Hiking with my dog Clovis is one of our favorite ways to spend time together. Unfortunately, during the summer in Colorado where I live, there can be lots of rattlesnakes around.
Clovis, like almost every other dog, has no natural fear of snakes the way that some of us do, and is naturally curious, so finding a snake can be particularly dangerous for him. Rattlesnake bites can be deadly if you aren’t able to get your dog to a vet soon enough, and can be very costly (around $1,000 for antivenom) if you do.
Now like all of you, I love my dog very much and put significant effort into preventing him from suffering any undue harm. I have never used a shock collar to train my dog, and think they are usually unnecessarily cruel. However, as I started looking into ways to teach Clovis to avoid snakes, it became pretty obvious that the only real way to teach aversion involves shock collars. In weighing my options, I decided that taking Clovis to rattlesnake country without any kind of aversion training and exposing him to the risk of serious injury or death because of an encounter with a snake is much more cruel than a short one-time training to teach him to avoid rattlesnakes altogether.
So after lots of research, I decided that for me and Clovis, aversion training was the best option.
The actual training itself only takes about 10 minutes and is pretty unpleasant, but unfortunately that’s the point. The handler took Clovis into a field with two rattlesnakes who had somehow been manipulated so that they were no longer venomous. One snake’s rattles had been taped so that it couldn’t rattle, so that Clovis wasn’t just trained to avoid the sound of a rattlesnake. Clovis was allowed to sniff around the field until he smelled the snake, and once he honed in on it, he received a shock from the collar. It only took a couple of these for Clovis to figure out that he should stay away from the snakes. Once he’d learned to stay away from the first snake, they moved him over to next snake to make sure he knew to avoid that one too.
In the first test, they had me call Clovis from across the snake and made sure that he went well around the snake instead of over it. In the second test, they had me take Clovis on a leash and walk straight towards one of the snakes to see if Clovis would direct me away from it. After the shocks he passed both tests easily, which makes me think that Clovis might protect from snakes as well by pulling away from it before we get to close.
Everyone I met at the training, including owners, trainers, or organizers had a great deal of love and respect for their dogs and were only interested in their protection and safety and considered the shocking a necessary evil. But this isn’t to say that it’s the only option.
There are many articles such as this one: (http://blog.4knines.com/traveling-with-dogs/rattlesnakes-keep-pup-safe-summer/) that describe ways to minimize the risk of having bad encounters with snakes without having to resort to aversion training. And while these methods can certainly be helpful for reducing encounters with snakes, they don’t help at all when your dog does find a snake. Moreover, these methods require you to constantly be on the lookout for snakes, since any lapse in attention could result in an unwanted encounter. But after seeing Clovis pull away from a rattlesnake during the training, I am confident enough that he’ll know to avoid one, and that I don’t have to worry constantly about finding snakes during our hike, which makes the whole experience more fun for both of us.
Ultimately, it’s up to each individual dog owner to determine whether or not this training is appropriate for his/her dog.
In my case I ended up deciding that aversion training was worth it because sometimes, love can be cruel, but only for a short while.
William Loopesko- Founder and CEO of Go Pawsible
William Loopesko is an active dog owner who loves going hiking with his dog Clovis. Out of a concern for Clovis’ safety when they’re together in the car, William was inspired to start Go Pawsible and make is possible to leave a dog in a parked car without worrying about its safety. Go Pawsible is working hard to create the world’s first ever product specifically designed to keep dogs cool when they’re left in cars so that they are able to spend more times with their owners. The product will feature a rechargeable-battery powered cooling system that will keep dogs cool regardless of the outside temperature, and will be connected to smartphone app so that the owner can monitor the dog and make sure he’s safe. To learn more about Go Pawsible and their plans to create a world where no dog ever again has to suffer in a hot car, visit GoPawsible.com or email info@GoPawsible.com.