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Phx AZ Folks: Snake Aversion Classes?


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We live on the urban/wilderness interface here in Gold Canyon and have relatively undisturbed desert right off our back fence and a huge wildlife corridor right across the street. Needless to say we have snakes wondering onto our back patio and I'm a bit worried about 7 m/o Cerbie. Is there a good, affordable class in the east PHX area that teaches aversion? I'm a State employee who just got a mandated pay cut so cheap but good would be best...

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Where is that Desert Ranger when ya need him? I bugged him in March to come around more often. I was thinking about him yesterday....

He's the fella to ask questions to! When I get time, I can go back maybe and find advice he gave me about snake proofing the dog...

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I saw one demonstration of this at an outdoorsy convention, the kind for hunters, fisherman and stuff (hated being there, got dragged by a friend - LOL) and it involved a shock collar and a rubber snake. Yes, the dog got the message, he also yelped and jumped in the air in pain and shock. I guess an electric shock is much preferred to a snake bite, but it really turned me off watching it.

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A lot of the places where I have lived and where I currently do work contain lots of "rattlebugs" (to use my boss's term). I would never put my dog through this kind of training. One, because rattlesnkes are typically quite gentle if you move off of them, especially if they rattle (I know now some don't, because of people killing anything that rattles has selected strongly for silent snakes - but still, the vast majority of the ones I encounter DO actually rattle). Secondly, ISTM that every sensible animal, be it dog, horse, person, whatever, has an instinctual aversion response already built in to both the rattle noise and the sight of a snake coiling up to strike. I know I did before I ever had all that much contact with rattlesnakes, when I moved from Arkansas to Colorado in the 7th grade. The very first time I ran into one, I jumped as high, my heart beat as fast, and I backed off just as I do today - in other words, NOT a learned response. Odin has also demonstrated on more than one occasion he wants nothing to do with them, no training necessary. My old dog Calvin once stepped on one as we were hiking because neither of us saw it - and the DOG jumped about 8 feet to the side when the snake startled under his feet and coiled. Snake did not strike out or even attempt to - and he had been sunning on a hot (>100 degree) day, so it wasn't because he was too slow - mostly, they want nothing to do with you either.

 

That being said, there is one type of rattler that does NOT behave gently - the Mojave green. You could well be dealing with those, and all I can say is I'm sorry! Those jerks have actually chased me before (and they are FAST!), something I have NEVER seen another snake do. They are notoriously aggressive. But I don't really see how aversion training would help you there, because if the snake is chasing you, you need to do better than just not bother it, you need to run away!

 

I like the vaccine suggestion way better than the training, especially after reading Anda's description!

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Personally, if I lived in an area where poisonous snakes were common, I'd rather my dog take a couple shocks than get bitten by a snake. I've only seen poisonous snakes a few times here...maybe half a dozen copperheads and once a rattlesnake.

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While humans (and some other individual creatures) may have an instinctive aversion to snakes, there are a great many dogs who seem to feel that it is their mission in life to hunt them out and kill them. My family owned one such - we knew several more - and his white feet and legs were usually painted with purple "snake medicine" (gentian violet) all spring, summer and fall every year. We lived on the rim of a deep canyon in the Texas panhandle and our Collie/GSD mix, Pooch," would not tolerate a rattlesnake on our land. He would smell them and go after them. He would not stop until they were dead, and he would bring the dead snakes and leave them by the door. (Which unnerved my mother every time she encountered one.)

 

He only got really sick the first time he was bitten. From then on his reaction was swelling at the site of the bite and feeling a little off-color for a day or two. He was bitten several times a year. He lived to the age of 17, at which time he was killed by our neighbor's 5 year old Weimaraner,"Gin," in our dooryard. (Ironically, Gin was killed a year later by a rattlesnake and was mourned only by his owner.

 

I think I too would prefer my dog getting a couple of zaps to keep him from getting bitten the first time, and to prevent him from possibly becoming a "snake killer."

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That being said, there is one type of rattler that does NOT behave gently - the Mojave green. You could well be dealing with those, and all I can say is I'm sorry! Those jerks have actually chased me before (and they are FAST!), something I have NEVER seen another snake do. They are notoriously aggressive. But I don't really see how aversion training would help you there, because if the snake is chasing you, you need to do better than just not bother it, you need to run away!

 

If I remember correctly - the Mojave green rattlesnake is worse than "regular" rattlesnakes in that its venom is both hemotoxic and neurotoxic. A snake to stay well away from.

 

One thing I remember from a college biology course was that rattlesnakes "program" how much venom they inject based on the size of whatever they were biting. They don't want to waste their venom. So, a mouse gets a mouse-sized dose, a wood rat a wood rat-sized dose... a human? that's off the charts, so sometimes they don't inject anything. Don't know where a dog falls on that scale - obviously not typical prey, but there might be some benefit to deterring potential predators, so perhaps they're more likely to inject venom in biting a dog than a human. Of course I could be disremembering things, or else what I was taught may be obsolete.

 

I wasn't aware that dogs (or humans?) could get vaccinated for rattlesnake bites. (? which types, if more than one sort of venom exists??) I just remember doing some field mapping as a college student, and almost stepping on a rattlesnake. Which only rattled when I decided to back off. Don't know which of us was more scared.

 

Glad we don't have very many rattlesnakes in my part of the country. Copperheads are bad enough - fortunately not as common. (Anyone know if they have dog vaccines for them?)

 

Absent vaccines, I'd vote for aversion therapy - a "come to Jesus" moment (even if it involved a shock collar and a rubber snake) would sure beat getting killed by a snakebite.

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That's interesting, GB, thanks for countering. But my question would be, would the aversion training even really help if a dog was so determined? A rubber snake is NOT the same thing as a real one: different look, smell, sound, and movement. So, I'd be highly suspicious that the conditioning would even work for the real thing, or would it just make the dog scared of your garden hose?

 

I am very glad I have never had a dog like your snake killer, and that mine are and have always been naturally sensible! Although if a dog I was with ever showed interest in a snake, you can bet they'd receive a harsh correction from me, as well as an extremely stern leave it command. At least that would be related to the actual stimuli you want the dog to care about!

 

Partly I get upset at the hysteria some people seem to feel over snakes - I have seen so many (have even gone looking for them with herpetologists) and only ever had any trouble with the greens - and not even the majority of those that I've seen. Many rattlesnake bites are actually dry (no venom), and even in those that aren't, death is not common. Practices like rattlesnake round-ups disturb me greatly, especially as they work to make snakes more dangerous (selecting for no rattle), and pest rodents more abundant. Plus, rattlesnakes are cool (remember, biologist here).

 

By the way - LM, is your avatar the cover to The Shepherd's Dog?

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That's interesting, GB, thanks for countering. But my question would be, would the aversion training even really help if a dog was so determined? A rubber snake is NOT the same thing as a real one: different look, smell, sound, and movement. So, I'd be highly suspicious that the conditioning would even work for the real thing, or would it just make the dog scared of your garden hose?

 

I am very glad I have never had a dog like your snake killer, and that mine are and have always been naturally sensible! Although if a dog I was with ever showed interest in a snake, you can bet they'd receive a harsh correction from me, as well as an extremely stern leave it command. At least that would be related to the actual stimuli you want the dog to care about!

 

Partly I get upset at the hysteria some people seem to feel over snakes - I have seen so many (have even gone looking for them with herpetologists) and only ever had any trouble with the greens - and not even the majority of those that I've seen. Many rattlesnake bites are actually dry (no venom), and even in those that aren't, death is not common. Practices like rattlesnake round-ups disturb me greatly, especially as they work to make snakes more dangerous (selecting for no rattle), and pest rodents more abundant. Plus, rattlesnakes are cool (remember, biologist here).

 

 

I think the reason Pooch was such a dedicated snake-killer was because the first bite he got from a rattler was so painful and he got so sick. However, it may have been his temperament - he was also a dedicated cat-killer, except for our cats. Fortunately, we lived in the big middle of nowhere, so there weren't many around. But when we moved into town we had to be extremely vigilant to keep him from killing them. My step-dad was probably responsible for this cat-killing thing. He thought it was very funny and would egg the dog on, if he thought no one was looking.

 

I don't know why people are so down on rattlers either. In a lot of places, if you decimate the rattler population you get way too many prairie dogs, ground squirrels, etc. Bad news for cows and horses who step in their holes and break their legs. And anyway - they are just critters doin' what they were born to do. I've inadvertently stepped over rattlers without getting them upset. If they hear you coming they really do their best to get out of your way, and if you go charging around in tall grass or loose rocks in sneakers you're asking for trouble. Live and let live, I say. If you live in snake country, wear boots and pay attention. Teach the dog to leave snakes alone in whatever way you can.

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Here ya go....lots and lots of info if you do a search on snake season approacheth and another on rattlesnake vaccine. Lots of good advice, and a few entertaining stories...

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My dogs range from nosy to outright proactive killers of snakes.

 

The vaccine ite of hunters in this area is useless. Particularily for dogs struke while working.

 

They guy that does snake aversion in the north FL area uses live snakes I'm told I believe they are milked prior and some may be defanged?

 

Wouldn't mind getting my dogs in a program here in TN but not sure if would help much with water moccasins. There was one longer than the width of the driveway out this morning <omg>. The neighbors picked off a dozen yesterday afternoon in the water over the road - none less than 4 feet in length. The floods have them stirred up.

 

Like the green, the water mocassins will go after you if you get into their territory.

 

My dogs learn to stay out of the e-fence by getting shocked. It doesn't cause lasting harm, and I don't think a snake class would either.

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Having been a field biologist for over 20 years here in AZ I have seen more than my fair share of rattlesnakes. Mojaves, blacktails, sidewinders, diamondbacks, westerns....Brown, black, green, and pink....just about every flavor. Not a spring/summer/fall trip goes by where I don't see a snake. I've stepted on them, over them and been struck at (but luckily never struck). The only ones that didn't rattle were probably well below "opperating temp" in the early spring or late fall or I was well outside their alarm zone. I've prodded, poked and picked them up to move them out of our sampling site and have never had any real trouble with them.

However, Cerb loves to poke at anything that moves. This is probably true of dogs in general. I really would rather not test his immune/recovery abilities.

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My trial dog came from Arizona, and was snake avoidance trained using the shock collar method and a live snake in Arizona. I personally am glad that she was because we don't do much of it in Louisiana. We have copperheads and cottonmouth water moccassins, and a few rattles snakes (but they are much less common in my area). Copperheads and even cottonmouths venom is normally not potent enough to kill a dog, although I know of a group of five rat terriers who found and decided to kill a cottonmouth in their yard- all five were bitten by the same snake- all five died. Also, my young male border collie (over fifty pounds) jumped a cottonmouth in our yard, got bit in his mouth and before we could get to the clinic (five minutes away) he was dead. He didn't even get a chance to be treated for the bite. The terriers were immediately hospitalized and IV treatment began within 30 minutes of the bite, they still died.

 

That said, rattlesnakes, however, are much more dangerous to dogs. The antivenin is extremely costly- over $1000.00 a dose for people, and unless you live in an area that rattlesnakes are common, probably not readily available. I do not know the efficacy of the vaccination.

 

For the person seeking rattlesnake avoidance training, check into the hunting retriever clubs in your area. They do it quite often. I saw a picture of a Fort Worth hunting retriever club trial where they had picked up the rattlers prior to the first run- over 30 of them, many well over six feet long.

 

My Arizona dog has only had contact with one snake since I got her- a garden snake. She yipped and ran about fifteen feet away as soon as she saw it. I was completely okay with that. I don't want to lose another dog to a snake bite ever again.

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Snake avoidance strategy #373: Emigrate to Antarctica...

Ireland would also be a suitable place to emigrate.

 

Personally, I just avoid going on trails when it's hot enough for the rattlesnakes to come out. And when I can't avoid it, keep away from brush and grass where you can't see what you are stepping on. That said, the last rattlesnake I met was in the middle of the driveway of a church (probably something symbolic there?) and we got really close, because I though it was a toy snake. Thankfully, it was early morning, so the snake was still lethargic.

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