time. Since we’re talking about crates, if you regularly crate your dog, this can sometimes help him calm down. My mutt knows that if he’s in the crate, it’s time to sleep and chill. If he’s outside in the yard, he knows it’s time to run around, water the plants and be a dog.
Keeping as much of his normal routine as possible will help keep your dog stable during uncertain times. So for example, if you’re out running a chain saw, your dog will probably flip out unless you’re a lumberjack and always take your dog to work. The loud noise and foreign sight is going to be new to him and could cause him to be stressed out. Pop up a crate and stick it on the other side of your truck or where there is a barrier to block sight and muffle some of the sound. Being out of sight of everything that’s going on will aid him to relax and not be a nuisance. A good collar is just as important as the leash. When running my dogs off of my property, I like to use a reflective martingale-style dog collar. A martingale collar is made with two loops: the larger slips over the dog’s neck. Its ends pass through a smaller loop. The leash is clipped to the smaller loop.
When the dog tries to pull, tension on the leash tightens the small loop, which in turn tightens the large loop. When no leash is attached, the collar will be comfortably loose. A martingale style collar gives the dog the comfort of a flat collar and the safety of a chain collar without the possibility of completely choking himself if he gets tangled up on something while you’re out of sight. The martingale will only tighten down so far, and it’s just enough to keep the dog from backing out of the collar and getting loose. If I don’t use a martingale style collar, I use a leather flat collar and pair it with a regular chain fur saver or choke collar and hook the ring of the flat collar to the live ring of the chain as a safety valve in case Fido backs out of the leather collar.
Running just a flat collar by itself poses its own set of issues because there’s nothing to keep the dog tethered to you if he backs out of the collar. Having the chain collar hooked to him in addition to the flat collar will keep him attached to the leash and thus, still by your side. No need to have a loose dog when it’s easily preventable. Space is always a concern for me, so I like to travel with a collapsible water bowl. This is a good option to have stowed away in multiple locations to feed and/or water your dog. Holding up to 1400ml of water, this will keep your pooch hydrated with ease. It also doubles as a food bowl too (it’s magic, I know) so don’t hesitate to throw kibble in there either.
Since we’re talking about food and water, your dog deserves the same water that you do. Don’t force him to drink from standing water, we all know what kind of parasites and bacteria live there. While dogs may have more of a cast iron stomach than we do, they can still become disrupted by an upset stomach or worse. There’s nothing fun about having a dog with diarrhea at camp while you’re trying to survive a natural disaster. When considering food provisions for my dog, I like to travel with the same type of food I feed at home. Even though I’m eating differently, I want to keep my dog’s diet as normal as possible. I like to keep single servings broken down into Ziploc bags that are easy to dispense and store. Knowing you dog’s approximate serving size will make calculating your prep amount a lot easier too. I feed approximately four cups per day, and I know that a 30-pound bag of dry kibble will last me about a month under normal circumstances.
It’s possible that I can make a normal serving of food stretch a little further because of a decrease in the dog’s activity or conversely, I might have to up the amount of food because he’s burning more calories due to an increased activity level. If your four-legged friend normally feeds his face on leftovers from your dinner table, then that’s something that needs to be taken into serious consideration when planning what to feed him during an emergency. Are you taking MREs for your own food provisions? Has Fido tasted them before? Will he even eat them? MREs and I don’t get along that well and if Murphy is on duty (as he always is during these situations) your mutt will have a similar reaction to them.
For a best case scenario, have Fido’s meal provisions sorted out ahead of time and don’t rely on table scraps to keep him going. If a worst case scenario presents itself, burn the bridge when you get there and feed him whatever you have to get by. If it’s something that we can plan and prepare for, let’s keep things as normal as we can and keep his diet consistent.
We all need entertainment, whether that’s a notebook to draw in, or an iPad to play your favorite candy crushing game. Dogs are no different and need entertainment, too. Taking along your dog’s favorite toy might be a saving grace to keep him calm and relaxed. If your dog is cooped up in a crate all day, having a ball or tug toy on hand will make him much more manageable. If he’s been in the crate for several hours, get him out for a break and spend a few minutes throwing the ball. It will help you relax, and the dog gets to burn off energy.
