With warmer weather around the corner (in theory!), and Coloradans breaking out their hiking boots, our dogs are facing the risk of coming upon snakes on the trails. With a recent upswing in the number of dangerous species like rattlesnakes, bites are becoming more of a hazard for our pets.
In 2018, CSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital reported treating an average of 20 to 30 rattlesnake bites a year. Knowing that the threat is out there, pet owners are looking for ways to keep their dogs safe, and reach for snake avoidance training classes. Little do they know, however, that there is potential danger lurking in those classes.
Most snake avoidance training classes are taught using uncomfortable and aversive shock collars, more commonly referred to as electronic or e-collars. The dogs in the class are presented with the sight, smell, and sound of rattlesnakes, and are then delivered a painful shock. The idea behind this training is to teach the dogs that the snakes equal pain for them, and should be avoided. In theory, and often in practice as well, this is an effective strategy. However for many dogs, this type of training results in unwanted side effects, behavioral fallout, or even the opposite of the intended effect!
Because the trainer cannot be in control of what connections the dog is actually making, many times dogs make unintended associations with the painful shock. Dogs have been reported to be fearful of leashing or their handler after this training, as if the leash was the cause of the shock. Some dogs become fearful of noises similar to rattlesnake rattles, like sprinklers or tapping noises. And in some cases, instead of the intended “flight” response to the snake that the training is aiming for, dogs learn to attack the snakes instead!
With these risky consequences, dog owners have to ask themselves, is there a better way to keep my dog safe? The answer is YES – you can teach a dog to avoid the danger of snakes using positive reinforcement.
By making caution and avoidance the dog’s choice, you run a much lower risk of side effects, and can have much more robust results. Dogs can learn to avoid snakes not just on leash and with their owners, but on their own in the backyard. Reinforcing appropriate behaviors and improving impulse control can increase safety in many different contexts, and not just with snakes.
Jamie Robinson of Tucson, Arizona, has developed a book and webinar titled Snake Avoidance Without Shock. This book includes a number of exercises to help teach your dog to avoid dangerous snakes, improve general safety and the communication between dog and handler.
We are also fortunate enough to have a positive reinforcement snake avoidance class offered in our area! Amy Creaven of Trust Your Dog Training out of Fort Collins offers a number of classes each year, all throughout the Front Range.
This year, she is offering a course at our clinic here at the Animal Care Center of Castle Pines.
When: June 9th 1p-4p
Where: Animal Care Center of Castle Pines, 562 Castle Pines Pkwy #5, Castle Pines, CO 80108
This workshop is a 3-hour session. There are both working spots (bring your dog) and audit spots (leave your dog at home but come watch and listen).
Registration can be found at the link below:
Additional information on positive reinforcement snake avoidance training can be found at the links below: