Snake Breaking

By Jim & Phyllis Dobbs and Alice Woodyard

In our past articles, we covered properly introducing your dog to the Tri-Tronics collar. These articles included teaching the dog to "turn off" mild stimulation by performing three different actions, coming toward you, going away from you and becoming stationary--or the "Whoa" command. Other articles covered stop to flush, honoring, creeping, chasing "off game" and patterning. In this article, we will show you how to teach your bird dog to leave snakes alone.

Snake proofing the dog

Today many hunters and field trailers travel with their dogs, and the venomous snakes that may be encountered vary a great deal. Not only various kinds of rattlesnakes may be found, but water moccasins and copper heads as well. So it is best when snake proofing to teach the dog that all snakes are something it should avoid.

When snake proofing a dog, you don't need to use venomous snakes. In fact, the best method we know of uses harmless snakes that can be caught in your area and then turned loose when you are done with them. It is important to use several different species of snake, so that the dog will generalize that all snakes are unpleasant. If you limit your snake proofing to one species, that species may be the only type of snake that the dog will avoid. Using different varieties of snakes teaches the dog to leave all snakes alone, not just one particular species

Step 1--Teach the dog to avoid a snake when it sees one

To thoroughly teach a dog that it doesn't want to mess around with snakes, you need to cover separately the attractions of sight, scent, and sound. You should start with sight, and teach the dog to avoid a snake that it sees.

To do this, place a snake on the ground out in the open. Block its path with a stick until it stops trying to slither away and coils up to protect itself.

Have the dog approach the snake from the upwind side. When the dog goes up to the snake and puts its head down to investigate, immediately use the Tri-Tronics collar set on the high level, pressing the button briefly.

If your collar has the "momentary" stimulation feature, it is ideal for this purpose. Press both black buttons at the same time. Make sure the dog has seen the snake and gotten very close to it before you press the buttons.

Repeat this procedure in at least five locations, using at least three different species of snakes.

Step 2--Secondly, address the attraction of scent.

Hide a snake in a small patch of cover. Bring the dog up to the cover from the downwind side. Watch the dog's response to the scent of the snake. If the dog goes up to the area where the snake is hidden, use the collar in the same way you did in Step 1. If the dog smells the snake, and tries to avoid it, do not use the collar. Allow the dog to move away from the area, while you tell it "Good dog."

Repeat this procedure in five locations, again using at least three different species of harmless snakes.

Step 3--Teach the dog to avoid the sound of a rattlesnake

Finally, teach the dog to avoid the attraction of sound, using a tape recording of the buzz of a rattler. The first time you try this, you should use a harmless snake together with a tape player. After the first session, you will no longer need the snake, just the tape player.

Place the tape player so that the dog can't see it. When the dog goes up to investigate the buzzing sound, wait until it is within three feet of the player, then use your Tri-Tronics collar to make the dog associate strong displeasure with the buzzing sound.

Repeat this procedure in several locations, until you see the dog consistently try to avoid the buzzing sound.

By now the dog should have developed a complete avoidance response to all kinds of snakes. And, using this method for snake proofing, you haven't had to fool around with any venomous snakes. When you see your dog quickly move to avoid a spot in the field, believe what you see, and don't step there!

Coming in the Next Article

In our next article, we will teach the dog to retrieve reliably and deliver to hand.

First Appeared in:
Pointing Dog Journal
, March/April 1994

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