Tornado Warnings & Dogs: Preparing to Take Cover With Your Canine Best Friend
by Lynn Stacy-Smith
Recently we enjoyed a warm 70 degree day and as I played ball outside with the dogs, I noticed that our grass is getting nice and green and changing from its dismal dormant brown color. Of course the downside of such a warm spring day here in Illinois is that it sometimes means it is ushering in some wild weather and at least a tornado watch if not a tornado warning.
Growing up in the mountains in northern New Jersey meant that I did not grow up with tornadoes. Although I obviously do not want to experience an actual tornado I have become much calmer over the years when a tornado siren sounds, but I still take every watch and warning quite seriously and have several tips to offer to dog owners on what to do when it’s time to seek cover during a tornado watch or warning.
Harness & Collar: Regardless of which you use for regular leash walking, I prefer a harness over a collar for emergency situations simply because it is harder for your dog to slip out of a harness. Trust me, I have experienced a terrified dog slipping her head out of a collar when I walked my late Labrador Retriever Babe too close to a marching band in a parade and after the drum section started up out of nowhere I suddenly found myself with an empty collar and a scared dog on the run. Fortunately I found her quickly and tragedy was averted, but during a tornado warning you do not want to recreate the iconic scene from The Wizard of Oz with a dog on the run and a funnel cloud coming toward you.
Depending on the size of your dog you can go with something simple like a regular harness for walking, or opt for something you can use if you need to lift or carry a large dog in an emergency like the Rock-n-Rescue dog harness that is made for Search and Rescue (SAR) work. If you have a very small dog you can invest in a carrier similar to what you would use to take your dog on a plane so that you can easily carry him with you.
Dog Supplies: Make sure you have a box of supplies with which you can entertain your dog in addition to a canine first aid kit, even if your basement is finished and somewhere that you and your dog frequently spend time. We have found ourselves hanging out in the basement for as long as an hour during some storms and I recommend keeping the following on hand:
- Squeaky toys
- Rubber chew type toys like a Kong or West Paw Tux toy
- Peanut butter or Dog Butter
- Plastic utensils (for spreading peanut butter in a toy)
- Antler or bone
- Training treats
- Dog bed or blanket like the West Paw Nature Napper
- An extra leash and harness for each dog
The toys and treats will help distract your dog from her unusual surroundings, the sounds of the storm, the wail of the tornado siren and from your own nervous energy that you might be giving off without realizing it. Practicing basic training like sit, down, stay and other commands that your dog already knows is also a great way to distract them. Both Jackson and Tinkerbell spent time as very small puppies in our basement with me during tornado warnings and these things were invaluable for entertaining very young puppies when they really wanted to get into trouble in an area that had not been puppy proofed.
Keeping an extra leash and harness for each dog in the house will ensure that you have them in the event that you find yourself in the basement without time to harness them before you seek cover. I firmly believe that dog owner can never have too many spare leashes stashed in various rooms in case of an emergency situation.
Tornado Drills: Yes, I do tornado drills with my dogs. No, I am not crazy.
Our canine tornado drills go like this: on the first Tuesday of every month our village tests the tornado sirens. As soon as they start to sound, I jump up and call the dogs to me and reward them with plenty of treats, praise, chin scratches and every good thing that I have at my disposal at that time. Depending where we are at the time, I put them in their harnesses, put their leashes on, and we go into the basement, where they receive more praise and treats. Sometimes we are out in the yard and they follow me to the house, and other times I simply have them sit and stay.
A few times I have forgotten that it was the first Tuesday of the month and I have been doing something else when the test sirens sounded. Both times I was thrilled that both dogs woke up from their naps and made eye contact with me, watching me for my next move or phrase. The whole point of this exercise is that I want them to make the association in their head that the sound of the tornado siren means that they look to me, make eye contact, and wait for my next command.
If you are at work or away from the house when a tornado siren occurs, practice having your dog come to you during other loud situations or when you can catch the siren when the test happens during the weekend. You can also use this Tornado Warning Siren Sound Effect video from You Tube. In fact as I tested it to include in this blog, both Jackson and Tinkerbell went on alert and made eye contact before running over to me. Of course Tinkerbell, in true Tinkerbell style, jumped into my lap and showered me with kisses, but I consider that a happy little price to pay while doing research for this blog.
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