10 Steps to Livestock Guardian Dog Wildfire Preparedness

It’s wildfire season again.  Up here in eastern Washington, late summer brings us the perfect conditions for wildfires and this year seems to be even drier than normal.  A spark can turn into hundreds or even thousands of acres in heart stopping short time.  A fire several miles away can be at your back door before you’ve had time to make all the preparations necessary for evacuation.

As I write this, we have 15 sheep evacuees and their companion livestock guardian pups taking it easy in a pasture on our place.  While they’re resting comfortably, their home remains threatened and we await the news of the final outcome.  My heart goes out to the family while my mind goes to the steps we all can take to help make an evacuation of our livestock guardian dogs go as smoothly as possible.  These steps to livestock guardian wildfire preparedness can help you, your dogs and their foster home transition with less stress on everyone involved.

1. Leash Train Your LGD

In the daily operation of a farm, leash training a dog that lives full time out on pasture might not be so necessary–I’ve had one or two that got their training later in life–but it is much more important if the dog ever needs to leave your property.  Handlers, transporters and receiving homes will have a much easier time if your dog is leash trained and comfortable being moved on a lead.

2. Crate Train Your Livestock Guardian

Generally, the dogs move with the stock and a crate isn’t necessary, but in an emergency situation where multiple farms may be evacuating at once, your dog may need to be crated for transport.  A dog who has never been in a crate is likely to panic and has a greater chance of injury, so even if you don’t routinely crate your dog at home, I recommend getting them used to it for emergency situations.

3. Tether or Kennel Train Your Dog

It’s difficult to know what the foster situation will look like when you have to evacuate your dog.  What if your dog will only stay in electric fencing or the destination is crowded with other evacuees?  A dog that is comfortable spending time tethered or kenneled will be more adaptable to whatever situation they find themselves in when evacuating.

4. Keep Printed Instructions Handy for Medications or Special Feeding Requirements

If any of your dogs require medications or have special feeding instructions, make sure you have an updated printed copy of these instructions easily accessible.  Be sure your caregivers can positively identify which dog needs the medications.  A photograph of the dog attached to the instructions is a cost effective, sure way to help them know who needs what.

5. Keep 3-5 Days of Food and Medications in a Go Bag

At least during wildfire season, keep a go bag for your dogs that contains 3-5 days of any specialty feeds, medications or other requirements.  This is a good place to store your printed instructions as well.  While you’re filling this bag, include a contact sheet with as many methods as possible to contact you.  Then if the need arises, you simply grab the bag and go.

6. Have Contact Info and the Dog’s ID on Its Collar

If your dogs wear collars, you can get an engraved tag with your contact info and the dog’s name for under $10.  This can be invaluable if your dog escapes his foster home.  If your dogs don’t wear collars, it’s a good idea to have these on hand to put on them during an emergency evacuation.  You can also write the dog’s name and your phone number on light colored collars with a permanent marker in a pinch.

7. Identify Potential Temporary Homes in Advance

Every year, we here in fire country get to see the blessing of community.  Without fail, people from all over the area will drop what they’re doing to help transport and house evacuating animals.  It’s an incredible thing to behold, how fires can knit a community tighter together.  With that said, having potential homes lined up in advance can save you time and stress in the midst of an evacuation.  Reach out to close friends or family to find out if they’d be willing to house your livestock guardians–and/or their charges–in the event of a fire.  If so, have their names, addresses and contact information printed out and ready in your go bag so you have it ready for transporters/spouses/etc.

8. Identify Transport Options Before the Fire

If you are not able to transport your animals yourself–or even if you can, in the event you’re away from home–it’s helpful to line up transport options for your dogs and your livestock.  This could be a neighbor with a trailer, the receiving home or even a professional shipper who is able to be on call.  This, too, should be printed and kept in your go bag.

9. Send Your Dogs with Their Stock if Possible

We’ve fostered dogs alone and dogs with their stock, and the dogs who come with a job to do seem to be able to adapt to the changed surroundings with greater ease.  Having that sense of normalcy in the midst of a big upheaval gives them something familiar to focus on and a purpose other than trying to escape back to home.

10. Have Your Evacuation Route Off the Property Cleared and Accessible

When time is running out and your transporter is trying to maneuver that trailer in, any time spent moving debris or objects can cost you essential minutes that may make the difference between a safe escape and a devastation.  Make it an annual event to walk the route from your animals/loading area to the road and be sure it is free of any obstacles that would hinder the evacuation.

While most of these steps are common sense, we may not think of them outside the time we really need to implement them. Taking the time now to implement a livestock guardian dog wildfire preparedness plan will give you peace of mind and actionable steps to take should you ever get that dreaded evacuation notice.