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Rattlesnake Avoidance Training Using Positive Reinforcement

Rattlesnake season is approaching! Have you thought about how to protect your dogs from encountering one of these slithery creatures while on the trail? We all know dogs love to poke their noses under bushes and into holes in the ground, and they aren't very good at carefully trodding through beds of leaves and rocks where rattlesnakes may be hanging out minding their own business.

If you hike regularly with your dog in the summer, it is certainly possible for you to come across a rattler on the trail, and teaching your dog to identify and stay away from them could save their life! That's why you may want to consider doing rattlesnake avoidance and alert training with your pooch.

Over the years, I've put three of my dogs through a 3-hour rattlesnake aversion training where live rattlesnakes were used to help my dogs identify the sight, sound, and smell of these snakes, be afraid of them, and move away from them. It's quite a fascinating thing to watch, but what I wasn't super comfortable with was the fact that shock collars were used to teach the dogs to stay away. When the dogs got too close, they were given a shock which they would associate with the snake and after several encounters and "bites" from the snake, they learned to stay far away. It was a very stressful three hours for my dogs, the snakes, and for me, but I figured it was worth it if it meant keeping my dogs safe from rattlers on the trail! Since this was thought to be the only way to train dogs to stay away from snakes, I didn't think there was any other option.

However, in the last several years, new methods have been explored to teach dogs to stay away from snakes using only positive reinforcement techniques. Instead of shocking the dogs so that they learn what a snake bite might feel like and be afraid, they teach the dog to return to their handler and perform an at-handler alert when they smell, hear, or see a snake, and no aversive techniques are used at all. Using these methods, the dog is positively reinforced for returning to the handler and also develops a rock-solid recall!

I'm totally stoked to try this! Even though my dogs have been through aversive training, I love the idea of training them in a positive way and improving their recall.

If you are also interested in teaching your dog to avoid rattlesnakes in a positive way, I'd like to introduce you to my current dog trainer Jamie Flanders with Shake On It Pet Training! Jamie is a certified dog behavior consultant with over 20 years of experience working with dogs. She is committed to methods that do no physical, emotional, or mental harm to the pets or their handlers. Her rattlesnake avoidance training program uses positive reinforcement methods which are very similar to that of bomb detection training.

Keep in mind that this training will not be a 3-hour course. This is a 3-month program with 6- 7 in-person sessions and homework for you to work on with your dog between sessions. Aversive training can seem like a faster way to teach sometimes, but if you're interested in your dog learning in a way that is not stressful and does not hurt or scare them or run the risk of aversive side-effects, and also builds their trust with you and strengthens your relationship, taking the extra time with your dog is worth it!

Learn more about Jamie's program at this link:

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