Training for Emergencies

by Manny Guerra, ABCDT

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Often, we find ourselves falling into a routine as we become immersed in the mundane tasks of everyday life. For many of us, the routine goes something like this; Wake up, go to work, come home, get personal responsibilities done, go to bed, and do it again tomorrow.

Typically, the last things on our minds are the inevitable “what if” scenarios that come with living life with our pets. What if there’s some kind of emergency? What if my dog has a sudden injury? What do I do? What will recovery care look like? How can I make sure I’m prepared for such a situation?

If we’re not careful, our daily routines will prevent us from having this important internal dialogue. Unfortunately, a lot of us will find that we ask ourselves these questions far too late.

Preventative Training

The best thing we can do for ourselves and our pets is to actively practice preventative training and preparedness. With a little forethought, we can alleviate some major hardship when an accident does occur and potentially save a life. For starters, in an emergency, it can be critically important that your dog is well trained in the basic commands of obedience.

The most functional skill is the place command. When taught correctly, this queue signals to your dog that he should position himself on a designated spot and remain there for an undetermined amount of time. That spot is often a dog bed, a crate, or a particular spot in the room. Typically, your dog will stay there until you release him from the position by speaking the release word, such as “free” or “break.” In the beginning, this exercise is about simple impulse control. Through repetition of the place command, we can teach our dogs to switch into a calm state of mind when asked.

Then, as we increase the duration of the practice, we create a patient mindset. When a dog knows how to hold a position and do nothing, he learns to handle difficult situations without going into a worried state. Things like strange people, the vacuum, or even recovery from injury can be a lot smoother experience for your dog.

Mastery of this command before you need it in an emergency is key. Having it in your arsenal means you will be better prepared to help your dog through a recovery with much less stress. I had a client whose dog recently came home from the vet wearing the dreaded cone. Place training made the experience easier because her dog already understood how to settle. Being calm was already a familiar and positive experience.

In addition to obedience skills, another preventative action you can take is making it a point to work on touch early in your relationship. From head to tail and at a pace your dog is comfortable with, you should practice gently handling each body part. Frequently assessing your dog physically puts you in a great position to notice abnormalities. Also, when your dog is conditioned to allow handling, it’s more likely that it will go well if you need him to hold still to clean a wound, change a bandage, or even put on that darn cone.

First aid

With prevention in mind, another important topic is your pet’s first aid kit. Many people haven’t taken the time to put one of these together—I’ve been guilty of this myself. It’s generally a good idea to have separate human and pet first aid kits. Check with your veterinarian first to find out what items make up a good pet first aid kit.

Enrichment

After an injury, recovery can be frustrating for your dog. It is our responsibility to get creative in finding ways to fulfill our dog’s needs during this time. Aside from the training mentioned earlier, mental stimulation activities can be helpful and there is a wide range of such enrichment options out there. From stuffed, frozen Kongs to food puzzles, incorporating opportunities to search for, gnaw on, and chew through things can help to alleviate your dog’s stress and help him pass the time it takes for him to recover.

My goal is to encourage all of you to make prevention and preparedness a priority for the health and emergency care of your pet. The most important lesson I can teach as a trainer is that the most useful and powerful training must be learned well before you ever need it. So, start today to get ready for the unexpected. You won’t regret it!

Manny Guerra, ABCDT, is the owner of K9 Parent Training. (760) 813-5250 k9parenttraining.com

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