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Snake Avoidance Training

By Forrest Moore

For those of you that live and/or hunt in poisonous snake territory, the time of year has come when you must begin to worry about your DD encountering “Mr. No Shoulders.” For those of you that have either witnessed or seen the aftermath of a snake bite I don’t need to tell you how important it is to take your DD through Snake Avoidance Training. In the Summer of 2000, I had three adult and 1 puppy DD bitten by poisonous snakes. It was at this time that I knew that I had to do whatever possible to prevent this from happening again, but how?

The use of “I” in this article is for simplicity and not to insinuate that I am an authority but merely a member with hopefully helpful information.

I searched the Internet and read whatever I could find about SA Training, as I knew of no one in my area that offered it. So, you know what they say, necessity is the mother of invention. Since I have been using this method I have, as of yet (knock on wood) not had a dog bitten. This is not to say that a dog that has been properly trained won’t be bitten. Snake Avoidance Training is exactly as the name implies and will not prevent the bite from a snake that a dog is unaware of and steps on or over. It will, however, prevent a dog that is aware of a snake’s presence from going forward and engaging the snake.

In my experience, the most persuasive result is obtained when the correction is applied only at the moment the snake strikes the dog. To accomplish this safely the snake is milked to remove the venom and all fangs are removed, including the ones in reserve. Once the fangs are removed, the mouth is sewn shut as an added precaution. The correction device in this case is an e-collar. This is a job tailor made for the e-collar.

A note here for those that use an e- collar on a regular basis: I have worked with dogs that are frequently trained with e-collars and have found that they are very savvy. They will avoid the snake while the collar is on them, making it almost impossible to conduct the training, but that they will advance on the snake with fury once the collar is removed. Simply stated, the dog knows it only has to obey when the collar is on. Use this information as you see fit but unless the e-collar is on 24/7 you cannot be certain of how your DD will react when he/she encounters a snake.

In my lifetime, I was only witness to one of the many snake bites that my dogs have received. Snake Avoidance is a situational experience for the dog, a situation that only he is in control of. You will provide this experience in a controlled situation, and he will decide for himself that this is not a good thing, and will thus avoid the snake, even when you are not present. I would recommend that your DD be at least 6 months old but preferably 1 year. A dog that has been exposed to neither an e-collar NOR a snake provides very good results. It should also be stated that the training is not permanent on all dogs I have seen one DD that needed a refresher every year!!

Our goal is to use three of the dog’s senses, smell, hearing, and sight to provide him with three different opportunities to advance on the snake to within striking distance and then hopefully, under these controlled conditions, be struck by the snake while simultaneously receiving enough electricity to make an Alabama prison warden envious.

Scent. First the snake should be in grass high enough to avoid being seen and silent (refers to Rattlesnakes). The dog should NOT be on lead, but free to advance on his own free will. At no time should you ever encourage a dog to go towards a snake. Your dog should trust you and this would be an unforgivable betrayal of that trust. You should remain as calm as possible and concentrate on administering the jolt at the exact time of the strike. Some dogs will completely flip, some can almost dunk a basketball but all become believers in the evil of this new smell. A few dogs will become incensed; others will have their feelings hurt.

Sound. Now that we have their attention we can evaluate whether or not to proceed with the next stimulus. If more than one or two dogs are being done then you should have at least two snakes in order to give a snake that is agitated time to calm down and become silent for the next dog. If a dog is aggravated and not quite a believer by the first go round with the snake then either proceed to the sound stimulus or provide another scent stimulus opportunity . If the dog is unsure, put them away for a bit and begin with the next dog on Scent. The sound stimulus is much the same as before except that we need for the rattlesnake to become agitated and sound off but should still remain concealed. Most dogs will not take the bait right away, give them time. If he will not advance close enough to be stuck then you know its working.

Sight. The final phase is a two part visual stimulation, first the snake should be placed on a relatively flat surface and away from objects that would hinder the dog from being able to see the snake that will hopefully begin to crawl away and entice the dog to investigate. I would say that less than half of the dogs will go close enough to be struck, but be ready for the opportunity. The second and final part is to place your dog on a sit/stay and for you to walk to the opposite side of the visible snake and call your dog. He should take a wide berth around the snake. Feel better now?

In the Southeast Hunter Chapter we normally conduct a few SA sessions throughout the summer. All VDD members are invited to come and participate with your DD. There will also be a SA session at the Great Plains Chapter Annual meeting in July. So try to make it to one of these sessions and have your DD participate, it just might save his/her life.

This should not be attempted by anyone that does not have experience with handling poisonous snakes.

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