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The Verde Independent | Cottonwood, Arizona

home : latest news : local October 13, 2015

4/2/2013 1:57:00 PM
Training session offered to teach your dog to avoid rattlesnakes
Photo by Brian Hughes
Photo by Brian Hughes

Consider for a moment the marvelous mechanism that is a dog's nose. It's difficult for humans to imagine a sense that is, by various estimates, from one hundred, to ten thousand times better than our own.

Dogs have been trained to sniff out termites in homes, to detect cancer cells in people, to discover drugs and explosives, and to sniff out an almost undetectable epoxy that makes emeralds appear more valuable than they are.

Therefore, why not take advantage of this innate ability, and train dogs to stay away from rattlesnakes by using their sense of smell?

This is the concept behind snake proofing a dog. However to be perfectly accurate, the process probably should be termed rattlesnake avoidance training.

The idea behind this method of training is to have the dog associate the smell (and also the sight and sound) of a live rattlesnake with an unpleasant experience, a brief and harmless, shock from a shock collar. The dog makes an immediate, and often permanent, association that the snake hurt them and therefore snakes are something to avoid.

Cast your memory back to high school or college biology class. Remember the story of the lowly Planarian? These simple, freshwater, flatworms live in streams and lakes. They prefer dark places. But if you place an electric grid on the dark side of an aquarium and shock them when they swim to that area, it's not long before they are all loitering around the light side of the tank.

Dogs have a much more advanced nervous system than a flatworm. The point is -- we all avoid what hurts us. The shock that a dog receives doesn't hurt them so much as it scares them. As New River resident and snake avoidance trainer Jim Walkington said, "Heck, it scared me when I shocked myself by accident with the collar."

A dog's other senses are important in keeping them safe, but smell is primary and the most important. Many times the snake does not rattle before striking. And if the snake is coiled, movement is limited. A rattlesnake's first line of defense is to freeze in place and let their natural camouflage hide them. Just remember, the snake might not move, they might not rattle, but they always give off a smell. Rattlesnakes are ambush hunters, they will sometimes lie in wait for days at a time for prey to pass by. The longer the snake stays in one place, the bigger the scent envelope that builds up around them and the easier it is for a dog to smell them.

If you live in an area were rattlesnakes are present, or you take your dog hiking in the desert, training the dog to avoid rattlesnakes is a must. When we all made the decision to live in the desert, there were a series of trade-offs. Living with the indigenous desert creatures is one of those trades.

Desert rattlesnakes do not hibernate in the true sense of the term. They are temperature dependent, and one or two days of temperatures in the high 70's will almost assure they will be out hunting despite what the date on the calendar reads.

Some Arizona veterinarians treat dozens of rattlesnake bites a year. When a rattlesnake bites a dog, that unpleasant and costly experience doesn't teach the dog to stay away from rattlesnakes. The dog does not connect the pain and suffering they experience with the process of being bitten. However, when they are trained, the correction with the collar is immediate-it comes as soon as the dog "discovers" the snakes.

One final thought -- the best time to train your dog is now. Better to be six months too early, than one minute too late.

Jim Walkington is the owner of Viper Voidance, a New River company that trains dogs to avoid rattlesnakes. He will be in Cottonwood April 26- 27, conducting his rattlesnake avoidance classes at the Cottonwood Kids Park at 12th and Cherry.

For more information, call 480-215-1776 or visit:

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