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Training Your Hunting Dog to Leave Snakes Alone
Growing up I have a vivid memory of my dad’s favorite hunting dog, King. He was mostly white and stood taller than all the other hounds in the pack. He was strong and stately and I guess that’s how he got his name, however, that isn’t the reason King stands out in my mind. King had an unfortunate attraction to snakes, he thought they were something to play with. My vivid memory of walking on the path at night to his dog kennel and shining my flashlight into the eyes of a swollen faced monster was a childhood memory I would prefer to erase. I am not sure whether training would have helped King or not but, I’d sure like to think that we could have prevented it with a little snake-proofing.
Most places that we find ourselves hunting game, can also unfortunately, inhabit snakes. Even though all snakes aren’t bad, it is still best to teach your dog to avoid snakes altogether because unless he’s exceptionally intelligent he can’t tell the difference, and sometimes neither can we. Even though some dogs have a natural tendency to avoid snakes and are not distracted by them, all too often our most curious hunting dogs can’t resist at least sniffing them out.
You typically only need a few things in order to train your dog to steer clear of any off-game animals such as snakes. First, if you have access to some harmless live snakes then that is what you need to use, otherwise using a snake decoy can sometimes work but, is just not as reliable. If you can use a few local harmless snakes that can be released when you are done then that is the ideal tool to use to train. Use all sizes and kinds if you can, the more he is introduced to the better chance that he will leave them all alone. The second and equally important tool is a training collar that you will use to alert him to the danger. Lastly, training your dog to avoid snakes will involve three of his major senses.
Start With Sight
To begin just simply place the snake right out in the open where your dog can see it. If he immediately goes toward it, use the training collar to deliver a static correction so that he recognizes right off hand that snakes are bad. Just one momentary correction should work just fine. After just a few training sessions most dogs are aware that snakes equal danger.
Sense of Smell
Because dogs usually smell a snake before they actually see it, it is necessary to make him aware of the scent of a snake, if you have a live snake available. For this portion of the training it is only useful if you have local snake that he might actually come in contact with in the wild since snakes smell differently. Start by hiding the snake in tall grass, it is perfectly fine to have the snake in a breathable bag so that he doesn’t escape, the scent can still be found by your dog. Once you bring the dog near the area where the snake is located and he sniffs the air and goes near the snake, now is the time to deliver the same momentary correction that you did while training with sight. If by chance, your dog already recognizes the scent and steers clear, there is no need to use correction, just praise him and carry on.
Sense of Sound
If you want to take it a step further and train for the sound of a rattlesnake then you will need a recording, you can use your phone and search “rattlesnake sounds” in order to bring up a variety of recordings. Simply use a combination of a harmless snake and the recording and hide it near the snake or if you don’t have a snake available it is still fine to train him by just placing the recording on the ground and when he goes to sniff it out, use the momentary correction to bring it to his attention that, that sound is a bad sound. This might take a little longer to teach than seeing and smelling but, it will be worth it if he can recognize that sound and avoid a rattler.
Training your dog to actually recognize all of his senses and to avoid all of these warnings when it comes to snakes can greatly decrease his chances of a snake bite for him and for you.