Sunday, October 6, 2013

Snake Avoidance Training

We took Rhythm to a Snake Avoidance Clinic last Sunday in Alachua, FL, just 20 miles north of Gainesville. It was sponsored by the Tampa Bay Vizsla Club and Dr. Bud Calderwood DMD was the trainer.

Snake avoidance training teaches the dog to fear and avoid poisonous snakes. They used a real live rattlesnake and cotton mouth, the two most common poisonous snakes in our area. Different snakes have different smells so that's why they use the two kinds and not just one. They are de-fanged and their mouths are taped shut for extra safety.

Rattle Snake

Cotton Mouth

It is very common for hunting dogs to be "snake proofed" as they call it because they are out in the woods so much but it is a good idea for any dog that lives in an area like North Florida that has a lot of snakes. We've had four dogs get bitten by cotton mouths over the years at the farm, only one survived after $1000 in vet bills. So, it was very important that Rhythm do this.

Rhythm checking out the rattler

Rhythm learning to jump back, that thing means OUCH!

They use shock collars set very high, but Dr. Calderwood is in control and knows just how to do it so the dog only gets shocked twice.

Rhythm checking out the Cotton Mouth

OUCH again

The handler or owner puts the dog on a very long line and lets the dog roam on their own and discover the snake in the grass. The "snake handlers" stand by with brooms in case the snake tries to make an escape. Dr. Calderwood is standing a little ways off on the other side of the dog and handler and when the dog goes up to the snake to check it out they get hit with a hard shock. 

Some dogs just jump and run, usually back to their person where they get lots of praise and love. Some of the dogs were very dramatic though, flipping over and screaming. It was upsetting to watch but I know it could save their life. 

After the first shock the dog is encouraged to go back up to the snake to see if it made the connection. None of them would. After the rattle snake, they are taken over to the second snake, the cotton mouth. Many were wary already scared of the cottonmouth, some were still a little curious and they got shocked a second time.

Some of the people had done this before, some with new dogs and some with dogs being re-checked. There were a few first timers like us too.

A few folks said the dogs they had snake proofed before where afraid of anything that had a snake look, like the water hose or a stick. Rhythm has not been jumpy at all though and even pounced on a toy snake that my nephew was playing with the very next day, so I'm hoping she associated the smell more than the look.  We plan to have her re-checked in the spring.