Being prepared and having an evacuation plan for your Livestock Guardian Dogs is vital. Some of these steps differ to those for evacuating other non-working breeds, so be aware of the likely difficulties you may face uprooting a bonded LGD from their livestock.
BEFORE a fire event: –
- Determine what your “Let’s Go!” point will be. Waiting until it is too late might mean that you and/or your dogs may not make it out in time. THERE IS NO GUARANTEE of HELP ARRIVING.
- Prepare your LGDs for an actual event by practicing important SAFETY, HANDLING and TRANSPORT exercises (include your trusted neighbours) such as –
- Muzzle training (useful if your dog is injured or requires handling by strangers)
- Loading your dog/s into a vehicle; a horse float; a crate; or other confinement. This can be particularly important where house dogs are loaded with working LGDs who have never, or rarely met before. STRESS can manifest itself as unexpected aggression.
- Get your dogs used to being tethered (tied up) and leash training
- Practice offering water to your dogs out of different drinking vessels (LGDs don’t always adapt well to change)
- Have your dog MICROCHIPPED. Registration with your local council isn’t required for working dogs however, having a microchip can see a working dog returned to its owners quicker than a lost dog without a microchip.
- Move your livestock and working dogs closer to your house and into a smaller contained area BEFORE the fire reaches your vicinity, to better monitor how your animals are coping with smoke and noise and to allow for a quicker evacuation.
- Write your CONTACT DETAILS (or your Vet’s) on your dog’s collar now, in case you don’t have time or are separated from your dog later. Write down any details about your dog/s and have it ready to go with your dogs in case you are separated, e.g. medications; food for a fussy eater; which ones to keep separate from each other; not to be housed with strange dogs; etc.
- Dogs and livestock will become unsettled by the presence of smoke, sirens and traffic moving quickly past your property and strangers (fire personnel) near or on your property. Provide REASSURANCE by keeping their routine as close to normal as possible; by providing verbal reassurance to your LGDs; and avoid panicking yourself, which LGDs will quickly pick up on.
- Some dogs may become spooked, ensure they cannot ESCAPE from where they are contained.
- Decide before a fire event on a safe place to take your animals, such as a friend’s place, boarding kennels, local Vet clinic or shelter, or you may decide to go to an evacuation centre. However, ALWAYS be guided by instructions from your local fire teams on safe routes.
- Add the phone numbers for all your local resources to your phone list, such as – Vet clinics; boarding kennels; RSPCA; rescue shelters & council pound.
- Brief your NEIGHBOURS on your evacuation plans ahead of time, in case you need them to act on your behalf. They should be introduced to your LGDs well before a fire event. Agree on a meeting point in a safe zone.
** If you can’t take your dogs with you, open all gates to allow them access to creeks, rivers or dams or more open well-grazed ground.
IF DOGS OR STOCK ARE TETHERED OR CAGED, RELEASE THEM!! **
AFTER a fire event: –
- Your dog may have suffered PHYSICAL INJURIES during a bushfire event and should be checked by a Veterinarian as soon as possible for smoke inhalation, possible lung damage, heat stress or physical injuries. Injuries can be missed, particularly on long haired dogs, e.g. – singed paws; stick injuries which can occur as they panic, and the flight response kicks in.
- Administer animal first aid if it is required before you can get your dog to a Vet.
- Your working dog may be STRESSED and TRAUMATISED by a bushfire event and/or being separated from you and/or their livestock and this may change their BEHAVIOUR. Creating a safe, cool and quiet environment for them where they are not disturbed and are safely confined, will help them to cope. (If longer term effects on behaviour are obvious, seek professional help from a qualified behaviour trainer who understands livestock guardian dogs or your Veterinarian or from a Veterinary Behaviourist).
Signs of agitation and stress to look for in dogs include –
- Stress panting, dilated pupils and/or salivating (in the absence of food)
- Excessive body licking or chewing
- Whining, vocalising, growling and/or aggression
- Hypervigilance, pacing
- Hiding or fearful body language – (lip licking; yawning (not tired); shaking; whale eye)
- Loss of appetite; lethargy; non-responsiveness.
- NSW Rural Fire Service Factsheets: – https://www.rfs.nsw.gov.au/resources/factsheets?result_1335_result_page=2
- Affordable “Bushfire Readiness Kits” for humans and for PETS! https://bushfirereadinesskits.com.au/
- RSPCA NSW: – https://www.rspcansw.org.au/what-we-do/care-for-animals/pet-hazards/bushfires-and-house-fires/#1545282102807-a653aee1-3ae2
Erin Williams MDI CPDT (Dog Behaviour Consultant) 0402 500 879