I have been a loyal subscriber to The Whole Dog Journal since 2012. Usually the articles that they print are well researched and contain great information. Unfortunately, I was alarmed and disappointed by the article “Snake Aversion Without Shock” in the May 2015 issue. The article states how dead snakes, remote controlled snakes and snakes that are not rattlers can all be used to train your dog to avoid snakes by allowing the dog to make a choice. I believe that the editor Nancy Kerns allowed her personal preferences to come into play with allowing this article instead of relying on the science of how dogs think and learn. As one of my clients put it so eloquently “While humans might have a chance at taking this kind of conceptual training into the real world, dogs have so much more sensory awareness and are wired for input for what is real, not representational. Silly humans.”
I am a positive reinforcement trainer. I am clicker savvy and strongly believe that in order to train our dogs we need to connect with our dogs. We also need to understand dog body language and how dogs think and learn. When it comes to basic obedience commands, if we communicate clearly with our dogs, understand and are aware of the distractions around us and work with those our dogs will respond to us. I do not recommend the use of choke collars, pinch collars or shock collars for basic commands or common behavioral issues. My only exception is when the situation could result in death to the dog and then the dog should not have the option to make the choice. Dogs do what works and they follow instinct. If you train a dog utilizing a dead rattler with a shock collar your dog will avoid dead rattlers but the first time they see a real rattler they will engage with it. If you teach them to leave a Python alone utilizing a shock collar they will but since rattlers smell different they will engage the rattler. And a remote controlled snake, well let’s just say our dogs are much smarter than that! Erik of Natural Solutions Rattlesnake Aversion Training in Southern California states “the use of non-venomous or fake snakes as “stand-ins,” is only marginally effective at best.”
The article also discussed dogs that attack rattlesnakes instead of avoiding them following shock training. Yes, unfortunately this can occur as a result of trainers who shock dogs at the highest level instead of taking into account the needs of each individual dog and starting at a low level shock. Again quoting Erik of Natural Solutions “* I would also like to note that all dogs “choose” the level of intensity used with the collar during our training. The level is slowly increased until the dog responds, and under most conditions will not be elevated beyond that intensity. Good timing is far more important than a strong level of correction. We do not believe in “shutting dogs down,” but instead believe in working within the dog’s individual needs.” Therefore, selecting a trainer that is knowledgeable and humane is essential to ensure that your dog is trained to avoid rattlesnakes. Trainers are not regulated so do your homework, this is your beloved dog make sure that you hire a trainer who is qualified and humane.
Dogs should have choices in life however playing with a rattlesnake should not be one of them. If a rattlesnake is encountered I want my dogs to bolt away as quickly as possible and not stop to consider their options. The only way to ensure their safety in my professional opinion is through training with a humane qualified trainer who uses shock collars and live rattlesnakes that are humanely muzzled and native to your area.