Hello all – After having so many inquiries in to how our Snake Safe Training went, I decided to summarize our experience in a blog post.
To say I was nervous about putting my dogs through this prevention training would be an understatement. I had anxiety all week, leading up to the class. The day of the class, my stress level was through the roof – I just kept trying to reassure myself that this was the best option for the safety of my dogs.
First, a little information on what Snake Safe Training is. It is a course in which the trainer places an e-collar (shock collar) on the dog. The dog is then exposed to a rattlesnake. Once the dog focuses/approaches the snake, an appropriately timed vibrate or shock is administered – to simulate the snake having actually delivered a bite. This training also included isolating the senses and testing the dog on just the sound or scent of the rattlesnake. The goal of this training is to engrain a very negative connotation to the sight, sound and scent of a rattlesnake for the dog. A dog should want NOTHING to do with a rattler.
We attended our class at Master’s Kennels in Gilbert, AZ. The course was $95/dog and includes free refreshes for the LIFETIME of the DOG.
Now let’s get to the actual training…..
Upon arrival, the instructor talked us through what would be happening – step by step. We were in a class of about 10 dogs (2 of which were our furrriends). Once in the large backyard, each dog took turns going through the process. Along with our friends Kathleen, Brianna and Jacob, we waited until the very end to take our turns – as other people appeared to be in more of a hurry. This ended up being a great decision.
My dogs had very different reactions and learning curves.
Let’s begin with Quinci……
The e-collar was placed appropriately around Quinci’s neck, and the trainer gently approached and petted her. He took hold of the leash and we walked towards a loose defanged rattlesnake. It took Quinci a moment to take interest in the snake. She did not approach at first. He asked me to take her leash and slowly walk her towards the snake (not getting within 6ft). The trainer agitated the snake a little – this got Q’s full attention and he applied a vibrate (the lowest setting). The vibrate caused Q to react strongly with a jump and immediate retreat. After retreating with Quinci and reassuring her with pets and sweet talk, the trainer then prompted me to attempt to walk her towards the snake again – she had NO interest in doing any such thing. She kept a wide berth around the snake as I circled it to try and get her to approach again. He was very satisfied with her reaction. The next step was testing her knowledge of the rattlers scent. This portion, to me, is so important as I feel this will be the most preventative since Quinci spends much of her time frolicking the desert. Being able to detect the scent of a rattler will prevent her from getting anywhere near it, without even seeing it. For the scent portion, they place a rattlesnake in a mesh bag and place a rock over the rattle. As I was walking Quinci towards the bag, she jumped and retreated when we were about 6ft away from the snake in the bag. The trainer then informed me that he didn’t even apply a vibrate – this reaction was simply because she could smell the rattlesnake. She would not get any closer to the bag. I was amazed at her response – especially with the only stimuli being scent – no rattle, no slithering! Q passed with flying colors.
This boy, so stubborn sometimes. I was sure that he was going to run nose first right at the rattlesnake. Instead, he was a bit distracted by all the other scents – until the trainer had his handler agitate the snake a little. Chipper then honed in on the snake, approaching it. The trainer attempted to apply a vibrate – no effect, he moved on to a small shock – no effect, he tried a shock slightly higher – no effect. So, unfortunately, he had to have the full monty to catch on that this critter is not to be messed with. Once he was again fully focused on the rattlesnake, the trainer applied a heavy shock – Chipper jumped, yelped, tucked his tail and retreated. I’m not going to lie, it was difficult to see that. But after the shock, the trainer encourages rewarding the dog for retreating with lots of loving. After all of this loving, I attempted to approach the snake again with Chipper. This time he wanted nothing to do with the snake and gave it a wide berth. So, we moved on to the scent testing. Unfortunately, he did not catch on as quick as his smart ass little sister. Chipper went on to approach the bag, very curious. Again a shock was applied and Chipper then retreated and no longer wanted to approach the bag. We moved on to one last bag with Chipper. This bag had a rattlesnake inside, but no rock to cover the rattle so he could hear and smell the snake. Chipper once again got too close for comfort and was shocked once more. This one seemed to drive the point home and he pulled me to the other side of the yard. The trainer informed me that Chipper would have absolutely been bitten by a rattlesnake in a situation that was not as controlled as this one. Such a scary thing to hear – makes me even more grateful for finally working up the courage to go through this training.
The trainer then wanted me to test both dogs together – to make sure they wouldn’t egg each other on and gain false confidence around the rattlesnake. This was a quick success. We began to approach the loose snake – as soon as they realized what we were approaching, they both yanked me away as fast and as hard as possible. Success!
Now – why I am glad we waited until the end to go, is because the trainer offered to do one last scent test. He moved one of the bagged rattlesnakes to the front yard and placed a rock over his rattle. This would give me some piece of mind that the dogs didn’t just associate the training with the backyard of the facility. I approached the covered snake with both dogs on leash. Quinci began to balk when we got within 15ft of the snake. She stayed at the end of the leash, wanting to run the other direction, while Chipper felt the need to get a little closer. Once Chipper got within about 4ft of the rattlesnake and picked up the scent – he retreated. YES! The final test provided me much more confidence.
Despite being very weary of using an aversive training on my dogs – I would ABSOLUTELY recommend taking your dogs to Master’s Kennel for their Snake Safe Training. The trainer was professional, patient, compassionate, knowledgeable, thorough and NOT trigger happy – what I mean by that is that he would wait until he was absolutely sure the dog was completely focused on the rattlesnake before applying a vibrate or shock. To me, this was his most impressive trait. The importance of using a shock at the appropriate time is vital to make the correct association. I look forward to being able to bring my dogs back for free refreshers, for their lives. This shows me how confident they feel in their training – being able to offer refreshers at no cost to the clients.
I will breath a little easier, now, when enjoying nature with my mutts. Especially when we are exploring off the beaten path, deep in the wilderness where Rattlesnakes thrive. The wild is their home and we are the intruders. I respect and greatly admire Rattlesnakes – I am happy to know that we can exist together, peacefully.
(photo taken by Kathleen Brooks @goldentrailz)
I hope this has been helpful to all of you. Please feel free to comment or email me with any further questions you may have. I have attached the contact information for Master’s Kennels below.
Snake Safe Training classes take place on the last Sunday of each month, at 4pm.
If you do not live in Arizona, but you do live in an area known for Rattlesnakes – I am sure you can find a local Snake Safe Training option. If you let me know what you find, or if you have gone through this training at facility you recommend please contact me and I can update my post to include that information for others!
Katie, Chipper and Quinci