Rattlesnake Proofing Your Dog

A news article appeared in the Daily News, yesterday (4/21/99). I thought it was an interesting story and points out the importance of snake-proofing your dog, as you never know when you might get caught in this type of situation.

Here are a few of the points from the article:

NEWS: Woman escapes snakes in park By Troy Anderson, Daily News Staff Writer “GLENDALE —

Lisa Herron was considering renaming her dog Lucky after they jogged into a ravine of rattlesnakes Tuesday at Brand Park and fortunately escaped. One of three rattlesnakes they startled by jumping into a washed out ravine along a trail in the park rose up and bit her dog Bubba’s collar, wrapping itself around the 120-pound Rottweiler’s left leg, Herron said. “I kicked the snake off him and drug him up the hill,” she said.

“There was a snake above us and two below us and we couldn’t go anywhere.” Using her cellular telephone, she called her best friend at the Arden Animal Hospital, who summoned authorities during a three-way conference call. Glendale park maintenance workers and fire personnel rescued Herron from the den of snakes.

Herron and her dog were not injured. ” The article goes on to say that later, “At the Arden Animal Hospital, the veterinarian could not find a snake bite on the dog, although his fur was covered with venom, Herron said. ” COVERED WITH VENOM! That’s a pretty lucky dog!

Now, if you and your dog happens to get ambushed by a pit of rattlesnakes, there’s probably not much you can do. But in most cases, a dog that gets bit by a snake simply happens to come across one and thinks it’s a play toy. And this is where good training can save your dog’s life.

In most cases, your dog will be scampering through the bushes or wandering around the yard and YIKES! There’s a snake! Even worse if it’s a Rattler. And if your dog isn’t trained to RUN THE OPPOSITE DIRECTION when he sees a snake, then there’s a good chance he’s going to get bitten.

How to Snake-proof your dog

The hands-down best way to snake-proof your dog is to pick up your Yellow Pages telephone directory. Look for a local company that provides hunting dog training services because hunting dog trainers are very often in the type of terrain where they’re running into rattlesnakes, copper heads and water moccasins.

So this type of training is a standard part of any good hunting dog training program. Usually, hunting dog training companies will sponsor snake-proofing sessions that you can attend with your dog. In half a day (and usually at a cost of around $70) your dog will be trained to avoid snakes.

But if you can’t find a company that does snake-proofing sessions, here’s what you can do on your own: What type of snake to train with? You don’t need to use a venomous snake to effectively snake-proof your dog. However, you should plan on obtaining several different species of snakes. When dogs learn, it’s situational… meaning that the dog thinks the lesson may be specific to only one particular thing. And when snake proofing your dog, you don’t want to take the chance that your dog will only avoid ONE type of snake.

Use an electronic collar, set on the highest level

I recommend either the Dogtra, Sportdog, Innotek or Tri-Tronics Electronic collar. These are safe and well engineered collars that have been used for decades by literally thousands of dog trainers, and are endorsed by hundreds of veterinarians.

Put the e-collar on your dog at least FOUR hours before you go out to do the training exercise. You don’t want him to become collar smart and associate the e-collar with the exercise.

The reason we’re using the electronic collar for this exercise is that:

1.) You need the dog to associate the NEGATIVE with the snake… not with you. That way, even if the dog stumbles onto a snake when you’re not with him, he’ll still avoid the snake.

2.) We’re aiming to create absolute avoidance to the snake. The best way to create avoidance is to create a strong negative association. And the best way to do this safely (and with EXACT timing) is with the electronic collar.

Teaching avoidance to the SIGHT of the snake

Place the snake in an area you’ve boxed in with sticks or 2 X 4’s and wait for the snake to slow down and stop moving. Now, introduce the dog into the area where the snake is (upwind from the snake) and let him wear a 30 foot long line, so that you can guide the dog back to you if necessary.

Next, wait for the dog to go up and investigate the snake… and as he gets close and puts his head down to investigate, stimulate the dog with your electronic collar on the high setting. The dog will jump back away from the snake and most likely won’t want anything else to do with it. Repeat this exercise in four or five different settings with as many different types of non-dangerous snakes as you can obtain.

Teaching avoidance to the SCENT of the snake

The next step is to repeat this exercise by starting with the dog DOWN-WIND of the snake. Except that this time, the snake should be hidden under some brush so that the dog cannot easily see it. Wait for the dog to sniff the area, and when the dog has ventured too close for comfort to the snake, and you see that he’s picked up the scent, THAT’S when you should stimulate him with the e-collar.

If instead, you see that the dog picks up the scent of the snake, and immediately TURNS AWAY… then praise your dog, as he’s made a decision and it was the right decision. Again, repeat this exercise in four or five different places. You should try to be as creative as possible in hiding the snakes.

Teaching avoidance to the SOUND of a rattlesnake

To teach your dog avoidance to the sound of a rattlesnake, you’re going to need to obtain a tape recording of an actual rattler.

There are two ways to do this:

1.) Goto Bayou Bob’s page at http://www.wf.net/~snake/rattlesn.htm Click on the picture of the rattlesnake and you’ll be able to download the sound of a real rattler in .wav format. Get a 1/8″ jack and cable from Radio Shack and connect one end to your tape recorder and the other end to the sound card in the back of your computer. Set your media player on repeat, and record 20 minutes worth of the rattlesnake sound.

2.) Pick up a copy of Field & Stream or the Retriever Journal at the magazine rack of your local Barnes & Noble Bookseller. Order a pre-recorded tape of a rattlesnake from one of the hunting dog supply companies that advertise in the back of these magazines. Next, hide your tape recorder with the snake, the same way you did when teaching your dog avoidance to the scent of the snake. If the dog moves to investigate the sound, you’ll need to correct him with the e-collar. If he moves to avoid it, then praise.

As you can see… it’s not really that difficult to teach your dog to avoid snakes. It just requires A LOT of time and preparation. This is why I recommend you contact a hunting dog training company and pay the $70 to let them hassle with all of the props to train your dog to avoid snakes. If done correctly, your dog may never go near a snake again. In most cases, it is recommended that you repeat the training process at least once a year.