One of the prices we pay for living in paradise (aside from traffic, cost of living, and all of that manmade stuff) is sharing the land with the lovely rattlesnake.
Generally speaking, they aren’t too difficult to deal with if you are your average suburbanite- just leave them be. It’s not like they’re Boomslangs that drop randomly out of trees onto your head (I had nightmares after learning that little factoid); they sun themselves on rocks and other exposed places trying to be left alone. They give you warning rattles. They are fairly non-confrontational.
Of course, none of this matters to an overexcitable dog. Which is why starting every spring, veterinary clinics and emergency rooms are flooded with sick, puffy faced dogs who got a little too close to a rattler. Unfortunately, some die. Treatment, even if it works, is very expensive. The rattlesnake vaccine may confer some protection, but does not eliminate the need for treatment after a snakebite. The best treatment is prevention.
A local Meetup group I belong to coordinated a Rattlesnake Avoidance clinic this weekend. I’ve heard about the classes, though I’ve never done one myself. Given my suspicion that this will be a pretty prolific snake season, in conjunction with Brody’s sincere enthusiasm for wildlife, I decided to check it out.
The premise is pretty straightforward: in a controlled environment with a variety of safely muzzled snakes, introduce the dog to the snakes and apply a controlled stimulus until the dog learns to avoid the snakes. Yes, it involves a shock collar, and I am OK with it. Here’s why:
- Rattlesnake bites are way worse than a brief session with an experienced handler using the shock collar. Way way worse.
- The trainers are well versed in the use of the collars and are using the absolute minimum stimulus needed to get the dog to avoid the snake. I observed multiple families and none of the dogs exhibited severe stress either during or after the session (which took about 5 minutes). Most of them stayed afterwards to play with the other participants. Brody’s tail was wagging the entire time.
- The trainers did not do the training with dogs they did not feel it would be effective for, for reasons of age, temperament, etc- dogs unable to associate the training with the snake. I wouldn’t have gone through with it if I thought they didn’t know what they were doing with both the snakes and dogs.
- I am by no means an advocate for shock collar training for general obedience. It’s overkill to use this technique for 99% of behavior issues and in the wrong hands can do a lot of damage. But this is literally a life or death situation that demands 100% compliance with very few opportunities for training and reinforcement.
The handler puts the juvenile down and another handler lets Brody do whatever he’d like. Naturally, he makes a beeline for the snake.
Here’s Brody doing exactly what one dreads one’s dog doing with a snake. He stuck his head RIGHT in his face. Multiple times.
After correction, he decided to walk away. Then the trainer looped around and walked him by the snake again.
And, he went right back in his face. I learned something new today: juvenile snake bites do not hurt, so in real life a dog would not be deterred by an immediate reaction, and is likely to be bit multiple times.
He got a stronger correction the second time. No one enjoys seeing their dog jump like that- but when I thought about the dogs I have seen who have been bit, those who survived and those who did not, it made the guilt more bearable.
Allrightallright already, I’ll leave the snake alone.
Interlude: We take a brief foray onto a trail, where snake skin has been scattered about to test the dog’s response to snake smell. Brody was appropriately inclined to avoid it.
And while they were doing that, they took out the Big Kahuna. *shudder*
Would you like to say hello? the trainer asks.
Brody says: Heck no.
Are you sure? the trainer asks.
I’m totally sure, Brody replies.
Having aced the final, the happy graduate is remanded to relieved owner custody.
I wish I had brought my videocamera instead of my regular camera, so you could have seen the whole process. I will when I do the session again next year. It was really interesting. Plus you would have gotten to hear the trainer say to me, “If he were out on a trail he would have been bitten about 3 times by now,” when Brody came upon the first snake. Money well spent, indeed.