Two animals on a farm

One thing you can count on in Southern California when it gets hot is fires, especially during a bad drought like we’re having right now. Last weekend, a fire broke out a few miles from the Dog Psychology Center and quickly tripled in size.

Fortunately, the DPC isn’t in any danger, but in and around the burn area, people had to evacuate. This is a very rural part of L. A. County, so a lot of people have animals — household pets and farm animals. There’s also an animal sanctuary up there with a lot of regular and exotic residents.

Along with local shelters, many other places took in the animals, including parks, schools, the fairgrounds, and even an airport warehouse. I also took in a lot of goats, sheep, and tortoises at the DPC.

As I saw all of these animals, I couldn’t help but realize something we’ve inadvertently done to them through the process of domestication.

Wild animals will always escape a natural disaster if they can. They will run from a fire or head for higher ground in advance of a tsunami. Birds will take to the sky before tornados. While not absolutely proven, some people also believe that animals can sense earthquakes before they happen.

As soon as we bring an animal into a home or place it in a pen, though, we begin to block this instinct. This is because we remove danger from their environment while providing for their needs. They still have their flight instinct — the desire to run away — and that never fades. But a dog in a house can only flee to another part of the house unless they find a way out.

They will try to find a way, too. I’ve heard of dogs that have chewed through metal screens or wooden doors, or even jumped through the glass in upper-floor windows in order to escape a perceived threat.

I’m not saying that we should all let our dogs run free so that they have the power of escape, though. What I’m getting at is that while you can take the dog out of Nature, you can’t take Nature out of the dog — and there are some natural disasters that we don’t consider at all.

To a dog, unstable energy is just as terrifying as a fire, flood, or earthquake. They will do whatever they can to escape it as well. If the leader of a wild pack becomes unstable, the rest of the dogs will either kill that dog or flee. In a human pack, unstable energy from the people will make the dog either aggressive or fearful or — worst combination of all — both.

Imagine it from the dog’s point of view. He’s been put in a very unnatural place: under a ceiling and between walls. He can’t see the sky and the smells are strange. As long as he has stable leaders giving off calm energy, he’s fine. But when that energy is not balanced, he’s no longer in a safe place. He’s in a trap and his only instinct is to get away. If he can’t get away, he can quickly become extremely neurotic.

When a dog is misbehaving, I tell people to look at their own energy first. Is she gnawing at the doors when you’re not at home? Does she avoid people, bark at every visitor, or try to hide under beds or in closets? Is she overly attached to one human pack member or oddly aggressive toward another? These are all signs that something is out of balance with the energy in the household.

While we can’t control the weather or disasters, we can control ourselves. The best protection we can provide for our dogs is a place of calm, away from storms of any kind. Our best barometer for judging the emotional weather is our dogs.

Stay calm, and safe from disaster.

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