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Posts Tagged ‘Rattlesnake Avoidance Training’

I worried about what I was planning to do for days ahead of time. I had bad dreams. My lower intestinal tract was worried, too. I knew there were good reasons for doing it, but I didn’t want to.

I don’t want to hurt or frighten my dogs, especially on purpose. But there are rattlesnakes around here. There are rattlesnakes right behind my employer’s building. People have seen them on roads out of town. Apparently this a bumper year for gophers, ground squirrels, and whistle pigs, so with all that food and the early hot weather, the rattlesnakes are out in force.

And what I might do to teach my dogs to avoid rattlesnakes would hurt them less than if they went on a summer hike or early season hunt trip, and got bitten by a rattlesnake.

So Russ and I took both dogs to the Rattlesnake Avoidance Training put on by the Idaho Humane Society and the Idaho Chukar Foundation.

We signed up for the earliest time they had. I hoped to avoid too many crowds and hot weather. But even so, there were lots and lots of people there. (It appears they had capacity for about 250 dogs, I’m guessing.) The photo below doesn’t begin to show how many people were at this beautiful park to teach their dogs about rattlesnakes.

They had 7 trainer stations where trainers met handler and their dogs, and talked with them about any exposure the dog might have had already with an e-collar, snakes, or previous training. They also explained how the training would be run.

They also explained that the dogs would be exposed to bull snakes on the course, which look and behave almost like a rattlesnake but don’t have rattles and are not venomous. When the dog looked at, stepped on, touched, or investigated a snake, the trainer would activate the e-collar to simulate the sharp pain of a snake bite.

Then one at a time, a trainer/handler/dog team went through the course to help the dog learn to recognize the sight, smell, and sound of a rattlesnake.

The course had 5 snake stations:

  • Stations 1, 2, and 3 had a bull snake. These would teach the dog about the sight and smell of a rattlesnake.
  • Station 4 had a bull snake and a sound maker to simulate the sound of a rattle rattling. These would introduce sound, along with the sight and smell.
  • Station 5 had a plastic snake and a sound maker to simulate the sound of a rattle rattling. This would remove the smell element, but keep sight and sound.

Each station also had a snake handler to keep the snakes safe. But even so, the snakes were being handled more than they’d like, and they were not happy about it. There was a lot of writhing, tail flicking, and lifting of heads.

Russ took Carlin through first. My photos did not turn out well — my shutter finger was way too slow. But then I took Tooey through, and Russ took photos. In the pictures below, Tooey had been through three stations already, and really begun to get that rattlesnakes are not our friends.

The snake is lying at the base of the tree, on the right side, along with the noise maker. The snake handler is peeking out from the left side.

We hadn’t even gotten that close to the snake, but Tooey, I think, had already gotten a whiff of it in the photo below.

By this photo, she’s heading off away from the snake.

At this point, my job was to run away from the snake with her, praising her for avoiding the snake. The trainer could see that she was reacting appropriately, and didn’t use the e-collar this time.

Carlin went through the training a second time. He’s usually quite soft, and those few times when we’ve used an e-collar on him, we haven’t needed to turn up the dial beyond the minimum. But in his first run through the training, he didn’t seem to get the point at all, so we ran him through again, this time using a higher setting.

You can see how close he got to the snake. Just before this photo, he looked at the snake and the trainer nicked him with the collar. He jumped away fast, and we both yelped. This snake was beginning to lift it’s head in a threatening posture. That scared me, adding to the reality of the simulation.

But the time we got to station 4, Carlin had figured it out like Tooey. He was already running away when I was just seeing it for the first time.

The trainers said that many dogs don’t need another session, that they get it after this training. But he also urged us to repeat the training on our own if (when?) we come across another snake. I hope that never happens. But we live in Idaho now, and rattlesnakes are our neighbors.

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