Dogs typically don’t want to make any trouble for you when they’re tired. If your dog likes chew toys, take some of those along too. My dogs love Kongs and deer antlers. They’ll chew on those as long as I’ll let them. Giving them this as a task can help keep them occupied while you tend to business. Once you have acquired these basic items I highly suggest acclimating your dog to what he may be exposed to during a bug-out. If Fido normally sits on the couch and eats bon-bons all day, it’s safe to say that when you ask him to jump in the back of your deuce and a half and bounce down the ol’ wagon trail, he’s probably going to freak out and be more of a distraction to you.
Here are a few things that you can do to help curtail that problem: Get your dog outside and into new environments. We want the first time your dog experiences something new and/or stressful to be in a manner that we can control. We want to pressure test and see how a dog will respond where we can remove him immediately and take the stress away, or proceed further based on his responses. Has your dog ridden in a car before? When one of my dogs initially rode in the car, you’d have thought she was headed to the glue factory. Visible shaking, heavy panting, ears displaced and nervous body posture were common when we were in the car.
Since this was an apparent issue, I knew I had to work on it with her. I started by just loading her up in the car and sitting there for a few minutes, teaching her that it’s OK to be in the car and that nothing bad was going to happen. Once she was comfortable with just sitting in the car, we then moved to taking short rides in the car to go down the street to the local park to throw the ball.
This is classic conditioning at its finest. This made the dog relate a car ride to something awesome happening, which is going to do something that she loved. Dogs are creatures of association and it doesn’t take a brain surgeon to work through some simple training issues. In order to prove this theory, in the early 1900s, Ivan Pavlov noted that dogs salivated when he walked into the room to feed them. Pavlov also noted that if he had an assistant walk into the room, the dogs would still salivate. Pavlov set out to prove that this hard-wired response could be triggered by anything.
So he began a process of ringing a bell, walking the dogs down the hallway to their food, then allowing them to eat. Over time, Pavlov would remove one variable after the other, such as walking down the hall, then the food, then the odor of the food, but he would always ring the bell at the beginning of the process and eventually all of the variables were removed with the exception of the bell ringing. Now, when Pavlov would ring the bell, the dogs would salivate. These are known as Pavlov’s Dogs and are commonly referenced in the dog training community. Are we trying to get our dogs to drool when we ring a bell? Heck no. What we are trying to do is to get our dogs to give us a desired response given a particular situation. If you want your dog to be calm bouncing around in the back of your truck, you’ve got to start small and work up.
I also suggest exposing your dog to different environments. On a leash (I prefer a prong or martingale style collar) walk your dog around in public. Pick a park, or a dog-friendly stretch of shops and see how he does. If he won’t get out of the car, or barks at everything that goes by, you probably need to back off a little bit and try a less populated area. See how he does walking by people that he doesn’t know. See how he does around loud vehicles or someone slamming a car door. Keep your dog’s favorite toy or food treat on hand and reward him when he experiences something that’s out of the norm. If you hear a loud crash or something that notably changes the dog’s behavior, pay him with a reward and let him know this is OK.
We want to teach the dog to be calm and neutral in any type of environment. Start off with a short duration, and as you see your tire-chaser becoming more comfortable, increase how long you stay there. Once time is a non-issue, try increasing the intensity of the scenario. Walk closer to distractions, submerse him in an environment that is externally stimulating and see how he does. The most important thing to remember is that as you increase the intensity of the environment, time there should be greatly decreased. Sometimes just a few seconds will shut a dog down. Try not to scare the daylights out of your dog, but let him know it’s OK to be around distractions and that nothing bad is going to happen to him. Exposing your dog to these scenarios will only make things easier for you in the long run when you’re loading up in the middle of the night, crashing gas cans and metal pots around trying to get the heck out of Dodge.
Of all the things you need to prepare for a survival situation, the most important is preparing your mindset. It’s vital to know the situation you’re in is survivable. You want to know you have the training, equipment and materials you need to survive, but also the mindset to make it through the little bit of suck until there’s light at the end of the tunnel. Preparing your canine partner to weather the storm with you will only improve your odds of success.
This article was originally published in Be Ready! magazine. You can find the original magazine on the OSG Newsstand. If you have any thoughts or comments on this article, we’d love to hear them. Email us at FirearmsNews@Outdoorsg.com.